The Internet of Things, and concerns about fab safety and environmental impact will be driving forces in the coming year
In addition to the continuing efforts to maximize performance and efficiency of mainline 300mm process equipment and develop 400mm capability, we see a number of factors that are likely to play an important role driving markets during the coming year. Among them are an accelerating resurgence in demand for 200mm equipment, growing emphasis on safety in the fab and increasing concern about the impact of manufacturing on the environment.
It has been more than ten years since 300mm equipment shipments surpassed 200mm and became the dominant manufacturing process for advanced memory and microprocessors. Over most of the intervening years, device and equipment manufacturers focused almost solely on the race to improve the performance and efficiency of 300mm processes and invested heavily in what was at first regarded as an inevitable transition to 400mm. Both IDMs and foundries found themselves with idle 200mm capacity. More recently, a number of new applications have appeared that do not require the advanced capabilities available in 300mm processes, and can in fact, be produced more cost-effectively on 200mm lines. These include a variety MEMS based devices – motion sensors, audio and radio frequency; image sensors; communications, power, and analog devices. To date, these developments have been driven primarily by the explosive growth of smart phones and automotive systems. Now the internet of things (IoT) looms large on the horizon with the expectation that advanced, multifunctional electronics will soon be incorporated into an almost unlimited variety of new connected products. Many of these will not benefit from the advanced capabilities or economies of scale provided by 300mm processes and will be most efficiently produced on existing or new 200mm lines. We expect to see increasing demand for support and retooling in this market.
We are also seeing increasing emphasis on safety in the fab among our customers and we strive to be an integral part of their efforts. For instance, last year we received a prestigious safety award from LG electronics in Korea that recognized our excellence in safety management, for both performance on site and for the safety ethos which exists throughout our company. We have made and continue to make great efforts to ensure that that ethos permeates our corporate culture – 100 percent safety, 100 percent of the time. From a business point of view, we believe that as our customers increase their own emphasis on safety it will become a significant differentiator in the competitive marketplace.
Hand in hand with safety goes an increasing awareness of the impact of manufacturing on the environment. Increasingly this is true in developing economies as well as the developed world. China, for example has reached a crisis level in some regions and has responded with increasingly strict environmental standards. Edwards has long been a leader in environmental awareness within the semiconductor manufacturing community. Our abatement products play an important role in limiting our industry’s impact on the environment. We are one of few manufacturing companies in the world that can claim to have a negative net carbon footprint – the combined effect of our own operations and the operation of our vacuum and abatement products over their lifetimes is to remove carbon from the environment. As an industry we have made significant progress in reducing our contribution of greenhouse gases, including particularly damaging PFCs. One trend that we see playing an important role in semiconductor manufacturing in the coming year will be increasing emphasis on the preventing the formation and release of oxides of nitrogen, NOx. As production capacity grows, so too does the volume of nitrogen used to dilute process gases in the exhaust stream. Unless carefully managed, some of this nitrogen can be converted to NOx, which, although not greenhouse gases, are a health hazard.