Finally, everything is starting to look just 'fab' for industry



It's spring, and in the cleanroom industry, everything's coming up 'fab' after several years of being drab.

According to a late April release from Strategic Marketing Associates (SMA; Santa Cruz, Calif.;, 2004 is shaping up to be a boom year for new semiconductor fabs. In its latest quarterly report, the market research firm specializing in fab information predicted 36 expansion, upgrade or new fab projects would start construction over the next 12 months. This, according to projections, will push the industry's annual capital expenditures to $44 billion—nearly half again as much as was spent in 2003, and the highest level since 2000's all-time peak.

SMA president George Burns notes that the industry is seeing strong growth and high capacity utilization, with much of the boom involving the newest facilities.

Burns says, "It is primarily from those fabs that have come on line since 2000; many of those that came on line in 2000 are still not at full capacity."

Optimism in action

Proof of the surge isn't hard to find. At about the same time SMA reported the boom, Intel Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif; announced a $2 billion construction project to convert a 200-mm wafer fabrication facility to a state-of-the-art 300-mm facility in Chandler, Ariz. This is scheduled to be complete in 2005 and will be the company's fifth 300-mm fab. (See story, page 5.)

That same week, Infineon Technologies AG (Munich, Germany; announced a capacity expansion at its subsidiary's Richmond, Va. semiconductor plant. As is the case with Intel, this expansion will involve 300-mm wafers, with manufacturing to begin in 2005. The project carries a $1 billion price tag and will be capable of handling 25,000 300-mm wafer starts per month. Infineon says it will more than double the DRAM memory chip capacity at the site.

Unlike the Intel situation, the Infineon expansion involves a shell that the company began during the last building boom. By completing the shell left over from the 2000 construction explosion, Infineon contends that it can bring extra capacity on line sooner, with more flexibility to respond to changing market conditions, and at less expense.

"It's the most cost-efficient, flexible way to do it," asserts Infineon spokesperson Chistoph Liedtke.

On the other side of the Pacific, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC; Hsinchu, Taiwan) has multiple fab construction and expansion projects underway, and will spend $2 billion this year on capital expenditures. Some of these projects involve construction of new 300-mm wafer facilities while others are expansions of existing fabs. The company is also building facilities in mainland China whose capacity will also come on line in 2005.

A wary eye

But not all manufacturers are taking part in the boom. IBM Corp. (Armonk, N.Y.;, for instance, has not announced any expansion projects and has no new plants scheduled.

What's more, some of those manufacturers that are busy building are keeping a wary eye on things.

"TSMC is concerned that the industry-wide rush to build new facilities could lead to an overcapacity situation worldwide," acknowledges company spokesperson Dan Holden.

But no matter what may happen in the future, for now at least, it's still spring and optimism is in bloom.

'Living environment' for MEMS?

Shorter time-to-market by incorporating manufacturing expertise in MEMS design is the aim of a strategic alliance between MEMS tool design provider IntelliSense Software Corp. (Phoenix, Ariz.; and manufacturing software vendor PhoeniX (Enschede, The Netherlands;

The alliance, according to the companies, will provide an end-to-end, enterprise level, interoperable solution that will provide a "living environment" for MEMS design.

MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) are tiny integrated devices made up of mechanical elements, sensors, actuators, and electronics on a common silicon substrate. These systems-on-a-chip are key to the development of "smart" products.

IntelliSense brings to the table its IntelliSuite CAD tools for MEMS process modeling and device/system analysis. PhoeniX develops software for micro system technology to provide the bridge between the design team and the cleanroom environment. The software is designed to facilitate communication from design to production, and back. Integrating the production and design process, the software is designed to reduce the design/production cycle.

"The combination of our tools creates a true living environment for the MEMS enterprise, capturing all aspects of design, process flow and manufacturing," says IntelliSense CEO Sandeep Akkaraju.

"True process-driven design has long remained a missing link in the MEMS arena," Akkaraju adds. "Customers will benefit tremendously with shorter times to market by incorporating true manufacturing expertise in their design."—SS