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Aixtron: LED market boom not before 2013

Posted: 25 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:LED market? energy saving trend? LED backlight?

After enjoying record sales in Q4 07, due to energy saving trends, LED production equipment manufacturer Aixtron now sees a "digestion phase" during which the semiconductor market will absorb the production capacity built up over the past quarters.

Aixtron investor relations manager Guido Pickert predicts that the breakthrough of LED in general lighting applications will not come before the years 2012/2013.

The market is currently driven by advancements in LED backlighting applications, Pickert explained. LEDs are replacing CCFL the light source in laptop computers, desktop monitors and TV sets. Manufacturers such Apple Computer, Sony and Philips recently have introduced products with LED backlights. While in laptop computers LED shine with their low energy consumption, they favorably compete in TV sets with conventional backlight solutions through a much higher contrast ratio of up to 2 million to one.

Pickert called the switch to LED backlighting a "no-brainer", in particular for laptop computer applications. However, "the question is how fast the market penetration will rise," he said. In Taiwan, where most of Aixtron's customers are located, "the expectations certainly were very high. But this has to be seen a little bit more realistic."

While LED backlighting is a short-term market trend, the market for LED general lighting applications will take off only in the mid-term. Before this application will achieve a major breakthrough, the LED technology has to overcome certain technological hurdles, especially with respect to their efficiency. "The LED is not yet fully competitive against sodium discharge lamps and fluorescent lamps in widespread use for street lighting," Pickert noted. "In ten years it certainly will be the dominant lighting source but we do not expect a strong market demand before 2012/2013."

What Pickert did not say is that manufacturers of lighting devices such as Germany's Osram or Dutch Lumiled probably intend to exploit the market potential for today's energy saving lamps before they switch to LEDs across the board.

Against the background of the current semiconductor industry downturn, Pickert's expectations for rapid growth are only moderate. "When in Q4 07 we announced record sales, we already pointed out that the market will need a 'digestion phase'. This is where we are now. The visibility is poor, for our customers even worse than for us," he said. "Nobody knows how deep the downturn will be and how long it will last."

Continuing trend
Nevertheless, Pickert does not see LED production overcapacities comparable to the DRAM market since the short- and mid-term growth factors are tangible. "Energy saving (which in this context is synonymous to LEDs replacing conventional light sources) is not only popular in Europe. If you take a look to California, you will see great advances towards this direction. For instance, all traffic lights are equipped with LEDs." Also in China, the demand for energy-saving lighting solutions is rising; the Chinese government recently has launched a Solid State Lighting initiative that aims at replacing light bulbs and similar energy hogs by LEDs. All these factors however will create demand only in about three to five years.

Aixtron claims to control about 70 percent of the global market for MOCVD (Metal Oxide Chemical Vapor Deposition) equipment used to produce III/V semiconductors and thus LEDs. The market volume for this type of equipment currently is estimated to about $300 million per year. Aixtron regards U.S.-based Veeco Instruments as its only competitor in international markets; besides Veeco, there are several smaller MOCVD vendors in Japan, which however, are serving only local markets.

Over the past years, there have been frequent rumors that Applied Materials has plans to take over the Aachen, Germany-based semiconductor equipment vendor. Pickert denied to comment on these rumors.

- Christoph Hammerschmidt
EE Times

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