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R&D consortia help drive IC equipment growth

Posted: 10 Sep 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:R&D consortium? R&D spending? semiconductor equipment? lithography?

Semiconductor equipment R&D spending is set to be slashed, with an $8 billion decline seen over the next five years, according to market tracker Gartner.

This could put the whole sector at risk, the researcher firm warned. However, the growth of R&D consortia is coming to the rescue, said Gartner senior analyst Dean Freeman.

Gartner noted that R&D spending has averaged about 15 percent during the past 15 years, while device spending has averaged about 11 percent. In a high-revenue year, this value declines as a percentage of revenue, while in a low-revenue year, the percentage of R&D increases because R&D levels historically do not get cut during a slowdown.

Failure to properly invest will mean that the technology roadmap slows and that companies will not be prepared to meet the challenges ahead. With the current slowing in revenue, the semiconductor industry is thus at one of its crisis points.

However Freeman said the industry appears to be rising to meet this challenge.

The key differentiator this time round is the number of industry consortia that have been formed over the past ten years. This, he added, has to some extent mitigated the effects of declining corporate revenues going into R&D.

"The semiconductor industry has grown as a result of university professors working with Semiconductor Research Corp., as well as the formations of Albany NanoTech, IMEC, the IBM alliances and some other smaller working groups," Freeman suggests.

These organizations are focusing the available R&D funding in a precompetitive environment to address the key needs of the industry, he adds.

"Through the consortia, high-k metal gates, EUV lithography and through-silicon vias are all being explored and brought to life. As a result of the targeted research, significant R&D savings are realized, and the research agenda is better-focused. "

Freeman thus concludes that, even as the industry faces many challenges in getting to the next generation of technology, "lack of R&D funding apparently will not be part of the equation, thanks to the research consortia."

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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