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Semiconductor market forecasts and trends

Posted: 24 Sep 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IC Insights? manufacturing? semiconductor? DRAM? Samsung?

The business dynamics as well as the increasing complexity of process technology will have an impact on capital equipment spending. Capex is expected to fall to four per cent growth this year from a 15 per cent surge in 2014, then go slightly negative for two years before recovering. The trend comes despite the fact DRAM makers are poised to spend an estimated $10 billion, twice the level of a few years ago.

Samsung is the leading equipment buyer these days, spending a whopping $4 billion in Q1 alone. Meanwhile Intel cut capex 24 per cent, in a surprise push of its 10nm node out to 2017. TSMC is taking a middle ground, keeping capex about flat next year and slowly lowering spending from 40 per cent to about 35 per cent of sales.

Sony is making the biggest increases, tripling capex as it tries to gain share for its image sensors. Iotera is leaping to $1.8 billion in capex spending as it tries to ramp its DRAM business.

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"We're just two or three years away from a time when a lot of things will be up in the air," said McClean, noting Intel's surprise move to push out its 10nm node to 2017.

He cited a need to adopt III-V materials and gate structures for ICs, as well as a need for a new kind of DRAM architecture. The growing complexity is one reason chip makers are consolidating.

Today 60 companies own all the world's 200mm fabs down from 76 a few years ago, and just 21 companies own all the world's leading-edge 300mm fabs, down from 29. "That will drop to below 20 in the next few years, and that's a pretty small group," said McClean.

The numbers will shrink even further at hugely expensive 10nm node and beyond. As for 450mm, the next big wafer size, McClean expressed scepticism.

"Five years ago I was 95 per cent sure it would happen in about five years, now its 50/50 whether it happens at all," he said.

Nevertheless he noted the speed with which TSMC is ramping its latest processes such as the 20nm node believed to be used to make Apple A8 SoCs. With everyone betting on getting the Apple business, "I think we may see some overshoot in leading edge foundry capacity," he said.

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