Tuesday, July 21, 2009

SEMICON West: Top Topics at the Show

Now that I live in the San Francisco area, I’ve noticed that each day starts out slowly with cool fog, and then gently warms up to a predictably sunny day. SEMICON West in the Moscone Convention Center, July 14-16 was a bit like that: warmer and more enthusiastic and upbeat than I expected. Major discussion points included the recession, supplier/customer interaction, 3D packaging, and solar energy.

Of course, what everyone wanted to talk about was when the recession would end. George Burns, president of Strategic Marketing Associates said that, in the fab area, increasing chip sales and activity will drive equipment and related capital equipment spending up in the remaining months of this year and for all of 2010. Capital spending is predicted to be at $24 billion this year, a decline of 41% from 2008, and next year it will be at $31 billion, a growth of 30%. Semi projects 2009 semiconductor equipment sales to reach $14.14 billion, according to the mid-year edition of the SEMI capital equipment forecast. “We expect 2010 spending to show double-digit improvement off of extremely low levels in 2009,” said Stanley T. Meyers, president and CEO of SEMI. Watch the archived Webcast of Meyers' SEMICON presentation here.

The Intersolar North America hall at Moscone West was hopping with activity. In that area, where many of the solar module interconnect paths are screen printed, traditional methods used for printed circuits can expand into the solar area, providing growth opportunities for our industries.

I spend quite a bit of time with the materials providers for SMT companies, and in this space, industry has begun to pick up. Henkel, for instance, reported profitable growth in each of the past five months. Heraeus had booths in the West Hall with Intersolar and in the more traditional semiconductor assembly South Hall, and couldn’t have enough to say about specialty metals, solders, bonding wire, and ribbon.

Kyzen’s Tom Forsythe reported that the cleaning consumables company didn’t cut jobs or salaries during this economic down time, but found other efficiencies and waste-cuts to remain profitable with precision cleaning chemistries for advanced packaging and other electronics applications. Testing cleaning in systems at Kyzen’s lab offers a way to get close to customer’s specific problems as well.

Tom Mealey of Virtual Industries Inc. showed us the smallest vacuum-handling tweezers and accessories imaginable. He also had spatula-like vacuum devices for picking up large BGAs or even whole wafers.

At Finetech’s booth, we talked about the next challenge for advanced rework systems, now that rework systems can handle small passives, such as the 01005, and difficult bonding challenges with placement accuracy as low as 0.5 µm.

At Asymtek’s booth, they were talking precision dispensing, jetting, and automated fluid dispensing. Asymtek engineers are working on a range of precision applications in LED assembly, FPD assembly, and biotech product manufacturing.

All in all, SEMICON West was a great show. Senior managers need to make tough bets during difficult times, said keynote speaker Ananad Chandrasekher of Intel. Every economic crisis over the last 40 years has resulted in significant innovations. “Toward the tail end of the oil shock of the early 1970s the first cell phone emerged, produced by Motorola. The second oil crisis in the 1980s eventually led to IBM’s PC,” noted Chandrasekher.

Perhaps stacked 3D packaging or solar energy will emerge as the innovations of the recent recession. For now, we are beginning a healthy climb back up out of poor economic conditions, and that climb was evident at SEMICON West.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large

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