Thursday, July 30, 2009

Semicon 09: The Show that Was

Semicon West 2009 was my 28th consecutive Semicon West so I've seen it grow from a pretty small show in 1982 when it was held in May in San Mateo in the Hall of Flowers and a few outbuildings (is Pine Hall still there?) to what it is today. It's been a rough year as everyone knows so many of the "big" companies were either not exhibiting or camped out in local hotels. However, almost everyone I talked to was positive about the future of the semiconductor industry and most said they saw "lights on the horizon" or some optimistic words to that effect. A little early to celebrate, but the semiconductor industry turned the corner back in January or February this year, and it's certain the equipment and materials industry will follow.

Aside from the fallout of a devastating recession (good luck with the recovery as Newseek notes in the latest issue), I think there's also some alarm among the exhibiting (and advertising) community that the semiconductor industry is "closed" in that there will not be any new entrants, no new companies popping up to manufacture microprocessors or memories. The same is true albeit to a lesser extent on the equipment and materials side. Process technology has been commoditized (not a real word but you know what I mean). Even if you were to build a better mousetrap, it's quite a long uphill battle to get the likes of Intel to consider putting it through all the qualifications necessary to put it into volume production, and convince them that you'll be able to support it on a worldwide basis with field engineers, spare parts, etc. In short, companies think they know all their customers -- there are no surprise $5 billion fabs (and if there were they'd be in China) -- so what's the point of spending big bucks on a tradeshow booth.

That's true to some extent but it's a bit early to be hoisting the white flag of surrender. The semiconductor industry is still massive and evolving and is still the "oil of the IT industry" as someone once said. "More than Moore" is just a catchphrase at the moment but I think that's where the future lies. Higher levels of integration made possible through 3D chip stacking, and other advanced types of packaging, will be where the action is. Sure, we'll still see shrinking dimensions (is it EUV or imprint?? -- expect the status quo for years imho) and probably lots more talk on 450 mm as the economy improves. BUT there will be new players, new opportunities, lots of room for strong growth which all gets back to the critical importance of a show such as SEMICON West. It will return with gusto, we'll be talking about cool things that have yet to be dreamed up and it will remain a vibrant and dynamic industry. Why? People want to watch movies on their cell phones while sitting on a smart toilet that analyzes how close they are getting to death from the inevitable cancer, heart attack, diabetes, or just old age. The best presentation at SEMICON West? From Proteus on Intelligent Medicine: Helping to Solve the Healthcare Crisis with MEMS and ICs. "First there was the Apple on your desktop, next there was a Blackberry on your belt. Now there will be a raisin inside you," said Andrew Thompson, president and CEO, co-founder, Proteus Biomedical.

Speaking of presentations, huge kudos to the staff of SEMI who did an excellent job of lining up great speakers for a variety of tech sessions running throughout the three days of the show. They were particularly speedy in getting the presentations posted on-line. That's a ton of work that sometimes goes unrecognized. I'd link to them here but I they they should be easy enough to find on the SEMI site. You have Google, don't you? :-)

Pete Singer

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Spooling Up for Semicon

First, a tip of the cap to Howard Lovy. I started this blog last year, then Howard – one of the original editors of Small Times -- took it over for awhile. Now, like tag team wrestling, I’m back in the ring. Howard is “pursuing other interests” as they say. He says in his last NanoBot blog that he’s giving up on social media, but I’m hopeful we’ll see him again.

This week I’m spooling up for Semicon – ya know, like the Gatling Gun has to spool up before you can fire it (blam blam blam). Next week’s Semicon West will be a busy one for our PennWell team, with our colleagues from SST, Photovoltaics World, The ConFab, Advanced Packaging, SMT, Small Times, Laser Focus World and Renewable Energy World out in force. We have a boatload of video interviews lined up, plus podcasts and yes I’ll be “tweeting”. Sign up for Pete's Tweets. I’m also moderating a couple sessions – one Tuesday morning on Opportunities in MEMS and another on thin film PV Thursday morning. Don’t miss ‘em! Standing room only!

Last year, the three big things that had people talking were 1) the state of the industry, 2) the co-located InterSolar show, and 3) 450 mm (or 45 cm as was noted at the SEMI press conference). This year, #1 and #2 are sure to be the hot topics – 45 cm not so much.

At the time, SEMI released a mid-year consensus forecast for the chip equipment industry that indicates that, following a six percent market growth in 2007, the equipment market will decline 20% in 2008, but will experience a rebound with annual growth of 13 percent and six percent in 2009 and 2010, respectively. That was wishful thinking, but good signs abound that the recovery has begun. Bill McClean is still calling for a couple of boom years; he just moved the proverbial hockey stick out to 2010, 2011.

The InterSolar last year had 209 exhibitors, 48 of which are SEMI members. SEMI said there were 251 total Semicon West exhibitors with PV product offerings. The InterSolar show had some good traffic, but a fair amount of the exhibitors were fairly low-tech, including such things as roof mounting brackets. More of the same this year? You bet. I know it’s bigger but don’t have the stats in front of me. Will we see more traditional SEMI exhibitors setting up camp at InterSolar? I expect some, but not a mass exodus.