Wednesday, July 20, 2011

LinkFest: Impressions from Semicon West

"It's all about the toys… the valves, the bearings…"

Bruce Billett - Technical Specialist (Intel - Ronler Acres)

Semicon West…. Held each year at the Moscone Center in San Francisco it is the largest trade show for semiconductor equipment suppliers. Along with Semicon there was Intersolar, the largest US Solar trade show.

It all happened last week.

Anyone who follows the semiconductor capital equipment business knows that last week was a rough one for the sector. During the Analyst meetings Senior Executives openly talked about a significant, 20% to 30%, drop in bookings for capital equipment. Although this quarter looks ugly, each company was optimistic about the long term outlook. The dynamic product cycle will continue to push chip manufacturers to purchase wafer processing tools that can produce chips with smaller and smaller feature sizes. Moore's Law will continue - so, they say. There's no reason not to believe them. But, like always, there will be cycles.

Loren Sutherland (Zone 5 Marketing), long-time friend, SEMI Committee Member, and beer drinking buddy, was kind enough to provide a couple videos from his time at Semicon. For those interested in some "Impressions" I thought I would point these to your attention.

The first video is an interview with Bruce Billett. Bruce works as a Technical Specialist for Intel. (Apologies for the low volume of this recording).

Impressions from Semicon West: Interview with Bruce Billett

To start, Bruce makes some interesting comments about InterSolar. Take this for what it is worth - Intel is a chip vendor and Bruce has a focused agenda but given that he is a "Technical Specialist" I think it is worth a mention. At the 1:40 mark he says that there are 256 Vendors doing the exact same thing.

My thought: 256 vendors all doing the same thing? Wow! That doesn't sound appealing! Is it any wonder the industry is in such disarray? It probably goes without saying but I am expecting a big shakeout in the solar industry over the next few years.

As for the semiconductor equipment business, here are a few more bits from the conversation:

The trend over the last few years is to bring very little equipment to the show. Way back in the halcyon days of Semicon having a tool in the booth, a booth that typically had company police guarding the entrance, was fashionable. A lot of this is just a matter of cost. Like Bruce, I believe that there really is no benefit to showing equipment at Semicon - you can't demonstrate what the equipment is capable of doing so what's the point?

All is not lost. Semicon provides attendees with the ability to meet with representatives from the major OEMs and to explore the offerings from smaller companies. From that perspective the show is still attractive. This is particularly true for someone like Intel who brings new technology in on a "pull-through" basis. While there are no guarantees just being visible at Semicon opens the possibility to getting an invitation from Intel. If you don't get an invitation it is very, very difficult to break in to their supply chain.

Right around the 4:50 mark Bruce said he was interested in "Finding the new small company that is making this new wafer holder or new wafer transport system."

Hmmm…. You get the sense he's looking for 450mm solutions.

The next video Loren provided is an interview with Dean Freeman, Research VP with industry research house Gartner.

Impressions from Semicon West: Interview with Dean Freeman

Dean talks about many of the same trends that Bruce mentioned - the ability to network, the large presence of companies that supply to the equipment houses and the "is it worth the cost" dilemma faced by the OEMs.

At the 9:00 minute mark they break in to a discussion about the future of Semicon. This is a big issue and something that SEMI has been wrestling with for the last decade. Does the rising interest in solar force SEMI to put InterSolar on the center stage? Does SEMI eventually move the semiconductor equipment industry to second fiddle over at Moscone West where InterSolar is currently held?

Speaking of SEMI, Loren also had a chat with retiring CEO Stan Myers:

Impressions from Semicon West: Interview with Stan Meyers

A tip of my hat goes Stan's way for his friendship and all the things he has done for the worldwide semiconductor industry. He's a great guy and I will never forget the times we crossed paths in hotels and airports around the world. Hopefully I will see him again soon.

The last item on today's linkfest is, for those of you really, really interested in the 450mm wafer size transition, an audio of a panel discussion that took place Monday (7/11) at MCA's BrightSpots Session. This session discussed the pros and cons:

MCA BrightSpots 450mm Forum (free but registration required)

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming…..

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