Week In Review: Manufacturing, Test

Who controls semi CapEx?; Applied’s lab-to-fab; falling Apple.


The IC industry once had several leading-edge vendors that invested and built new fabs. But over time, the field has narrowed due to soaring costs and a dwindling customer base.

In 1994, the share of semiconductor industry capital spending held by the top five companies was 25%, according to IC Insights. This meant that a number of companies invested and built new fabs during the time frame.

Now, the share of semi capital spending held by the top five companies (Samsung, Intel, TSMC, SK Hynix, and Micron) is forecast to reach an all-time high of 68% this year, surpassing the previous record high of 67% recorded in 2013 and 2018, according to a new report from IC Insights. This means fewer companies are investing and building leading-edge fabs. It also means less opportunities for suppliers of leading-edge tools.


The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) has elected Keith Jackson, president and chief executive of ON Semiconductor, as its 2020 chairman. Robert Bruggeworth, president and chief executive of Qorvo, has been named vice chairman of the SIA.

Transphorm has reached a new milestone. It has shipped more than 500,000 high voltage GaN FETs. “Following our success in the core higher power markets targeted by GaN, we’re also working with customers in fast growing markets that are underserved by silicon such as consumer adapters and set-top boxes,” said Philip Zuk, vice president of worldwide technical marketing and North American sales at Transphorm. “Consider that the majority of products we’ve shipped to date were targeted for higher power applications. Those 500 thousand-plus 650V FETs equate to more than 4 million lower power (sub 100 Watts) FETs, demonstrating our volume production capabilities.”

Fab tools
Not long ago, ASML obtained an order for an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography tool from a Chinese customer, reportedly SMIC. ASML is still awaiting approval for the export control license from the Dutch government, according to a report from Reuters. Here’s a different version of the story.

“The Nikkei Asian Review reported overnight that ASML delayed the delivery of an EUV tool to SMIC, a China-based foundry customer. For context, this is the only EUV tool order that we’re aware of in China (SMIC’s single order), whereas TSMC, Samsung, and Intel combined have around 45 EUV tools on order. As a result, the impact to ASML should be minimal, at worst perhaps shifting a shipment to 1Q from 4Q as ASML potentially reroutes the tool to another customer. We believe ASML is currently applying for a renewal of its export license through the Dutch government to ship EUV systems into China, with the system likely on hold until further notice,” said Weston Twigg, an analyst at KeyBanc, in a report.


Applied Materials has announced the opening of the Materials Engineering Technology Accelerator (META Center), a facility aimed at speeding customer prototyping of new materials, process technologies and devices. Located at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly) campus in Albany, New York, the META Center’s cleanroom provides customers and partners access to state-of-the-art process systems to help shorten the time from lab to fab.

Veeco has reported its results for its third quarter ended Sept. 30. Revenues were $109 million, compared with $126.8 million in the same period last year. “Veeco executed well in Q3 with revenue and EPS above the midpoint of our guided range. Our gross margin exceeded our guidance and the company returned to profitability on a non-GAAP basis,” said William Miller, chief executive of Veeco. “We continue to experience demand for our EUV mask blank products and have shipped our second production system. This shipment, combined with revenue from multiple LSA systems, drove strong front end semiconductor sales. Additionally, shipments to our data storage customers remained solid as they continued to invest in technology and capacity.”

Packaging and test
ZF Group announced a strategic collaboration with Cognata and OptimalPlus. ZF supplies systems for passenger cars, commercial vehicles and industrial technology. ZF will work with Cognata in the area of ADAS. ZF will collaborate with OptimalPlus to improve plant performance and develop specialized software products in the future.

Boston Semi Equipment (BSE), a semiconductor test handler manufacturer and a provider of test automation technical services, has enhanced its Zeus gravity feed handlers with the capability of handling low-pressure MEMS devices with multiple ports.

ASE recently reported its results. In the company’s recent conference call, Kenneth Hsiang, head of IR at ASE, provided an outlook: “If we look out into the fourth quarter, the volume of business for the remainder of the year remains a bit tricky to evaluate. We do see the possibility of some order upsides, but the impact of trade war tariffs are especially difficult to quantify with any level of real accuracy. That taken with an earlier manufacturing cycle, which may have been driven by the desire to avoid these tariffs, leads to an even less conclusive outcome. Then of course, this begs the question of whether we are building product that would otherwise be built in the first quarter of 2020. We do have some information that gives us a bit of comfort on this point, and please understand that it’s definitely an early statement, but we can tell you that we currently see a shallower trough period during Q1 of next year. And as our investments and cost control are beginning to take shape, we also see our first quarter 2020 margins to be materially stronger than seasonality.”

Market research
Worldwide smartphone shipments increased 0.8% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2019, reversing seven quarters of decline, according to International Data Corporation (IDC). In total, companies shipped a total of 358.3 million smartphones during the quarter, which was up 8.1% from the previous quarter, according to the firm.

During the quarter, Huawei gained share, while Apple lost ground. “Despite facing challenges across many international markets, Huawei doubled down on China in the third quarter,” said Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC. “Samsung benefited the most internationally from Huawei’s woes, ramping up the more affordable A series, while in China the other domestic competitors felt the heat from Huawei.”

“The market returning to positive growth shows the resilience of this industry as well as the ongoing demand for mobile phones, all in the face of many global macroeconomic challenges,” said Ryan Reith, program vice president at IDC. “The number of factors in play for competition are incredible. It is clear Huawei continues to make big gains in China, which remains the world’s largest market. Apple beat many expectations and is driving strong volumes in mature markets that face equally challenging headwinds. And most importantly, the top 5 OEMs accounted for more than 70% of the world’s smartphone shipments for the first time ever this quarter. The industry and vendor landscape is still changing but the trend of consolidation is ramping along with it.”

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