You can say one thing for society’s move toward energy-efficient lighting: It has fostered a big demand for equipment that makes LEDs. “We estimate that spending on LED equipment this year will be about $2.5 billion, up from $1.4 billion last year. All in all, the growth rate for spending on LED manufacturing equipment will be about 80%,” says Dan Tracy, senior director, Industry Research at SEMI, the association serving the manufacturing supply chain for electronics makers. Overall, SEMI sees spending on equipment this year growing in the 10 to 15 % range. But the growth rate on equipment for fabs alone is 31% and a lot of that comes from fabs devoted solely to making illumination-grade LEDs, says Tracy.
And despite mixed news about the health of the U. S. economy, it looks as though suppliers to the integrated-circuit equipment market should do well this year. “Unit sales trends were picking up coming out of first quarter though some of the broader economic news contributes uncertainty to market,” says Tracy. “There’s more discussion of a double-dip recession in the broader economy, but I recall a lot of that discussion happening a year ago. Analysts are still talking about 5 to 10% growth in chip sales this year. All in all, we’re still looking at growth in the equipment market.”
The same can be said for manufacturing equipment that produces photovoltaic solar cells. SEMI recently started breaking out PV equipment sales as a separate category and now tracks quarterly bookings and billings for about 70% of the worldwide PV equipment market, says Melody Song, senior manager, Industry Research & Statistics, at SEMI’s PV Group. “There was strong growth for PV equipment last year, especially in Asia. It was the only place where we saw a book-to-bill ratio above parity for all four quarters. Other regions were up and down,” she says. (A book-to-bill ratio greater than one implies more orders are flowing in than are being shipped out by suppliers and thus indicates strong economic conditions.)
Song says about 80% of all PV equipment was sold in Asia last year. And the consensus is that 2011 should also be a growth year for PV equipment, though growth is slowing. Next year is a different story. “It looks as if manufacturers will carry out their current plans for equipment spending. But suppliers are not optimistic about 2012, and visibility is low. There are not many announcements about increases in PV manufacturing capacity,” she says.
Nor do recent events paint a rosy picture for PV equipment. “First-quarter order intake declined significantly across the board, in some cases as much as 50% quarter-over-quarter,” says Song. “That points to a tough future.”
These trends will be a focus at the upcoming Semicon West and Intersolar North America shows set to kick off next week in San Francisco’s Moscone Center. The premier event for semiconductor and PV manufacturing equipment will feature technical sessions and exhibits covering all aspects of semiconductor front-end and back-end processes as well as developments in solar fabrication and installation.