So says Dan Tracy, Senior Director of Industry Research and Statistics at Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International, the association for the semiconductor industry. No question the economic environment has deteriorated for semiconductor equipment makers in recent months. “The survey we conducted in December predicted a 2% decline in the equipment market for this year. Now, based on cap-ex announcements and current order levels, it looks more like the equipment market will decline 15 to 20% this year,” Tracy says.

Semiconductor manufacturers are still making advances in chipmaking techniques. For example, SEMI sees 45-nm technology accounting for a bigger percentage of fabrication spending over the next year and half. And 300-mm fab capacity is likely to surpass 200-mm capacity for the first time this year. Problem is, these trends aren’t translating into orders for manufacturing equipment. The overall North American semiconductor equipment market is expected to decline by as much as 15%. But things could be worse, as they are in Southeast Asia where SEMI sees a 40% decline because of fab construction delays.

The only place SEMI forecasts growth is in China, where equipment spending is up hard to find. Spending in Korea is expected to be down 10 to 15%, down 20% in Japan, and down 30% in Taiwan.

“Given the overall uncertainty about consumer spending, more equipment spending is just not on anyone’s radar,” says Tracy.

Amongst all this gloom, the only bright spot for manufacturers is solar energy. A year ago, a shortage of polysilicon was putting a crimp in photovoltaic production, so there was little reason to ramp up spending on equipment. But the shortage has passed. “Additional polysilicon capacity is coming online this year. Supply and demand for it will be in better balance,” says Tracy.

One sign of the strength in solar manufacturing is that the Semicon West show, the semiconductor manufacturing industry’s premier trade show, will this year be held with Intersolar North America. Kicking off July 15 in San Francisco’s Moscone Center, the solar portion of the event will host exhibitors in the areas of PV cells, module and inverter manufacturing, PV components and mounting systems, and manufacturers of solar-thermal applications.

Technical sessions at the combined shows will cover not only photovoltaics but also wafer processing, assembly and packaging, semiconductor testing, and new materials. There is also a program devoted to emerging technologies ranging from thin-film batteries deposited on silicon to flexible cells made on rolls of polymer.

As in prior years, Semicon West features a broad slate of technical sessions and short courses. Among the offerings this year are workshops on wire bonding and assembly in microelectronic packaging, waferlevel packaging, high-density packaging, low-cost flip chips, WLCSP, and lead-free technologies. Wafer processing sessions will cover 32 and 22-nm lithography, sustainability in manufacturing, and design for manufacturing.

There is a special track of sessions on mobile electronics on Wednesday, July 16. Topics that day include trends in the developing market for energy harvesting and thin-film batteries, vapor deposition manufacturing of rechargeable thin-film batteries, volume production of flexible polymer batteries, the portable fuel-cell market, MEMS microreformer technology for commercial portable fuel-cell applications, and harvesting vibration energy with flexible piezoelectric ceramic fibers.

For more information about Semicon West, visit semiconwest.org.