Solar-cell production is a hot topic this year, says show sponsor SEMI (Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International). SEMI says it has identified 180 companies making some kind of solar-cell fabrication equipment. Europe is a hotbed for the technology: Some 98 fabricators are there with 58 of those in Germany. There are another 27 companies in China, 22 in Japan, and 30 in North America.

"Lots of these are small companies and the area looks ripe for consolidation," says SEMI Senior Director of Industry Research Dan Tracy. "Many of these firms have just one product line."

The big problem for cell fabricators has been finding enough raw silicon. "We've gotten numerous requests for help from companies trying to find a supply of silicon, especially companies in China," says Tracy. "The supply is tight because the strong growth in solar has eaten up any excess capacity at polysilicon suppliers. New supply is coming online next year, but things look dicey until then."

Solar-cell fab equipment, of course, accounts for only a small part of the overall market for semiconductor manufacturing equipment. In the larger scheme of things, Tracy says equipment ordering trends so far this year are consistent with a flat or lowgrowth year for the equipment market. Further out, he says, things look more promising. "Some of the memory guys are making bold plans for investments later this year and for the next year or two."

According to the recently updated FabFutures report released by SEMI, 300-mm fabs and memory are expected to be the main growth drivers for fab spending, and 85% of all fab spending will go toward equipping 300-mm fabs in 2007. Samsung is the stand-out leader in terms of capacity, followed by Hynix, TSMC, Toshiba, Intel, and Micron. The two fastestgrowing segments are for memory-type fabs and 300-mm fabs in general.

Capacity of all memory-type fabs increased 33% from 2006 compared to 51% from 2005 to 2006. The total capacity of all 300-mm fabs is expected to increase by over 50% in 2007 over 2006. These updates reveal that after a strong growth of about 25% in 2006 in total spending for equipping fabs, a modest growth of about 3% is expected for 2007. The growth for spending on fab construction projects is estimated to be about 4 to 5% this year. However, analysts anticipate a strong recovery of both spending types for fabs equipping and constructing in 2008.

In 2007, over 30 major fab construction projects are taking place with over eight billion US dollars spent. Most of the fabs constructed in 2007 will begin production sometime in 2008. Total construction spending is expected to hit the $10 billion mark by end of 2008. Another 30 fabs will start volume production in 2007. Looking further out into the future, 16 fabs will start volume production in the first three quarters of 2008.

Looking at 2007, Taiwan and Japan each represent about 20% of all spending on equipping fabs, followed by the US and South Korea with about 18% each. In 2007, the greatest level of fab equipment spending is in the Asia-Pacific region, which accounts for over $20 billion, or 53%, excluding Japan. Japan is expected to account for 20% in 2007.

Although Southeast Asia is one of the smaller regions in terms of spending on fabs, it will gain momentum in new fab investments and will be led by companies such as IM Flash Technologies, Chartered Semiconductor, Tech Semiconductor, and now Qimonda, which are all located in Singapore. These fabs will push Singapore from about $1.8 billion of equipment installations in 2007 to about $3 billion in 2008. The solar agenda at Semicon kicks off with keynote speakers who include T.J. Rodgers, chairman, SunPower Corp. and chairman, CEO and director, Cypress Semiconductor, and Rhone Resch, president, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Other keynotes at Semicon are Douglas Grose, senior vice president vice president of Technology Development, Manufacturing and Supply Chain, AMD; Paolo Gargini, Intel Fellow, Technology and Manufacturing and Group Director, Technology Strategy, Intel; and Aart de Geus, chairman and CEO, Synopsys.

Also on deck at Semicon this year are TechXPOTs (“Tech Spots”), which are essentially shows-within-the-show featuring combination of exhibits, live technical content, and presentations by the winners of the Technology Innovation Showcase. This year’s TechXPOTs include emerging technologies and markets, test assembly and packaging, and challenges in device scaling.

The emerging technologies and markets TechXPOT will cover ways of effectively modeling nanoparticles, new ultra-stable systems for producing solar energy, and products that enable high-volume manufacture of advanced micro and nanostructures. The test, assembly and packaging area will highlight new organic packaging technologies, software suites that enable accelerated yield ramps or deliver fully automated 2D/3D inspection that ensure production speed and accuracy. Innovations that reduce gate leakage, provide atomic level process control and software designed to analyze fab data and improve wafer yields will be found in the challenges in device scaling TechXPOT.

In addition, this year’s exposition will feature the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) discussion held on the Semicon show floor.

In all, show organizers expect well over 1,000 exhibiting companies, representing 23 countries. Last year saw more than 40,000 people registered for the show, making it the largest microelectronics technology exposition in North America.

Go to semi.org for more information on attending Semicon West.