Non-traditional users drive cleanroom markets

Non-traditional users drive cleanroom markets

By Tammy Wright

As the year 2000 approaches, industry sources say the cleanroom market is going to be driven by trends that allow a wider spectrum of industries to operate more productively and more competitively. New research findings validate their views.

Leading the way into the new milenium, they contend, is a migration toward mini-fabs. Instead of building large facilities, which have traditionally been modeled after Japanese designs, cleanroom-user industries are making qualitative changes in their operating environments, says John Potter, director of engineering at Enviroflex Inc. (Anaheim, CA), a design/build contractor for Class 1 to Class 100,000 cleanrooms. He cites the downturn in the semiconductor business and the Asian financial crisis as two catalysts propelling the shift.

“In large fabs, the only way to keep pace is to overproduce, which only works in boon time,” Potter says. “Companies are now seeing that downsized facilities provide the same process and tool efficiencies of bigger fabs, but with more flexibility.”

As cleanrooms begin to get smaller, process applications are also being modified.

“I see foundries and mini-fabs for R&D and semi-custom chip production,” predicts Blake Hodess, co-president of Hodess Building Co. (North Attleboro, MA). “These limited quantity runs produce 1,000 or 10,000 particular chips for a specific function rather than mass production. That keeps companies from over-producing and allows them to keep prices up and change with market conditions.”

Another outgrowth of downsizing facilities could be an increase in cooperative agreements and spin-offs among cleanroom groups.

“With demands on the cleanroom industry changing, those of us in it have to get better at a lot of things. We`re coming into contact with clients who want someone who can do everything in a cleanroom, not just specialize in one area,” Potter says, noting that it`s a trend that could leave less diversified cleanroom companies in distress.

Other scenarios include companies that are manufacturing their products in multiple locations around the world. For instance, a company could opt to eliminate its cleanroom and allow another clean manufacturer to fabricate its product(s,) or a chip producer may have operations in both the United States and Asia to avoid events that could cause downtime and lower yields. As Hodess notes, it makes sense because it`s unlikely that there`s going to be a power failure in Ohio and Korea at the same time.

Another trend industry sources foresee is the use of cleanroom technology by businesses that don`t require clean manufacturing conditions, but that will adhere to them to improve their products and services.

“The electronic industry certainly drives technology — they are the big users,” says Ray Schneider, vice president of Luwa Bahnson Cleanrooms (Winston-Salem, NC), “but as the cleanroom industry expands, there`s going to be a lot of less sophisticated users entering the market. And that fuels Luwa Bahnson`s optimism that the (overall) industrial process is becoming cleaner.”

Hodess agrees, pointing out that one of his clients is a bottle cap maker. “Anyone with critical finishes, like commemorative items, gets into cleanroom technology to lower defect rates and to compete. To maintain quality,” he says, “you have to implement these clean techniques.”

New findings by The McIlvaine Co., a market research concern in Northbrook, IL, lend support to these predictions about the burgeoning growth of the cleanroom industry.

According to its recently updated report, World Cleanroom Markets 1996-2000, approximately $11 billion will be spent on cleanroom hardware, services and disposable goods in the year 2000. (Cost is $3,700.)

Bob McIlvaine of The McIlvanie Co. points out that hardware orders, which he projects at $5.7 billion, reflect growth in newer industries and plants being constructed. He cites flat panel display as an emerging industry gaining on pharmaceuticals, the third largest segment of cleanroom users in his report. It shows that flat panel display exceeds pharmaceutical hardware orders in the United States and falls just short of them in terms of world orders.

The report, which provides annual forecasts on 12 to 15 different industry applications across five classes of cleanrooms in 81 countries, identifies the top two user segments as the semiconductor and disk drive industries, respectively. The top three purchasers of cleanroom products are reported to be Japan, followed by the United States and South Korea.

“The top three purchasers have remained the same since 1996,” he says, “but, the disk drive and pharmaceutical industries have switched places in the user segment category. In 1996, pharmaceuticals was second.”

Hospitals and other applications, such as aerospace, automotive and food processing, combined accounted for 25 percent of the total user segment polled.


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