By Lisa Nadile
Is building a new cleanroom economically feasible this year? Cleanroom manufacturers hope it is. They hope to join chip manufacturers who are popping open another round of New Year's champagne after the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) announced the industry's highest ever global sales figure: $14.2 billion for the year-to-date in November.
The record was buoyed by the significant growth of Internet-related product sales, according to Molly Marr, SIA's deputy director of communications. “Communications and Internet products, including modems, DSP, wireless, and other components” are behind the sales growth, she says.
However, some members of the cleanrooms industry suggest semiconductor sales are merely regaining ground after the Asian-Pacific economic difficulties in 1998. “At the beginning of last year, we had a number of companies coming to us with projects, mostly geared for the long-term, that they said were on the front burner. Then many of those projects just froze up when the economic problems hit,” says John Potter, national sales manager for American Cleanroom Systems who is based in New York.
Potter says that a number of companies had ramped up capacity, citing recent construction of large plants by Hyundai and Samsung. “There was grotesque overproduction and nobody needed to build more cleanrooms,” he explains.
“The thaw is beginning in the semiconductor industry as well as in the cleanrooms industry,” says Potter. Cleanrooms customers are rethinking their needs with the evolution of standards; i.e., the Fed 209E running out of steam and the growing emphasis on ISO specifications. In addition, many companies are seeking more successful ways to balance costs and shorten ROI. Specifically, they are analyzing the cost of running ballroom-sized facilities as opposed to smaller, specialized areas.
However, according to Marr, the sales figures represent a true leap forward in growth, rather than just the industry regaining ground. These sales improvements will continue for the next few years, and not only will they reinvigorate delayed projects but manufacturers will need build more cleanrooms to further increase capacity, she says.