Fab utilization totals hide big disparity among sectors

By Paula Doe

WaferNews Contributing Editor

Despite those dismal fab utilization totals, there’s one sector of the industry that’s still running at surprisingly close to full capacity – Taiwan’s DRAM makers.

A recent survey by Nikkei Market Access found that despite the rock bottom prices for 128M DRAMs, Winbond Electronics, Powerchip Semiconductor, ProMOS Technologies, and Nanya Technologies continued to run at close to full capacity through the third quarter. So did DRAM maker Tech Semiconductor Singapore.

The memory makers, fear that if they cut back production their yields would drop, and it would take a while to raise yields again when things picked up, so they would lose market share. And maintaining volumes at low prices at least keeps the customers happy. Still, the low prices are keeping the chips moving out the door. The companies report they have only two to four weeks of inventory.

Logic is quite another story.

“Foundry utilization levels have sunk to levels people once thought were impossible, especially at the new players,” said Steve Della Rocchetta, executive VP of sales and marketing for Silterra Malaysia. Silterra’s utilization rate is a mere 10 to 15%, and it will do only $45 to $50 million in revenues this year, when it had expected to do $200 million.

UMC’s overall utilization was running at 30 to 40% in September, but the company’s newest lines were at 70% while some older 200mm lines were basically empty. Nikkei expects TSMC’s recent 40% utilization to be the bottom, as the company increases production of the graphics chips it makes for nVIDIA that go into Microsoft X-Box games. Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing, with its logic foundry business, is reportedly running at 30% capacity.

NEC Kyushu says its 200mm line is operating at 85% of its 40,000/month capacity.


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