Your Market Analysis: How big is the cleanroom industry?

By Robert McIlvaine, President, McIlvaine Company

The cleanroom industry is difficult to define because in many respects it is an artificial creation around results and not specific products.

The dictionary defines the word “industry” as: A specific branch of manufacture and trade. This all sounds precise, but the significance of the word “specific” depends on the perspective of the person making the interpretation.

The McIlvaine Company started with a perspective heavily prejudiced toward air treatment rather than water or solids (e.g., removal of particles from wafer surfaces). In 1984, a large air filter manufacturer contracted with McIlvaine to provide it with a custom report on cleanroom air filters. Other contracts followed, and in 1987 McIlvaine introduced a market report on cleanroom hardware and consumables.

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For the past 18 years, McIlvaine has provided not only forecasts of individual products, but summaries of the total market. The world cleanroom market forecast for 2005 is $7.5 billion (see Table 1).

This number is quickly raised or lowered by changing the definition of a cleanroom. When your cleanliness needs drop below the 100,000 particles/cubic foot level, then you no longer need HEPA filters in most cases. Therefore, McIlvaine, like most analysts, viewed the cleanroom market as confined to facilities with Class 100,000 (ISO Class 8) or cleaner atmospheres.

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McIlvaine also tracks the total world air filter market (see Table 2). This includes furnace filters, air filters used in light manufacturing and in commercial buildings, and filters in any facility that has ventilation systems. The portion of this market covered under the definition of a cleanroom is only 8 percent. HEPA filters are now being used in residences as well as many facilities that are not classified as cleanrooms. In addition, there is a significant gray area-such as protecting buildings against bio and chemical terrorism-where a great amount of cleanroom technology is required.

There is also an ultrapure water industry to consider. It is similar to the cleanroom industry in that it involves only water treatment at ultrahigh purity. A major demand for ultrapure water comes from the semiconductor industry. The water that is used to wash contaminants from wafers as they move through each treatment process must be purified to remove particles and even ions.

The flat panel display industry has similar needs because semiconductor technology is used in the manufacture of the panels.

Another application for ultrapure water is Water for Injection (WFI) and includes water used in injectable pharmaceuticals.

All of the above applications could be considered in a fairly narrow definition of the cleanroom industry: The cleanliness of the water used is just as important as the air in contact with the product in minimizing product contamination.

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There are other ultrapure water applications that can be considered part of the cleanroom industry, but they amount to only about $200 million per year in revenue (see Table 3).

The biggest application of ultrapure water, however, is in the power industry, where purified water is heated and turned into steam to drive a turbine. This application is clearly not one that falls into the cleanroom industry.

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There is a total of $2 billion in ultrapure water revenue which should be added to obtain a more relevant total of the overall cleanroom market. Of this total, $1.3 billion is hardware and $700 million is consumables (see Table 4).

There are many perspectives which result in larger markets for various components. Static control is one example: In the greater electronics industry, static control is very substantial compared to the investment just in facilities equipped with cleanrooms.

Suppliers of wipes have opportunities to sell cleanroom-quality wipes for use in many other applications. Garment suppliers supply food-service garments, which have many of the same qualities as do those that are required in cleanrooms.

Monitoring is a need that is widespread throughout the industry. In some ways, it is ironic that power plants have the same monitoring needs as do semiconductor plants. The reason is that pollutants, which are discharged from the power plant stacks, enter the semiconductor plant air intakes in a diluted form.

A power plant is forced to reduce SO2 emissions to 200 ppm. A semiconductor plant must ensure that SO2 is limited to just a few ppb. New federal rules, which are requiring a 70 percent reduction in SO2 emissions from power plants, are certain to reduce the SO2 contaminants in semiconductor intake air.

The definition of the cleanroom industry is of considerable value. It should be recognized that the definition is flexible and can be revised to suit the purposes of various parties. To some it is a $9.5 billion market; to others it is $7.5 billion; and still to many it is a much smaller market. III

Robert McIlvaine is president and founder of the McIlvaine Company, Northfield, Ill. The company first published “Cleanrooms: World Markets” in 1984 and has since continued to publish market and technical information for the cleanroom industry.


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