Dynamic niches in cleanroom activity

Robert McIlvaine, President, The McIlvaine Company

The cleanroom industry cannot claim to evolve as rapidly and completely as some of its customers; nevertheless, it is ever changing. Moreover, some segments are truly dynamic.

Those veterans of the industry remember when the Class 100 [ISO Class 5] rooms were the ultimate achievement. Today, even plants which are one hundred times cleaner may still not be clean enough to meet the demands of semiconductor manufacturers. Many will remember the days before the words “molecular” and “contamination” were even linked.

One of the more dynamic areas of the industry is this so-called molecular contamination control. In fact, there is a new ISO draft international standard (DIS) on the subject. A document in the DIS stage is more than 95 percent technically accurate. A DIS goes out for a five-month approval vote by all 89 voting nations of ISO. Any suggested changes offered as a result of this voting process must be addressed by the Technical Committee and may be incorporated or rejected.

Is it a coincidence that power plants and semiconductor manufacturers are challenged with reducing the same pollutants? The answer is that a small fraction of the power plant emissions end up in the cleanroom make-up air system. NOx and SOx are emitted from the power plants in parts per million and enter the cleanroom in parts per billion.

An unfortunately dynamic segment of the cleanroom industry is dealing with homeland security. The bombing of buses and tube lines in London has again heightened the concern over the whole range of terrorist activities including biological and chemical attacks. The anthrax letter attacks generated a significant but temporary surge in cleanroom-related activities. Minienvironment expertise was what was needed and applied. A few entire buildings have been turned into cleanrooms. The likely trend is for continued action and reaction rather than some massive infrastructure investment to widely deploy this cleanroom technology.

The SARS, avian flu and other epidemic-type diseases are also likely to cause temporary rather than permanent surges in cleanroom activity. Interestingly, hospitals continue to lag behind other cleanroom users. There are a number of innovative isolation room designs, including mobile technology that can convert a standard room into one that provides the cleanroom basics, but hospitals continue to be underfunded and unable to invest in cleanroom technology.

Nanotechnology is a dynamic factor in the cleanroom industry in many ways. Most obvious is the potential for large investments in cleanroom technology to manufacture these miniature products. But there are some other important aspects as well: One is the concern about nanomaterials and their potential health ramifications.

EPA says that 50,000 people die prematurely because of inhalation of small particles. They have determined that some of the particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter pass through the lungs and into the blood stream. Now we have whole new industries being built around creating these small particles. But before anyone becomes too concerned, remember that the average residence or office building already circulates air with hundreds of thousands of entrained particles per cubic foot.

There is one use of nanotechnology which would greatly impact the cleanroom industry: The military is likely to invest many billions of dollars in a wide range of nanotechnology products. Ultimately, tanks the size of ants and planes the size of mosquitoes will be most effective in dealing with the small number of widely scattered enemies that constitute present and future threats. Already the defense department is purchasing thousands of flying devices similar to helicopters but small enough to hold in one hand.

Flat panel displays are a dynamic cleanroom sector. Shipments of LCD televisions rose 125 percent year-to-year in the first quarter of 2005 to 3.15 million units. This growing demand has inspired manufacturers to build large numbers of very large cleanrooms.

Some LCD suppliers, including Samsung, have been teaming with others to lessen the capital spending risks of LCD investment. Samsung and Japan’s Sony Corp. formed S-LCD Corp., which began operation in April at a 7th-generation fab in Tangjeong, Asan-City, South Korea. L.G.Philips is also constructing a 7th-generation fab, while Japan’s Sharp Corp. has already announced they will build an 8th-generation fab. Fujitsu Hitachi Plasma Display is constructing a third plant at Miyazaki Works in Japan to increase plasma display production efficiency. Japan’s Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. is bringing a fourth plasma plant online at Amagasaki.

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There are also geographically dynamic cleanroom sectors, but none is more dynamic than China. China is the world’s largest importer of chips, but this will rapidly change as large numbers of chip plants are built there. Chinese production of ICs last year was only $2.4 billion-less than 1.5 percent of the value of worldwide IC production-while consumption was over $30 billion. It is estimated that production will rise to $14 or $15 billion in 2010 but will still represent only five percent of worldwide chip production, and will represent only 15 to 20 percent of China’s forecast market for ICs in 2010.

Work has begun on the construction of a memory wafer manufacturing fab in Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province, China, a joint venture between STMicroelectronics NV and Hynix Semiconductors, Inc. The companies laid the first stone at the site April 28. The total investment planned for the project is $2 billion, financed with the equity split between Hynix and STMicroelectronics 67 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Motorola is investing $90 million in a new research facility in Beijing, China, as part of its long-term plans to grow its share of the mobile cell phone market.

National Semiconductor Corp., in the fall of 2004, opened its first manufacturing plant in China: an assembly and test facility in Suzhou Industrial Park outside Shanghai. The half-million-square-foot plant allows National to expand its capacity beyond existing assembly and test plants in Malaysia and Singapore.

TSMC is completing an 8-inch-wafer plant in Songjiang, in greater Shanghai.

CH2M IDC China was awarded a Greenfield design/construction project by Tianjin Zhong Huan Semiconductor. The project will include a production facility, office building, central utility building and machine shop. The initial facility will be 355,080 square feet with a potential expansion program of 530,000 additional square feet. The facility’s phase 1 will include a mixture of front-end and back-end operations.

Philips Semiconductor, a division of Eindhoven, Netherlands-based Royal Philips Electronics, is investing $1 billion in a new IC assembly and test plant in eastern China.

Intel invested more than $200 million in a new semiconductor-chip facility in central China in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

China is expanding its cleanroom purchases in many other industry sectors. The microelectronics sector is the largest, but in pharmaceutical, medical device, and even aerospace industries there continue to be expansions of activity. In addition, the hospital sector is strong due to the concern about avian flu.

The dynamism of the Chinese cleanroom market is reflected in the big investment in supplier manufacturing facilities by international companies. Hollingsworth & Vose, Fedders, Donaldson, W.L. Gore, and many other suppliers of cleanroom hardware and consumables have demonstrated their confidence in this market with substantial investments.

The cleanroom industry continues to grow at a rate faster than GDP. Dynamic segments defined in terms of applications and geography will achieve double-digit growth in the coming years.

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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