Analyst: Metrology tools the first casualty in chipmaker capex cuts

August 30, 2006 – Semiconductor manufacturers are increasingly trying to cut expenses and spending, and the first casualty appears to be metrology equipment investments, according to a new report from The Information Network.

Semiconductor yields have reached a point where chipmakers are relaxing wafer sampling and are looking for ways to cut capital expenditures, stated Robert Castellano, president of the New Tripoli, PA-based market research firm. Metrology tool throughput now typically exceeds 130 wafers/hour, meaning faster measurements and less need for metrology capacity, saving both capital expenses and cleanroom space, he said. “Simply put, the performance of the current crop of metrology/inspection systems has gotten too good.” Chipmakers are also deferring purchases of integrated metrology tools in favor of standalone equipment for thin-film measurements, allowing them to sample only some sites on some wafers, he added.

Castellano projects the process control sector will grow about 9.6% in 2006, compared with 15.8% for the overall equipment industry. The macrodefect inspection surged 63% in 2005 vs. just 1.5% for the overall inspection/metrology market, and a 9.5% decrease in overall frontend equipment. But that segment, led by August Technology with 44% share (including Rudolph Technologies), represents just 3.3% of the overall metrology/inspection market, and Castellano says it is now “overcrowded.”


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