October 23, 2006 – A division between large and smaller cluster-tool suppliers has developed along open architecture adhering to industry standards, and growth is slow for companies that are actively seeking to make their tools compatible, according to a report from The Information Network.
Cluster tools combine several processes under one vacuum chamber for the purpose of reducing cycle times, reducing wafer handling by operators, reducing particulate contamination, reducing molecular contamination, and initiating difficult processes, the firm explained.
Large equipment suppliers such as Novellus, Lam Research, and ASMI have migrated to an open architecture by adhering to standards laid out by SEMI’s MESC (Modular Equipment Standards Committee) governing cluster tools for semiconductor vacuum operations over the past few years, particularly for 300mm tools, noted Robert N. Castellano, president of the New Tripoli, PA-based market research firm.
The report notes that the flexible cluster tool market segment, which conforms to the strictest SEMI/MESC standards, has grown at the expense of nonflexible tools over the past decade. However, that higher-growth segment is comprised mainly of smaller equipment suppliers (revenues <$50 million, with the exception of Novellus, Lam Research, ASMI, and Tokyo Electron), which tout their tool compatibility as a competitive edge against larger competitors.
While the market for flexible tools is expected to grow 21.1% in 2006 vs. 18.8% for the nonflexible sector, but is only about one-fifth the size ($2.7 billion vs. $12.5 billion). Novellus eked out Lam Research for top share in the flexible tool sector in 2005, while Applied Materials held 32.6% share in the nonflexible cluster tool market.