June 5, 2007 – The market segment for semiconductor metrology and inspection tools will recover “modestly” this year after “a dismal 2006” in which the segment grew just half the rate of the rest of the frontend equipment market, according to a report from The Information Network.
Last year the metrology/inspection tool segment posted growth of 16.4% — well off the 33.6% clip for the overall frontend equipment market, and glaringly apart from the average 2.4% spread. Yields reached levels to the point that chipmakers could relax wafer sampling, and find ways to minimize capital expenditures, noted Robert Castellano, president of the market research firm.
Immersion lithography is now a principle driver for the metrology/inspection market, he noted, as process engineers consider the need for more sampling going ahead. Other factors helping the segment include continued usage of 300mm wafer processing, and introduction of new exotic processes and materials.
The firm projects the metrology/inspection to actually outperform the frontend equipment market in 2007, growing +3% vs. a -4% decline in frontend. Next year the firm pegs metrology/inspection growth at 16.5%, slightly ahead of the frontend segment (14.2%). Continued erosion in the semiconductor market will impact capex, Castellano told WaferNEWS, adding that Intel and STmicroelectronics combining NOR flash businesses to essentially bail out of the NOR flash market is a negative for equipment purchases in that sector.