Tony Edwards, VP/GM, Electronics Division, FEI, Hillsboro, OR USA
Market conditions today are challenging, to say the least, but past experience has shown that investments in advanced technology during a market downturn can return substantial benefits when the market recovers — and it will recover. The semiconductor industry had already entered a cyclical slowdown when the current financial crisis began to develop, and that crisis will surely deepen and extend the downturn beyond what might have been expected in more normal times. The downturn has reduced demand for current products, and capacity-driven equipment purchases are off significantly, but long-term success requires that companies continue to develop the advanced products that will allow them to increase market share when demand again becomes robust.
The need to invest in advanced technologies is amplified by fundamental changes occurring in the semiconductor industry. For decades, we have been driven by a sort of technological consolidation as all manufacturers focused on realizing the benefits provided by shrinking CMOS — as evidenced by the remarkable success of the industry roadmap. As we approach the point of diminishing returns on that strategy, we are beginning to see increased diversification as different technologies — designs, materials, and processes — emerge to meet the specific requirements of new applications. This diversification recreates the opportunity-rich environment that characterized the earlier days of our industry and leverages investments that can lead to the next breakthrough technology.
Because of diversification, we expect to see continued demand for the most advanced products that help to enable the complex geometries of radical new designs, such as FinFETs and advanced gate structures. Likewise, there has been robust growth in the use of TEM in semiconductor applications. The manufacturers who make these investments in advanced technology now will be the ones that are best positioned to take advantage of a recovering market.