Tough times require cost control and advanced technology

Bill Bintz, SVP of Product Marketing, Axcelis Technologies, Inc., Beverly, MA USA

The chip industry is bracing for a challenging 2009 as consumers rein in spending and electronics suppliers plan for reduced production — at least through the first half of the year. But if there’s one constant in the industry, besides the cycles, it’s that technology continues to march on. IC manufacturers are determined to continue advancing their technology roadmaps, which call for rolling out 32nm or 28nm devices, in order to maintain their competitive edge.

The key to success in this climate is making investments that not only provide unique, enabling technology to support these aggressive node transitions, but also deliver optimal productivity and cost of ownership. Chip makers are eager to control both capital spending and operating costs these days, and technology alone may not be enough to make the sale.

We believe one investment strategy that makes sense is to address multiple objectives with a single platform. Photoresist dry strip cleaning and ion implant systems that enable the use of advanced species and materials for leading-edge device architectures are a good start, for instance. We’ve found that they’re more likely to generate orders, however, if they also offer increased wafer throughput and reliability, and if they’re designed for easier maintenance.

Technical support, while always important, becomes increasingly essential at times like this when chip makers are looking to keep existing equipment in production longer. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing strong interest in upgrades to extend the performance and life of already installed systems.

Operational improvements can also help to reduce costs during these difficult times. Thus, equipment makers would do well to rethink their business models for manufacturing and assembly, while continuing to streamline, improve quality control and speed delivery times.

Downturns are never easy, but by investing in technology and controlling costs, companies can position themselves for better business conditions in the future.


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