Digital Economy Sustains Chip Ecosystem Boom

Article By : George Leopold

Growth in the semiconductor substrate and equipment sectors are being driven by China and Taiwan.

The hits keep coming for the semiconductor materials and equipment sectors as silicon and the digital economy it undergirds emerge as strategic assets.

The growth of the chip-making equipment and material substrate sectors continued its remarkable ascent, according to figures released by the industry monitor SEMI. The only downsides were declines in European (minus 7.3 percent in 2020) and North American (down 0.6 percent last year) semiconductor materials consumption.

The pandemic accounted for most of the North America and Europe market declines, SEMI said.

Those declines were more than made up by surging revenues in the new locus of chip making: intertwined China and Taiwan.

Overall, 2020 semiconductor materials revenues jumped 5 percent in 2020 to $55.3 billion, SEMI reported. China led the way with revenues growing 12 percent to $9.7 billion, topped only by Taiwan at more than $12 billion in wafer substrate revenues.

“For the eleventh consecutive year, Taiwan, at $12.4 billion, was the world’s largest market for semiconductor materials on the strength of its large foundry capacity and advanced packaging base,” SEMI reported. “With its aggressive capacity build-up, China surpassed [South] Korea.”

Revenues associated with wafer fabrication and packaging materials led the way, along with photoresist, chemicals and chemical mechanical polishing and planarization.

The packaging materials segment was driven by growth in demand of bonding wiring and organic substrates.

Meanwhile, the North American semiconductor equipment sector continues to benefit from growing Chinese demand as suppliers walk a fine line on U.S. export controls covering shipments of sensitive lithography and other design tools.

The industry tracker reported IC gear suppliers logged their second consecutive month of record billings in February, a 32-percent year-on-year increase to $3.135 billion—a preliminary estimate based on a three-month average metric. According to final estimates, the chip group said January bookings topped $3 billion, a nearly 30-percent jump on an annual basis.

The results were driven by “robust secular semiconductor demand across diverse end-use markets,” said Ajit Manocha, SEMI’s president and CEO. “The digitization of industries worldwide continues to drive rising investments in semiconductor equipment.”

Semiconductor manufacturing’s inexorable shift to Asia continues to raise alarms in Washington, where policy makers look for ways to re-shore some IC fabrication.

With that in mind, the Biden administration imposed new export controls on Chinese chip makers and research organizations involved in supercomputer designs. Among those added the Commerce Department’s “Entity List” is Tianjin Phytium Information Technology. As we reported, Phytium is a startup launched several years back by China Electronics Corp., one of China’s oldest and largest state-run enterprises.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

George Leopold has written about science and technology from Washington, D.C., since 1986. Besides EE Times, Leopold’s work has appeared in The New York Times, New Scientist, and other publications. He resides in Reston, Va.

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