The value of critical subsystems sold for use in the sub fab is outgrowing the overall market for critical subsystems. Driven by the increased complexity of leading edge fabs and the growing vacuum intensity of semiconductor manufacturing, both the volume and the value of critical subsystems for this part of the market is on the rise.
The main products are chillers, heat exchangers, dry pumps, abatement systems and vacuum isolation valves. Sales of these products for use in the sub fab reached a value of just over $2 billion in 2018.
From 2000 to 2010 the value of critical subsystems sold for sub fab applications fell from a rate of around 19 percent of total critical subsystems sales to 16 percent. However, in 2013 this trend reversed as the vacuum intensity of semiconductor manufacturing started to increase. Spending is now currently running at 20 percent of the total and growing and this change is catching the attention of chipmakers and critical subsystems suppliers alike.
Apart from being a large market for critical subsystems, the significant and growing installed base of products in the sub fab is becoming an attractive source of service and support revenues. Most of the products in the sub fab are outside the scope of OEM warranties and OEM service contracts of the tools in the clean room. This means that maintenance and repair services are typically provided by either in-house teams, third party service providers, critical subsystems suppliers or some combination of these options. Growing costs are posing a problem for chipmakers and they need to find solutions which lower costs, guarantee safety, and limit the number of engineers requiring access to the sub fab. Currently, chipmakers are still figuring out the best course of action so there are many opportunities for critical subsystems suppliers with the right skills to win some of this fast growing business.
John West is managing director at VLSI Research Europe.