The market for chillers and heat exchangers used in semiconductor manufacturing equipment has more than doubled since 2014 and is expected to reach a total value of $383 million in 2019. The 18 percent compound annual growth rate of this segment over the period was considerably higher than the critical subsystems industry average of 5.9 percent and is attributable to an increasing demand for vacuum processing equipment.
The main driver of this exceptional growth has been the rise in the number and complexity of dry etch processing steps in the manufacture of memory and logic devices. Chillers and heat exchangers are vital for maintaining optimal processing temperatures – this is most important for physical processes such as etch, PVD and ion implant, which generate lots of unwanted heat. The ability to accurately control process temperatures is becoming increasingly important for complex 3D NAND architectures and sub 10nm processes to get yields to an acceptable level. These factors are driving the need for more thermal management subsystems, but also new and more efficient ones leading to a strong replacement market.
The majority of chillers and heat exchangers are for etch tools (59 percent), with 18 percent for deposition and 24 percent for other tool types such as ion implant, CMP and wet processing. Etch is the largest application, mainly due to the large number of etch chambers shipped each year as the number of vacuum processing steps rises, but also because etch processes have some of the toughest temperature control requirements and need higher value chillers and exchangers. CMP and wet processing tools tend to require fewer and lower specification temperature control subsystems.
The 18.0 percent CAGR of chillers and heat exchangers between 2014 and 2019 is even more remarkable as it includes a year over year fall of 13.4 percent this year as a result of the wider semiconductor equipment industry slowdown. However, chillers and heat exchangers have still fared better than most subsystem segments as they are typically sold directly to chipmakers, which tend to be less volatile in their purchasing and did not overorder in 2018.
Despite the staggering growth performance of the chillers and heat exchangers segment over the past five years, we expect the growth rate to moderate significantly in the run-up to 2024. Now that 3D NAND has been adopted in high-volume manufacturing, we expect the rate of increase in vacuum processing steps to slow. The introduction of EUV also has the potential to taper demand for vacuum processing equipment. However, that trend is not expected to reverse as multiple patterning techniques will still be needed in conjunction with EUV to achieve the desired improvements in device density and performance. The future growth trend for chillers and heat exchangers is forecast to be in line with the critical subsystems industry average at approximately 7 percent CAGR up to 2024.
For more information about critical subsystems and VLSI Research, please visit our website.
Julian West is a technical and market analyst at VLSI Research Europe.