SAN FRANCISCO -- There's good and bad news for semiconductor equipment makers in 2002, said Richard Hill, chairman and chief executive of Novellus Systems Inc., at a technology conference here today.
First, the good news: Global semiconductor sales are now expected to rise 10% from last year's severe downturn, said Hill, during a presentation at the conference, sponsored by Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.
And the chip recovery is finally causing frontend chip-equipment orders to pick up, after a long and steep decline, Hill said. "In the last two years, I would say that we were either in purgatory or hell," he said. "Now, there are signs of a recovery," he said.
But now for the bad news: While fab tool orders are climbing, the overall frontend equipment market is still expected to decline by about 15% this year to $22 billion from $26 billion in 2001, he predicted.
The Novellus executive is blaming the 2002 decline on continued weakness in capital spending during the first three months of this year. The first quarter was much weaker than Q1 of 2001, which had not yet been fully impacted by the industry slump. Hill said the market was so bad at the start of this year that tool makers may not be able to make up the difference over the remaining three quarter of 2002.
"The market is up, but the shipments were so low in the first quarter," he told SBN after his presentation.
There are some bright spots in the equipment market for supplier, however. "Fab utilization is relatively low at 75% in the worldwide semiconductor market," he said. But overall wafer-fab utilization for leading-edge "0.15-micron processes and below is north of 90%," he said.
The shift from 200- to 300-mm wafer manufacturing is a positive sign, but Novellus and other tool makers are seeing another ongoing trend that bodes well for the industry. "The battlefield is changing," he said. "The interconnects in leading-edge devices is changing from aluminum to copper," he added.
This bodes well for Novellus and others that supply chemical vapor deposition and related processing tools for chips based on copper-interconnects, low-k dielectrics and other leading-edge technologies.