MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- After a tough and painful year in 2001, the blank photomask business is showing signs of a mild recovery, amid some new and positive signs in the market, according to the new chief executive at Photronics Inc.
A sudden surge in fab utilization in the silicon foundry business, coupled with growing demand in select end-user consumer markets, are positive signs for photomask suppliers and other companies involved in the semiconductor industry, said Dan Del Rosario, CEO of Photronics, based in Brookfield, Conn.
"The bottom has formed," Del Rosario said. "There are also a number of positive indicators out there," he said.
Even Photronics' own business has steadily improved after a difficult year in 2001, thanks in part to growing demand for photomask products in Asia, he said. "We are cautiously optimistic. That's a positive, not a negative," he said in an interview with SBN here earlier this week.
The Phontronics CEO also said the company has no plans to expand its worldwide mask-making capacity--at least for now, he said. Over the years, the company has or will build mask shops in China, England, Korea, Taiwan, and the United States. In the U.S. market, Photronics has mask-making manufacturing plants in Arizona, California and Texas.
"We have enough capacity in place to serve us for the next decade," Del Rosario said.
The new CEO of Photronics was in Silicon Valley this week to discuss the company's prospects in separate meetings with press and analysts.
In March, Del Rosario was named CEO at Photronics, replacing Constantine S. Macricostas, who will remain chairman. Macricostas had been serving as the CEO on an interim basis. Del Rosario, who has been with Photronics since 1995, was previously senior vice president of Asia for the company (see March 11 story ).
Del Rosario took the helm amid a rebound in its business. At present, the company is seeing demand for its photomask products across all technology nodes.
"The bulk of our manufacturing is at 180-nm (0.18-micron)," he said. "We are also investing for 130-nm (0.13-micron) and below technologies."
It is also benefiting from growth in the international markets, which represents 50% of its worldwide sales right now, he said. Not long ago, the international markets only represented 25% of Photronics' revenues, according to the company.
"North America remains an important market for us, but our fastest growing market is Asia," he said. The company sees strong demand in Taiwan and Korea, but China represents the next frontier in the semiconductor business, he said.
Earlier this year, Photronics Inc. outlined its strategy in China, announcing a new company that will build the most advanced blank photomask shop in that nation. In total, Photronics will invest $300 million in China over the next five years (see Feb. 28 story ).
Construction of the facility will begin early in the second half of this year and should be completed in the first quarter of 2003. The growth potential in China's embryonic chip industry could even exceed Taiwan during the same stage of development, according to the Photronics executive.
Japan is another key market. At one time, Japanese chip makers produced 50% of their own photomask products in internal mask shops, but that figure is expected to decline over time, he said.