SAN FRANCISCO—Semiconductor manufacturers closed 49 fabs between 2009 and 2011 in a paring of older capacity capable of processing 200-mm or smaller wafers, according to data from market research firm IC Insights Inc.
IC Insights (Scottsdale, Ariz.) said the decline in 200-mm and below capacity picked up speed in 2009 and continued through 2011 as suppliers closed or upgraded fabs that were using smaller wafers in order to produce devices more cost-effectively on larger wafers.
Some of the fabs closed by semiconductor manufacturers are being refurbished for production on larger wafers or for production of non-IC products, IC Insights said. In the coming years, more companies are expected to shutter older fabs as they transition to the fab-lite business model or become completely fabless, the firm predicts. Twenty-one of the 49 fab closures between 2009 and 2011 were 150-mm wafer fabs, according to IC Insights. Thirteen of the closed fabs were 200-mm fabs, seven were 125-mm fabs, three were 100-mm fabs, IC Insights said.
Five of the 49 fab closures were actually 300-mm fabs, IC Insights said. With Qimonda AG going out of business in early 2009, it's 300-mm fabs became the first 300-mm fabs to cease commercial operations, according to the firm.
By region, according to IC Insights' Global Wafer Capacity 2011-2012 report, Japan and North America each saw 17 wafer fab closures, while 12 occurred in Europe and three in South Korea. One of the wafer fab closures in Japan was a 30-0mm fab operated by Sony, but this fab is being retrofitted and will return to service to produce image sensors for the company, IC Insights said.
The Qimonda wafer fab in Sandston, Va., which shut its doors in 2009, was the only 300-mm wafer fab closed in North American from 2009 to 2001.
The three 100-mm fabs to close during the three-year period included fabs owned by Dalsa Semiconductor Inc. in Ontario, Canada, ON Semiconductor Corp. in Piestany, Slovak Republic, and Diodes Inc. in Oldham, England, IC Insights said.
Only this industry would spend billions on 200 mm fabs, then shut them while they spend more billions on fabs for larger wafers, and while selling the resultant ICs they make for a dollar or a few dollars. In some ways, this is ongoing insanity, seems to me.
My question: at what point does the merry-go-round have to stop?
I think that unless you have reasonably high margins - like Intel for instance, it doesn't make sense. The business model for most semiconductor companies hasn't worked well for the last decade at least. The average return on investment is very low.
Like any other manufacturing industry, there comes a point where it makes more economic sense to shutter existing facilities and build new than to continue using the old. Of course, this is usually based on economic projections, which may or may not be accurate, because if the manufacturer waits too long, the competition has gone off ahead (and certainly isn't going to wait). With today's technological advances, we see this happening more and more often.
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