Editor's note: After the publication of this story, EE Times spoke with Brian Toohey, president of the SIA (Toohey could not be reached for comment the day the story broke). Toohey clarified that the SICAS organization is technically separate from the SIA, with its own membership and own executive committee. It was the SICAS executive committee that made the decision to stop publishing the quarterly fab capacity report, not the SIA, Toohey said. The original EE Times story (below) included the best information we had available at the time of publication. A follow up story, which includes Toohey's clarification of the relationship between the SIA and the SICAS organization, can be found here.
SAN FRANCISCO—The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) said Wednesday (Feb. 29) it would cease publication of a closely watched quarterly report on chip fab capacity utilization, one day after it came to light that Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. stopped participating in another program that pools and reports data on chip sales.
The SIA issued its Semiconductor International Capacity Statistics (SICAS) report for the fourth quarter of 2011 Wednesday. The report included a notification that "due to significant changes in the SICAS program participation base in 2011, the quarterly SICAS capacity and utilization report will be discontinued, effective quarter 1 2012." The notification appears in red near the top of each page of the report.
Last year, Taiwanese chip foundries Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) and United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC) and DRAM vendor Nanya Technology Corp. ceased participating in the SICAs program, causing an outcry. At the time, the SIA said it was working to get TSMC to rejoin the program. None of the Taiwanese firms were listed among the participants on the report issued Wednesday.
At the time that the companies withdrew from the program, Bill McClean, president of market research firm IC Insights Inc., speculated that because TSMC and UMC represent such a huge portion of the world's foundry capacity, they no longer wanted such detailed information on their manufacturing published each quarter.
Like all companies traded publicly in Taiwan, TSMC and UMC issue monthly reports on sales. Both also typically disclose their capacity utilization rates in some detail in quarterly financial reports.
A spokeswoman for TSMC said in an email exchange with EE Times Wednesday that TSMC considers detailed capacity information—such as by node and type of technology—to be trade secrets and thus stopped providing it for the SICAs report. The spokeswoman noted that TSMC still provides general information about overall capacity utilization by fab and by quarter when it reports its quarterly results.
A spokesman for UMC, also reached via email, said UMC pulled out of SICAs after TSMC did. "We would be the only Taiwan merchant foundry remaining in the survey. The results would have reflected a data pool of one," the spokesman said.
The SIA could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to McClean, the SICAs report now reflects only about 57 percent of the world's semiconductor manufacturing capacity installed base, down from 70 percent before the Taiwanese companies withdrew and 88 percent when the SIA first started publishing the report in the 1990s.
Reports like the SICAs and the WSTS provide industry forecasters and analysts throughout the electronics supply chain with valuable information for planning, staffing and other decisions about business. The reports are also a valuable tool for market research firms in gauging the health of the industry and spotting trends.
The SICAs report issued by the SIA Wednesday said overall capacity utilization rate in the semiconductor industry slipped to 86.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, down from 90.6 percent in the third quarter and 92.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. Overall industry capacity grew to 2.04 million wafer starts per week, up about 2 percent from the third quarter.
Again, I must say, being "hyper competitive" should not be used as a jail free card for the industry to not cooperate. We'd love to see some leadership here to find a reasonable compromise (the level of disclosure they can live with) and work it out.
This is really disturbing. While all of these things are unfolding, SIA -- reached out by us throughout this week -- has given us no interviews or credible explanations. Why can they afford to be so unresponsive?
This may backfire. The demand for capacity reports will not vanish, in fact there is still growing demand but if the semiconductor companies do not cooperate then this leaves more room for speculations which may ultimatly impact prognosis for investment organizations, banks, equipment, materials suppliers and also government agencies.
Cost for membership in WSTS is peanuts. Resources required by these companies to funnel the data they have readily available to WSTS is also negligible. There's more going on here than apathy or not realizing benefits of participation.
These reports are overrated -- they are always a day late and dollar short and also state the obvious -- there are more pertinent, clear signals & trigger points that occur that are more useful. Even anecdotal information on fab loadings is as accurate as these trumped up reports.
Some transparency here is vital if we are to avoid unnecessary over or under capacity or single points of failure. These are caused by companies being misinformed about what other people are doing, or by a misguided expectation in them being able to beat their competitors. Massive imbalance leads to inefficiency and it costs the industry overall - if only be reducing the ecosystem when companies go bust due to making these misjudgements.
Single points of failure (eg everyone inadvertently buying their plastic packaging resin from one just factory) could also be avoided with a bit more transparency.