SAN FRANCISCO—Worldwide wafer fab equipment spending is on pace to total $33 billion in 2012, a decline of 9 percent from $36.2 billion in 2011, according to market research firm Gartner Inc.
Gartner (Stamford, Conn.) forecasts that fab tool spending will grow 7 percent in 2013 to reach $35.4 billion, still below the 2011 level.
Bob Johnson, research vice president at Gartner, said through a statement that equipment spending started strong in 2012, as foundries and other logic device makers ramped up sub-30-nm production. "The need for new equipment was stronger than originally anticipated, because strengthening demand for leading-edge devices required higher production volumes as yields had yet to reach mature levels," Johnson said. "However, demand for new logic production equipment will soften as yields improve, leading to declining shipment volume for the rest of the year."
Wafer fab manufacturing capacity utilization will decline into the mid-80-percent range by the middle of 2012 before slowly increasing to about 87 percent by the end of 2012, Gartner projected. Leading-edge utilization will return to the high-80-percent range by the second half of 2012, and move into the low-90-percent range through 2013, according to the firm's forecast.
Gartner's forecast is in line with other organizations and market research firms, which generally expect semiconductor equipment spending to be flat or down in 2012. For example, SEMI, the fab tool vendor trade group, said in March it expects total fab tool spending—including both new and used equipment—to be about $38.9 billion in 2012, roughly flat with 2011.
"Production is getting back to more-normal levels, following a period of inventory correction," Johnson said. "Increased demand, combined with less-than-mature yields at the leading edge, is consuming increased capacity, with the result that utilization will begin to climb upward again in the second quarter of 2012. Capital spending restraints through the second half of 2012 will also slow new capacity additions, with the result that overall utilization rates will return to normal levels at the start of 2013. Leading-edge utilization will stay in the low-90-percent range through most of 2013, providing continued impetus for capital investment."
Gartner said the semiconductor industry will continue ramping new technology nodes in 2012, driving a broad spectrum of equipment segment sales opportunities. Foundries are currently ramping up 28 nm, leading-edge logic has transitioned to 20 nm, NAND flash will ramp up the 1X node, and DRAM will be ramping up 4X and 3X nodes, Gartner said. Gartner analysts said this will create different challenges for the equipment manufacturers because they face different issues at each node.