VANTAA, Finland – Okmetic Oyj a manufacturer of silicon wafers for sensor, semiconductor and solar applications, has begun outsourcing wafer manufacture even as it is expanding its factory here to make more silicon-on-insulator wafers.
Kai Seikku, president and CEO of Okmetic, said the company has secured two Japanese and three Chinese partners who produce wafers for their local markets based on Okmetic ingots of silicon.
Okmetic has prospered over the last couple of years as a supplier of wafers for the booming microelectromechanical system (MEMS) market. The company was a 83.2 million euro business (about $100 million) in 2011 and in the first quarter of 2012 about 46 percent of sales were wafers for sensors. The company has become one of the anchors of a burgeoning MEMS cluster around Helsinki, Finland, that includes local universities, the VTT research institute and what was VTI Technologies Oy, now Murata Electronics Oy
However, despite the growth potential, Okmetic is also looking to expand
in innovative ways. In 2011 the company acquired ten crystal-growing
furnaces to expand its ingot production and began a search for fab-lite partners for selected
applications.Kai Seikku, came in as Okmetic CEO in 2010
Seikku declined to name the five outsource companies Okmetic is working with but said that from the customers' perspective they are sources of Okmetic wafers, as Okmetic manages the supply chain, customer relations and the order and delivery process. In MEMS – unlike integrated circuits – the starting wafer is likely to have been heavily customized.
And some of that customization can be in the silicon boule or ingot. One of Okmetic's strengths is the ability to precisely control and maintain crystal orientation as the boule is pulled from the melt as well as purity and doping levels.
"We have a reputation with customers for good R&D but we are constrained by our ability to manufacture," said Seikku. He added that using outsource partners to take in ingots and produce wafers to Okmetic-developed specifications saves capital cost and provides flexibility.
Seikku denied that Okmetic is teaching eastern hemisphere companies how to become rivals for the sake of short-term business gains. "We retain the crystal growing capability. R&D and customers relations are the enablers of MEMS wafer business."
Meanwhile the company is building a 30 million euro (about $37 million) extension to its Vantaa plant to increase internal production capacity for SOI wafers for sensor applications. Thick SOI has been taking an increasing share of the MEMS market in recent years and also for high-voltage power semiconductor applications. Okmetic plans to triple its SOI capacity to 25,000 wafers per month by 2014 or 2015. The 600 square meter cleanroom is due to be completed by the end of 2012. This will also increase Okmetic's ability to deliver 200-mm diameter wafers.
While MEMS sensors are mostly made using wafer diameters up to 150-mm there is now likely to be a rapid transition to 200-mm wafers, particularly as IC foundries begin to engage as MEMS foundries attempting to serve consumers applications.
Seikku said such transitions always seem to take longer to arrive than originally estimated but once they arrive the take place much quicker than expected. "The transition has been discussed for a long time. We see 6-inch to 8-inch happening this year."
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