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Next fab wave: LEDs

April 08, 2010 // Mark LaPedus

Next fab wave: LEDs

Needless to say, fewer semiconductor fabs are being built these days, and even the solar market has cooled a bit. So what's the next big thing for fabs? Try LEDs.


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Rising LED demand for lighting apps and TVs has semiconductor titans like Samsung and TSMC jumping into the market, and is fueling sales growth for equipment makers from Aixtron to Veeco. An investment banking firm has just upgraded its forecast for Veeco, and Applied Materials Inc. is looking to enter the LED tool market.

Predictably, lead times for LED gear, such as metal-organic chemical-vapor (MOCVD) deposition systems, are already extending and "may bring uncertainty to capacity expansion plans," Clark Tseng, an analyst with SEMI Taiwan, states in a new report.

On the bright side, the LED market entry of chip giants such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and foundry leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. "is good news for the consumer," said Dean Freeman, an analyst with Gartner Inc.

"Although the LED industry has existed for many years, LEDs are in their infancy as a commodity product; as a result, costs are extremely high. The high costs are due to inefficiencies in the process, small scale and a lack of industry standards," Freeman said. "With two of the leading semiconductor manufacturers now bringing their size and manufacturing science to the LED market, it is likely LED pricing will begin to decline, thus making lighting and other LED products more affordable for the consumer and potentially accelerating adoption."

"LED expansion and new facility projects have mushroomed all over the world," SEMI's Tseng said. "Even in the downturn of 2009, the SEMI opto/LED fab database recorded seven new LED fabs coming online. And we expect to see at least five new opto/LED fabs in 2010 and six more in 2011, respectively. Most of these new projects are located in China and Taiwan. There will be new lines coming from Japan, India and Russia as well."
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