You know that old adage, “I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news”? Well, that pretty much sums up this year’s Semicon West, which was held last week at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.
Semiconductor West is the semiconductor manufacturing industry’s annual trade show and technical conference. As such, it’s a fairly accurate barometer of how well this high-tech industry is doing. That’s the bad news. Like most other business sectors, the semiconductor industry as a whole has been getting hammered by this recession. Following a 31 percent decline in 2008, the manufacturing equipment market dropped (plummeted?) another 52 percent in 2009. The good news is that SEMI, the industry’s trade organization, predicts the market will rebound sharply in 2010 with an estimated annual growth somewhere in the area of 40 – 50 percent.
More good news came in the form of a major announcement by AMD spin-off, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, that they will break ground this week and begin construction of a new $4.2 billion wafer manufacturing facility, called Fab 2, in upstate New York. When operational, the state-of-the-art 300mm fab will employ over 1400 people and support an additional 5,000 or so “spin-off” jobs. For a state that doesn’t immediately come to mind when talking about high-tech manufacturing, this is good news indeed.
Like last year, this year’s Semicon West was co-located with Intersolar North America, a show devoted to the solar energy and photovoltaics market. Bringing them into the fold was a pure stroke of genius on SEMI’s part. Last year Intersolar North America had roughly 200 exhibitors and took up one floor of the three-story Moscone West building. This year a whopping 443 exhibitors comfortably occupied the entire building. Good news, without a doubt, but even better news was the fact that the joint was jumping! While traffic on the show floor at Semicon seemed a bit slow at times, navigating the aisles at Intersolar was not a job for the impatient or claustrophobic.
What must have seemed odd about the Intersolar show, at least to veteran Semicon attendees, was the broad mix of exhibitors and products it offered. The exhibitors at Semicon generally fall into three categories: wafer processing equipment, assembly and packaging equipment, and test equipment. It makes finding what you’re looking for pretty simple. Intersolar’s exhibitors, on the other hand, seemed to offer a full soup-to-nuts menu of anything and everything even remotely connected with solar energy. You had your solar cell and photovoltaic (PV) panel manufacturers, of course. But you also had companies who produce and supply the raw materials needed to manufacture the PV panels. And companies who design and build the production equipment used to manufacture PV panels. And companies that can provide the manufacturing expertise to build PV panels, just in case you buy the materials and equipment before you figure out you don’t really know how to do it yourself, I suppose. Then there were the companies who specialize in installing PV panels, testing PV panels, maintaining PV panels, even companies that can help you market the energy produced by PV panels. In short, Intersolar North America seemed to be a microcosm of the entire industry as it exists today, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if much of the congestion around booths was the result of exhibitors doing business with each other. At any rate, judging by the amount of activity there, it’s an industry with an extremely bright future, no pun intended.
It will be interesting to see what direction Intersolar North America takes as the industry grows and begins to mature. It will also be interesting to see whether it remains a part of Semicon West or grows to the point where it gets spun-off into a separate event. Either way, its obvious health in these treacherous economic times is good news for everyone in America’s solar energy industry.