CMP Suppliers Face a Long-Lasting Shakeup from the Recession


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CMP Suppliers Face a Long-Lasting Shakeup from the Recession

This year’s CMP Users Group symposium is featured as a TechSITE session at SEMICON West 2010. Speakers will discuss technical and business issues in planarization trends, including big changes in the CMP consumables market.

by Aaron Hand

June 10 – As the semiconductor equipment and materials industries rise again from the ashes of the latest downturn, at least one area may continue struggling with the effects of the 2008-2009 recession until 2012. According to a new report from Techcet Group, fab engineers took advantage of the downturn to work on optimizing chemical mechanical planarization (CMP) processes to enable ever-increasing slurry dilution, and to evaluate new pad entrants to the market. These efforts may have the effect of undermining the potential revenue growth of existing consumables players as the industry recovers.

Authors Michael A. Fury and Karey Holland will present information from Techcet’s “CMP Consumables 2010 Critical Materials Report” at this year’s CMP Users Group meeting during SEMICON West in San Francisco. The four-hour symposium will take a look at business aspects as well as the technology for the consumables side of the CMP market and the equipment side, according to Ashwani Rawat, who is co-chairing the session along with David A. Hansen.

Although the CMP equipment market is still dominated by Applied Materials and Ebara, the consumables market is becoming more fractionalized. Cabot Microelectronics remains the dominant slurry supplier with about 38% of the market, but there are now a record 15 slurry suppliers with sustainable revenue streams, according to Techcet. Some slurry suppliers may specialize in copper applications, or in ceria-based slurries for shallow trench isolation (STI), noted Rawat, who is a material technologist for Intel. “There may be some applications where there are very few suppliers, but in general, the slurry supplier base is diversified.”

That is less the case in pad supply, “but it’s getting there, too,” Rawat said. “As the market is becoming bigger, more suppliers are actually realizing that there’s a potential opportunity there.” Dow still holds 78% of the CMP pad market, but its hold has been affected by four other suppliers, Techcet reported, noting that the increasingly competitive market is experiencing increased pressures on average selling prices (ASPs).

Although the CMP equipment market has remained relatively static with two dominant suppliers, Applied Materials and Ebara, the slurry and pad markets are seeing significant shake-up. (Source: Applied Materials)

On top of that, slurries in particular are not receiving the benefit from economies of scale for most of the emerging front-end applications. Back-end processing has long made use of CMP, and enjoys economies of scale through multiple layers of copper interconnects, Rawat noted. But now the transistor level is becoming critical, and CMP is seen as an enabling technology in the front end, he said. In addition to use in STI formation, CMP is being used in an expanding array of applications in the front end, especially in memory devices and the implementation of gate-last metal gate integration schemes, according to the latest edition of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS).

“In the front end, the difference is there are many different steps and many different materials to be polished, and the requirements of all these steps are different,” Rawat said, adding that a wide variety of materials are therefore needed. “The attributes of the slurries are quite different, actually.” As noted in Techcet’s report, the introduction of new device structures has required a variety of new single-layer slurries, each with a fixed product development cost, which makes it more difficult for suppliers to achieve the return on investment (ROI) that they have with tungsten and copper slurries.

The pads have traditionally not had to be as specialized as the slurries, Rawat said, but there is increasingly more need for it. “It’s a lesser extent currently, compared to the slurries, but that’s where I see we are heading.”

The CMP Users Group symposium will also consider the impact and timing of the 450 mm wafer transition, including collaborations among suppliers and end users, Rawat said. In general, he noted, collaboration in the CMP arena is increasing, and should increase further – not just between supplier and user, but among suppliers as well.

The CMP Users Group, which is affiliated with the Northern California Chapter of the American Vacuum Society (NCCAVS), will hold its annual symposium July 14, 1:00pm-5:00pm, at TechSITE South at SEMICON West. The group has been holding the meeting at SEMICON West since 2007, although this is the first year that is included on the SEMICON West program, Rawat noted.