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Small-Dimension Wafer Industry: Yole Foresees Bright Prospects for the Future

September 23, 2020

“The small-wafer (1’’ to 6’’) market is anything but 'dead',” asserted Gaël Giusti, PhD., technology and market analyst specializing in Semiconductor Manufacturing and Equipment & Materials at Yole Développement.“At Yole, we forecast 1,8 percent CAGR between 2019 and 2025 and estimated revenues of US$5.4 billion in 2025. More than Moore applications represent the overwhelming part of this market, and as such it is still very dynamic. In fact, non-Si wafer markets exhibit moderate to strong CAGRs over the 2019 to 2025 period: for example, 19.5 percent for SiC, with revenues estimated at US$712 million in 2025. Only Si exhibits a moderate negative CAGR, with -3.3 percent over the same period for sub-6’’ Si wafers, due mostly to power and RF applications increasingly transitioning to 8’’ and even 12’’.”

In this context, the market research and strategy consulting company investigates disruptive technologies and related markets in depth, in order to point out the latest technical innovations and underline the business opportunities.

The 6’’ and Below: Small-Dimension Wafer Market Trends report gives detailed analysis of the small-dimension wafer market by material, application, and diameter. It also describes the key benefits, added value and drivers for using small-dimension wafers in the semiconductor industry. Yole’s report deliver a relevant overview of the market trends and forecasts, supply chain, key players and technology trends. The analysts had the opportunity to discuss about the ecosystem, with a focus on China and Russia. At the end, this study is offering a significant snapshot dedicated to the related equipment market and fabs as well as the emerging wafer reclaim industry.

What are the economic and technological challenges of the small-wafers industry? What are the key drivers? Who are the key suppliers to watch and what innovative technologies are they working on? Yole’s analysts present their vision of the 6’’-and-below wafer diameter industry.

Yole’s analysts investigate the semiconductor industry for a while and are covering all related manufacturing technologies. This year, they add the opportunity to gather their deep expertise and knowledge in a significant technical and market analysis related to the 6’’-and-below wafer diameter industry. In this new report, performed by Yole’s semiconductor manufacturing team, the company proposes a valuable picture of the prosperous industry.

According to them, this sub-6’’ market strength can be linked to a “good enough” device performance/fabrication cost-per-die ratio so that large CAPEX and risky process changes cannot always be fully justified. “This 'good enough' concept is important and is a strong driver in the use of small-dimension wafers,” explains Vishnu Kumaresan, PhD., technology and market analyst, Semiconductor Manufacturing at Yole.

In parallel, Yole points out strong market drivers for each materials and related applications. For example, SiC for power electronics applications is currently facing huge investments. Almost all leading power electronics and compound semiconductor companies are deeply involved in the development of SiC-based solutions.

"In 2019 to 2020 period, there has been significant news on SiC device and module business in terms of partnerships and acquisitions,” explained Ezgi Dogmus, PhD. technology and market analyst, Compound Semiconductor & Emerging Materials at Yole."This clearly validates SiC substrate and device manufacturer’s desire to climb up the value chain to benefit from growing business opportunities at the module level.” Yole’s semiconductor manufacturing team is daily working with Yole’s compound semiconductor analysts to combine their expertise and get a clear understanding of the market evolution and the impact of the adoption of emerging technologies. SiC technologies and related applications are followed by the compound semiconductor team through a dedicated Quarterly Market Monitor.

InP and datacom applications are also a good example to highlight the added value of small dimensions wafers.

The case of sapphire is particularly interesting, and the competitive landscape has changed tremendously after a price collapse, with only a handful of players serving a high-volume yet saturated LED market. However, the microLED market could significantly increase demand by 2023, especially in the 6’’ range.

For Ahmed Ben Slimane, PhD., technology and market analyst, Compound Semiconductors at Yole, “MicroLEDs could also propel the GaAs wafer market, particularly for red pixels—indeed the GaAs growth is significantly boosted by photonics applications, with GaAs VCSEL technology strongly dominating this market due to the high volume demand for consumer 3D sensing applications, causing GaAs to grow with a CAGR of no less than 8 percent between 2019 and 2025. Overall, new applications and needs are driving evolutions in wafer diameters, by material and by application.”

The GaAs market is studied in the Quarterly Market Monitor mentioned above.

As analyzed by Yole’s team in the new 6’’ and Below: Small-Dimension Wafer Market Trends report, in parallel to mainstream semiconductor equipment there exists a vibrant refurbished equipment and maintenance market. “This is significant and connected to the “fabs never die” trend,” commented Giusti.

Less known is the existence of a market for depreciated fabs, which also represent tremendous opportunities to produce devices at low cost for any volume. For example, there is still significant demand for 6’’ Si wafers in standard power IGBT and MOSFET devices. Higher-end devices can then be fabricated in brand-new fabs, for example Robert Bosch and Infineon Technologies in the power electronics industry, in the Si 300 mm range, which is also a way to secure future supplies and assert one’s dominance in the market.

According to Vishnu Kumaresan from Yole, “A similar trend is at play in the SiC wafer manufacturing industry, with some major players moving quickly to 8’’ wafer diameter and securing their supply chain while leaving behind 6’’ (and even more so 4’’) wafer processing capacities. With the increased use of non-Si substrates, more and more players are offering specific processing equipment for a given material and/or are proposing equipment which can adapt to different materials and diameters, including 4’’ and 6’’. This equipment can be astutely used in fully depreciated sub-6’’ Si wafer fabs, creating opportunities for players small and large to offer a highly competitive device fabrication cost.”

Therefore, wafer fabs never die.