Despite Uncertainty, Long-Term Semiconductor Market Outlook Remains Bright, says SEMI

By Christian G. Dieseldorff

This year, SEMI ISS covered it all – from a high-level semiconductor market and global geopolitical overview down to the neuro morphic and quantum level. Here are key takeaways from the Day 1 keynote and Economic Trends and Market Perspectives presentations.

In the opening keynote, Anne Kelleher from Intel pointed to the huge growth of data, with fabs collecting more than 5 billion sensor data points each day. The challenge, Kelleher noted, is to turn massive amounts of data into valuable information. Moore’s law is not dead. New models of computing benefit still from Moore’s law and advances in Si/CMOS technologies for conventional, deep learning, neuro morphic and quantum computing.

With customers expecting continual improvements in applications, the question is whether the chip industry is moving fast enough to meet these expectations, Kelleher said. A broad supply chain, equipment and materials innovations, and attracting the “best of the best” college graduates to fuel innovation is key, she said.

In the economic trends session, Nicholas Burns (ambassador ret.) from Harvard University pointed out that we will see a major shift in power. The U.S. will remain the major world power over the next 10 years, but we will see a major shift in power in the next coming decades as the gap with countries like China, Russia and India continues to narrow.

Duncan Meldrum from Hilltop Economics said that we are passing the peak growth of economic cycle. He warns that a more likely outlook is that a global growth recession is developing. Although semiconductor MSI growth will see a noticeable slowdown in 2019 and 2020, the semiconductor industry is still healthy over the longer term.

Bob Johnson from Gartner sees demand shifting from consumer to commercial applications with higher ROIs and budgets. AI, IoT and 5D are the major enablers. He sees structural changes in the semiconductor industry especially for memory but also for Moore’s law with increasing costs and fewer players.

The DRAM markets shows volatility and NAND market may be negative in 2019 but non-memory are expected to accelerate mainly because of increasing content and some price hikes.

Overall Gartner expects good long-term growth with a CAGR (2017 to 2022) of 5.1%, outpacing 2011 to 2016 CAGR of 2.6%. After a strong 2018 with 13.4% revenue, he forecasts a slower 2019 with 2.6% growth followed by a 8% growth in 2020 and negative growth rate in 2021.

Andrea Lati of VLSI went “Back to fundamentals” in his presentation about the industry. VLSI sees a downside bias due to slowing global economy, tariffs, and trade wars. Future drivers are data economy, cloud, AI and automotive.

As memory leads the 2019 slowdown, analog, power, logic and other sectors remain in positive territory. VLSI lowered its semiconductor equipment forecast for 2018 from 20% (Jan. 2018) to 14% (Dec. 2018) but increased its sales outlook from 8% to 15% in 2018. VLSI expects revenue to slow into the first half of 2019 but increase to over 4% in the second half of the year, resulting in total 2019 drop of 2.7%. Semiconductor equipment sales are expected to drop from 14% in 2018 to -10% in 2019.

Michael Corbett of Linz Consulting, covering wafer fab materials in the years of 3D scaling, sees these as good times for the industry. His outlook for wafer fab materials is bullish based on strong MSI and because wafer fab materials suppliers are getting bigger because of M&As.

In the Market Perspective session, Sujeet Chand of Rockwell Automation pointed out that as more and more data is generated, the problem is how to get value of all the data collected. There is a need to create the right architecture for machine learning and AI and big data is increasingly being replaced by contextual/structured data. He expects Industry 4.0 to drive foundries to become smaller, more flexible and more productive.

In the Technology and Manufacturing session, Aki Sekiguchi of TEL addressed process challenges in the age of co-optimization. The semiconductor industry continues to expand, driven by massive growth of interconnected devices, with heavy demand for processing power and storage. He expects an exponential increase of data from about 40ZB in 2018 to 50ZB in 2020 to 163 ZB in 2026.

Major technologies such as DRAM, 3D NAND and logic are dealing with scaling challenges. The density of DRAM (Mb/chip) is plateauing according to 2015 to 2020 trend data, with DRAM is in need of EUV. Memory capacity demand is leading to increasing layers and higher aspect ratios that is concern for 3D NAND and mainly for plasma etch. With Logic already implementing 3D structures, it appears to be in a solid position.

Buddy Nicoson of Micron talked about his 50 years in the industry and looked ahead to the next 50. The anchors – quality, cost, scale and speed – won’t change. It has been a great journey so far with unprecedented opportunities and challenges ahead of us. We are getting into a convergence (specialization, integration) and solution-based phase. We will see some inflection points in the coming years, with the best yet to come.

Christian G. Dieseldorff is senior principal analyst in the Industry Research and Analysis group at SEMI in California.