The film deposition equipment market for semiconductor manufacturing was down 38% in 2009, but on a sector-by-sector basis, sales dropped between 8.7% to 71.7%.

The huge variation in sector non-growth is attributed to the transition to copper damascene processing from aluminum interconnects for memory devices. The adoption of copper in memory devices is currently under way and all memory suppliers, led by Samsung, spent huge sums of money upgrading as many of its lines as it could to copper and this change had an important impact on purchases of copper deposition equipment and materials in 2009.

The deposition equipment business has become highly selective, and certain types of equipment work better on a given technology or device than others. For example, HDPCVD (high-density plasma chemical vapor deposition) is a technology which can do gap-fill. For subtractive Al technology, in which you lay down a slab of Al, etch it into lines, and then fill the gaps with oxide, these technologies do well.

In the Cu dual damascene scheme, the dielectric is laid down as a planar film, etched, and the gaps are filled with metal. Thus, the metal deposition technology needs to be able to do gap-fill, not the dielectric. PECVD (plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition) is the technology of choice. In fact, there are more than 20 PECVD processing steps required to fabricate a typical memory device.

Key players in the deposition market are Applied Materials ( AMAT), Novellus ( NVLS) and ASM International ( ASMI). Applied Materials held a 64% share of the market followed by Novellus with a 22% share.

The growth of the PVD market was strong for the deposition of the copper barrier metal, which is typically a bi-layer of Ta/TaN, or TiN. However, the transition to memory presents challenges. As feature size continues to shrink, a thinner barrier metal is required to maximize copper volume in the damascene structure and maintain effective resistivity. Ultra-thin barrier metals must achieve optimum step coverage, density, and morphology in high aspect ratio trenches and vias.

Samsung announced Monday it would double its capital spending to boost its capacity in semiconductor and flat-panel display manufacturing. As stated, Samsung's move to copper interconnects for memory devices was instrumental in preventing some sectors of the deposition equipment market from following the course of the overall semiconductor equipment market, which dropped 42% in 2009.

The company now plans to spend 11 trillion won ($9.6 billion) on expanding semiconductor production. The additional investment includes establishing the new Line-16 for DRAM, NAND and next-generation memory products in Hwaseong, and increasing the capacity of the existing Line-15 for the production of 30-nm-class DDR3 DRAM. While the additional capex will be focused on further copper transition as well as new capacity, my suspicion is that 2010 is going to be a banner year for PECVD, PVD, and ECD (electrochemical deposition) equipment manufacturers.
Robert N. Castellano, Ph.D, is President of The Information Network, a leading consulting and market-research firm for the semiconductor, LCD, HDD and solar industries. Castellano is internationally recognized as one of the leading experts in these areas. He has nearly 25 years of expertise as an industry analyst. Castellano has provided insight on emerging technologies to many business and technical publications, including Business 2.0, BusinessWeek, The Economist, Forbes, Investor's Business Daily, Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and corporate events. He has over 10 years' experience in the field of wafer fabrication at AT&T Bell Laboratories and Stanford University before founding The Information Network in 1985. He has been editor of the peer-reviewed Journal of Active and Passive Electronic Devices since 1985. He is author of the book "Technology Trends in VLSI Manufacturing," published by Gordon and Breach. His book "Solar Cell Processing" was published in 2009 by Old City Publishing. He received his Ph.D. in solid state chemistry from Oxford University.

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