Wednesday, July 15, 2009

InterSolar, PW, and gadgets are in; big Semicon West tools are out

SEMI's still newish InterSolar show outshined it's collocated Semicon West show this week, and that may be a sign of the future. InterSolar now has 3 floors of Moscone West, has all layers of the supply chain represented, and was simply more exuberant. The building has big windows. It feels more open. The solar industry this year is down, too, and there are still fewer vendors than at Semicon, but it just seemed brighter at the InterSolar show.

In contrast, Semicon is underground at Moscone North and South. It was cheerful enough, considering the downturn and the lack of windows, but the party was at the solar show. And judging from the signup map for next year, the North and South Halls will be even emptier. In fact, Photonics West is now clearly bigger than Semicon West--at least in exhibitors and floor space, and maybe attendees too. (Rumors that Semicon will be squeezed into the South Hall turned out to be false. They are putting all the wafer processing booths in the South Hall. The North Hall will have everything else.)

To be fair, no one was expecting Semicon West to be much of a party this year. After all, SEMI just announced that tool sales will drop 50% this year to the unspeakable low of $14 billion. (It was $43 billion in 2007.) But it's notable who is showing there nowadays, or rather who isn't. Semicon is a tool show, but Applied Materials, KLA Tencor, LAM Research, ASML, and many other major toolmakers don't have conventional booths anymore. For example, Applied and KLA only had meeting rooms at Semicon, while they showed their solar tools across the street at InterSolar.

Semicon West is now really about the gadgets that the major vendors attach to their systems, the materials they use, and R&D lab equipment. This means that there are suppliers for everything from microscopes and instruments to encoders and bearings. It's a good show for this kind of product development and lab stuff, and some of the specialty tools that are used in North America.

But this year, even that was down. In lasers, Cymer, Gigaphoton, Coherent, and JDS Uniphase--each one catering to the semiconductor industry--all didn't show. The laser companies that I saw were Deep Photonics, Eolite, DPSS Lasers, Innolas, Jenoptik, Quantronix, and Rofin-Baasel. IPG and Newport showed their lasers at InterSolar.

SEMICON is still the biggest fab tool show of the year for North America, and a very important one. One instrument vendor told me that even in a year like this they expected to get some sales from leads at SEMICON. New tool development still goes on. But it's a shadow of its glory days, about 15 to 20 years ago. The SEMICON shows in Asia are much weightier on the big tool side. And that makes sense, since as much as 75% of the world market for semi tools is in Asia, according to SEMI.

And, the industry has grown so big that there are other, more specialized shows to choose from. Like, for examplek, the lithography people like the SPIE Advanced Lithography meeting held in San Jose. There are meetings like this for every sort of nuance you can think of.

Photonics West is also a gadget show aimed at product developers and lab workers, like Semicon, but it spans more industries, particularly healthier ones, like biomedical and security. And it has a cross-cutting technical conference too. (And don't forget the Laser Focus World Marketplace Seminar, collocated with Photonics West every year!)

I think it's a sign of the times. Solar is in. Photonic gadgets are in. Semi tool gadgets are still in. But the days of the big tool show in North America may be over.

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