Gartner Group, for instance, has predicted that by 2014 there will be just 10 leading edge fabs in the world. In fact, Gartner says, this concentration of capital isnÃ¢ÂÂt anything recent or driven by last yearÃ¢ÂÂs downturn; thereÃ¢ÂÂs been a long-term trend toward concentrated capital dating back to 1995, independent of any economic cycle.
What does this mean for test? Will it change the way test engineers design their systems, or the types of systems test companies such as Keithley Instruments will bring to market? I believe so, and hereÃ¢ÂÂs how:
The predicted consolidation of Tier 1 semiconductor manufacturers will likely affect demand for Ã¢ÂÂbig ironÃ¢ÂÂ test equipment. There will be fewer buyers of these systems -- not necessarily fewer deployments, as wafer demand isnÃ¢ÂÂt expected to drop as a result of Tier 1 consolidation. These big iron systems will just be re-deployed within the industry to fewer buyers. As a result, the stakes for winning or losing these orders will be ratcheted higher, as a single win or loss will have a larger impact than today on a test companyÃ¢ÂÂs market share. Only the largest test companies will have the capital to withstand the rigors of the Tier 1 sector of the market, so there will be fewer choices available to the test manager at Tier 1s.
The Tier 2 fabs will migrate to more flexible test equipment solutions rather than the single-purpose Ã¢ÂÂbig ironÃ¢ÂÂ system. Their business model isnÃ¢ÂÂt based on pushing the edge of MooreÃ¢ÂÂs Law to the very latest node. TheyÃ¢ÂÂre doing more niche products, more analog and discrete products. ItÃ¢ÂÂs a totally different approach.
What does this mean for test? If youÃ¢ÂÂre a test manager in a Tier 1, youÃ¢ÂÂre likely looking at bleeding edge solutions on process nodes and scribe widths. YouÃ¢ÂÂll have a tremendous amount of buying power, but youÃ¢ÂÂll have fewer companies able to provide that leading edge measurement capability.
The Tier 2 test manager will be coordinating more applications, more solutions, and require more flexibility from his/her test hardware choices. A test system built for one part of the fab must be built in a way that can support a different portion of the fab tomorrow. The big iron system isnÃ¢ÂÂt envisioned for this sector of the market, so youÃ¢ÂÂll find more instrument-based systems inside the Tier 2s to align with their business model.
End of the day: the test manager at a Tier 1 has bigger budgets and fewer choices; the test manager at the Tier 2 has more choices, more flexibility, but not as big a checkbook as his Tier 1 counterpart.