Semiconductor Equipment & Materials
The semiconductor equipment industry has over the years consolidated into a few large players which provide the bulk of the equipment to the manufacturers.
Research and development in the semiconductor equipment market has had two dominant drivers: feature size (Moore’s law) and efficiency/throughput. With each piece of equipment responsible for one or more of the two to three thousand process steps that take a silicon wafer from bare silicon to a wafer with fully functional integrated circuits, the focal points of each equipment developer is the materials it works with and the process step(s) it needs to execute to make the wafer ready for its next set of process steps. It needs to do this while not impacting the already implemented characteristics that are part of the end functionality.
New wafer/base materials such as InP, SiC and are researched and introduced to improve final product characteristics bringing new markets into reach. Similarly, new materials are introduced as part of existing processes to improve the ability to scale and/or perform specific tasks. The introduction of copper as an interconnect material required a major innovation in the equipment related to the depositing and patterning of wafers using Cu-based interconnect.
Research and development in the equipment market is carried out by the big suppliers but also by and in cooperation with the top-level manufacturers as they often have a longer-term view on the target specifications. Universities conduct research on new materials, often providing a lead to the equipment companies.