Yole predicts consolidation in front-end LED manufacturing equipment markets

June 25, 2012 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
After having warned of an upcoming downturn in the LED packaging equipment industry in a recent market study, market researcher Yole Développement now reiterates its downbeat prognosis for the front end equipment market in LED manufacturing. To enable massive adoption in general lighting applications, significant technology and manufacturing efficiency improvements are still needed to reduce the cost per lumen.

In a new study, Yole gets granular on the LED technology & equipment market, including MOCVD, lithography, dry etching, PECVD and PVD tools. While the LED market presents significant opportunities for growth in the next 5 years, the study says, is expected to saturate in value by the end of the decade. Driven by MOCVD reactors, the equipment market experienced an unprecedented investment cycle in 2010‐2011.

The cycle was driven by demand in LCD backlight displays, anticipation of the general lighting market and generous subsidies offered by the Chinese central and local governments in a bid to stimulate the domestic chip production and create world leading chip companies. This has resulted in a significant overcapacity situation that will take 12‐18 month to absorb. The next investment cycle driven by lighting applications will start in 2013 and will be more limited in value than the previous cycle due to improvements in equipment throughput and yields. The MOCVD equipment market represents a US$4.3 billion opportunity in the 2012‐2017 periods.

Together, lithography, plasma etching, PECVD and PVD tools represent a US$650 million opportunity and will essentially follow a similar trend with some exceptions. The market for dry etching tools is still growing in 2012 due to increasing adoption for PSS (Patterned Sapphire Substrate). “The market for most lithography tools will however decrease as the industry transitions to larger diameter substrates and the number of wafer starts initially increases moderately but starts decreasing in 2015”, announces LED Senior Analyst Eric Virey.

With close to 100 companies involved in front end LED manufacturing, the industry is too fragmented to generate significant economies of scale, the authors of the study find. Yole expects massive consolidation within the next three years (2012‐2015) which should eventually speed up process and tools standardization and allow economy of scale.

LED manufacturing still uses methods that would be considered outdated in most semiconductor industries. Consolidation and emergence of LED “giants” will