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Wafer Fab Equipment Spending to Drop 8.9 Percent in 2012

Semiconductor suppliers this year will decrease their spending on wafer fab equipment (WFE) by about 9 percent compared to 2011, according to researcher Gartner Inc.

WFE spending will total $33 billion in 2012, down 8.9 percent from 2011 when spending amounted to $36.2 billion, according to Gartner. WFE spending will return to growth in 2013 with spending will surpass $35.4 billion, a 7.4 percent increase from 2012.

"In 2012, WFE started off the year strong, as foundries and other logic manufacturers ramped up sub-30 nm production," said Bob Johnson, research vice president at Gartner. He added that the need for new equipment was stronger than originally anticipated, because “strengthening demand for leading-edge devices required higher production volumes as yields had yet to reach mature levels.”

However, demand for new logic production equipment will soften as yields improve, leading to declining shipment volume for the rest of the year, according to Johnson.

Wafer fab manufacturing capacity utilization will decline into the mid 80 percent range by the middle of 2012 before slowly increasing to about 87 percent by the end of 2012, according to Gartner. Leading-edge utilization will return to the high 80 percent range by the second half of 2012, and move into the low-90 percent range through 2013, providing for a positive capital investment environment.

Capital spending restraints through the second half of 2012 means less new capacity will be added and overall fab utilization rates will return to normal levels at the start of 2013. Leading-edge utilization will stay in the low 90 percent range through most of 2013, providing continued impetus for capital investment.

The industry will continue transitioning to different technology nodes. Foundries are ramping up to 28 nm, leading-edge logic has transitioned to 20 nm, NAND flash will ramp up the 1X node, and DRAM will be ramping up 4X and 3X nodes.