Japanese semiconductor equipment firms invest in future growth related to AI

Chiang, Jen-Chieh; Judy Lin, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

According to Dempa and Nikkei reports, most semiconductor equipment-related vendors' April to June results declined from a year ago. However, those vendors remain optimistic over long-term growth and continue to invest in meeting generative AI's demand for advanced processing equipment.

Tokyo Electron (TEL), Advantest, Lasertec, Disco, etc., have suffered sales declines. Shibaura Mechatronic's quarterly revenue increased by 3.1%. Its leadership in niche markets such as wafer cleaning, etching, and other product, produced better results.

Equipment manufacturers continue to invest in the medium and long term. TEL is spending a record JPY200 billion (US$1.4 billion) on R&D in FY2023, having just completed a July 2023 R&D facility for film-forming, etching, and patterning equipment in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan. TEL also said it is receiving inquiries for bonding equipment used in the manufacturing of generative AI-related high-bandwidth memory (HBM).

Tokyo Seimitsu also noted an increase in demand for grinding equipment for high-bandwidth memories and for probing of memory stacks, and expects to receive orders.

Screen admitted that memory's revenue share is low, but generative AI will drive the overall market. Canon revealed that orders for post-process exposure machines used in GPUs for generative AI are already increasing, and will be even higher in 2024. Edelman Testing expects demand for high-performance semiconductor testing to increase from 2024 onwards.

Canon has built a new factory for exposure machines next to its Utsunomiya City plant in northern Tokyo, which is expected to be completed by December 2023.

Ebara has built a new production building for chemical mechanical polishing (CMP) equipment in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, which is expected to be completed in 2024.

Mature equipment sales strong in China

Thanks to strong sales of mature equipment in China market, the downward trend of most Japanese semiconductor equipment makers' sales is bucked.

The US-led export controls over China semiconductor technology and equipment, observed by Japan and the Netherlands, has not yet had a significant impact on the results of equipment vendors, according to the reports.

According to TEL, China is purchasing mature process equipment on a large scale, which in turn is increasing its share of sales to China in total revenues.

Advantest also said that the ban on China exports has no direct impact on the results for FY2023 (April 2023–March 2024), and Lasertec also believes that even with the addition of the China export control, there is no new impact on the results. Chinese customers are still investing heavily in mature processes.