Affected by the decline in demand in the semiconductor industry, the semiconductor equipment sector is also facing a slowdown in demand. However, driven by the demand for emerging chips such as 5G and AI, it still brings opportunities for some equipment manufacturers.
In terms of chip testing equipment, the diversity of chips and customized needs in the future will create new business opportunities, allowing major manufacturers to perform better than expected at the beginning of 2019 in terms of revenue and gross profit. More importantly, the demand for high-end testing technology is also increasing. The main driver of profit.
Rising demand for SoC chip testing makes up for memory decline, and high-end testing projects help gross profit performance
According to the financial report of ADVANTEST, a major Japanese chip testing company, the sales amount in the second quarter of 2019 was 66.2 billion yen, about 596 million US dollars, a slight increase of 3.4% from the first quarter. Although it fell by 6.7% compared with the same period in 2018, it benefited from Cost control and 5G, AI and other high-value chip testing aided, the gross profit rate climbed to 59.5%, a year-on-year increase of 5.6%.
The revenue of Teradyne, another major manufacturer, also performed well. Benefited from the higher demand in the SoC market than expected at the beginning of 2019 and the accelerated demand for 5G base stations and mobile phone chips, the sales amount in the second quarter of 2019 was US$564 million, which was higher than the first quarter. It grew 14% in the first quarter and 7% year-on-year. The gross profit margin fell slightly by 0.9% year-on-year, but it was still at a level of 57.5%.
In terms of test products, although in the memory test part, the ASP is unstable due to the trade friction between Japan and South Korea, and the test demand may be lowered, but in the SoC aspect, it will benefit from the early fermentation of the 5G industry development, which boosts the demand for test equipment. , Also creates high-value chip testing projects. At present, the revenue performance of major manufacturers is better than expected at the beginning of 2019, and the growth rate in the second half of the year is also quite expected.
On the other hand, due to the wide range of chip testing, there is demand for both the front-end wafer manufacturing side and the back-end wafer packaging and testing side. Even some manufacturers that provide IC design services must conduct their own inspections after manufacturing and packaging. In line with customer shipping standards, increase the demand for overall testing equipment.
From this point of view, although the proportion of chip inspection equipment is not high compared to wafer manufacturing equipment, its gross profit performance cannot be underestimated.
Equipment manufacturers focus on the development of customized and system-level testing, and strive to maintain their competitiveness in high-end chip testing
From a technical point of view, there are two main trends in the development of testing equipment. First of all, in terms of customization, the biggest advantage of using a large number of co-testing methods in the chip testing process is that the unit test cost can be reduced, which is suitable for general chip use.
However, under the trend of heterogeneous integration of high-end chips in the future, customization is very important. It needs to be measured according to the needs of customers under different factors such as efficiency, temperature, and productivity. Currently, there is no method that can meet all customer needs. Systematic ability is an important indicator to increase the competitiveness of manufacturers.
Incidentally, the biggest problem of heterogeneous integration is temperature considerations. The temperature accumulation generated by the integration of multiple chips with different power consumption will affect the performance of the chip, so the temperature impact is an important environmental factor; in addition, the 5G chip test is due to the frequency band. Expanding from below 6GHz to 70GHz, the test requirements of different frequency bands are different, and it will be the main driver of customization requirements.
Another trend is System Level Testing (SLT), which is also a testing method that major manufacturers are actively investing in development. Due to the shrinkage of nano-nodes and more and more transistors, even if only 1% of the previous test area was not measured, there are still 1 million transistors that cannot be tested based on 100 million transistors, and it is impossible to fully check the performance of the chip. Therefore, system-level testing is very important. By judging the actual use of the chip in the terminal device, the performance of the chip can be further grasped, and it is also one of the main forces to promote advanced packaging technologies (such as SiP system-in-package).
All in all, the development ability of high-end testing technology determines the competitiveness of manufacturers in the market. At present, American and Japanese manufacturers still account for most of the market demand.
Faced with the self-sufficiency improvement plan of Chinese equipment manufacturers, the difficulty of the high-end technology threshold has not been broken, and under the pace of China’s active acceleration of chip development, there is not much time for equipment manufacturers to train their troops, so the current high-end demand is still based on foreign countries. Large equipment manufacturers have the right to speak.