Domestic Equipment Gains Popularity in Chinese PV Market

Semiconductor Sector Gets Ready for a Breakthrough

By EEFocus China

Currently, China has to import over 90% of semiconductor equipment from abroad. And domestic equipment is hardly seen—especially when it comes to high-end integrated circuits (ICs). To develop China’s semiconductor-equipment industry, the most practical approach might be to boost the IC-equipment market. This can be achieved by making breakthroughs in other semiconductor-equipment sectors.

PV Equipment Leads The Way

For the past two years, the emerging photovoltaic (PV) -equipment market has led the domestic semiconductorequipment industry. As Jin Cunzhong, secretary-general of China Electronic Production Equipment Industry Association (CEPEA), told China Electronics News, due to the scarcity of domestic IC-equipment manufacturers and low productivity, domestic IC equipment is losing ground in the equipment market. It is being replaced by solar-PV, liquid- crystal-display (LCD), and light-emitting-diode (LED) equipment—the enormous demand for which is driving the development of the domestic-equipment industry.

According to Wang Junchao, deputy director of No. 48 Research Institute of China Electronics Technology Group Corp. (CETC), the overall production of the domestic semiconductor- equipment industry is small and mainly engaged in research and development and small-scale lines. Because domestic IC production lines are generally introduced as a whole, it’s very hard for domestic equipment to enter largescale IC production lines. Fortunately, the downturn of the IC market has been offset by the booming development of the PV market. This rapid growth has led domestic equipment manufacturers to a fast and even ultra-fast development period, with domestic solar-cell manufacturing equipment and silicon wafer-processing equipment establishing good brand reputations in the industry.

Currently, Junchao adds, PV-equipment-manufacturing enterprises in China possess the preliminary capability to supply complete equipment—from silicon material production and silicon wafer processing to solar-cell production and corresponding pure-water preparation, environmental treatment, decontamination, and project construction. They’ve begun to export some products in small amounts, such as a diffusion furnace, plasma etching machine, single-crystal furnace, and polycrystalline ingot furnace. When analyzing the price advantage of domestic equipment, Wang states, “Domestic solar-cell components are 30% cheaper than their foreign counterparts. And largely thanks to the low price of domestic equipment, we can build three lines with domestic equipment at the cost of building one line with foreign equipment.”

Breakthrough On The Horizon

Although domestic solar equipment is on the rise, there are still technical bottlenecks for some key equipment. Wang points out that the fully automatic silk-screen printing machine, among solar-cell manufacturing equipment, is an urgent problem being tackled by many enterprises. Solutions are expected to come out in one to two years. The prototype of continuous polysilicon texturing equipment is now available and will soon be used in the production line. As a bottleneck for polysilicon-material processing equipment, the prototype of a multi-wire saw also is available.

All of these developments are worth the wait. Being optimistic about the future, Wang says, “As the domestic solar- PV-equipment industry has a relatively long development history and China is a solar-cell market with the largest capacity and output, the rise of the domestic solar-equipment industry can be expected soon.” The development of PV equipment is dependent on the full start of the domestic market. Wang suggests that the government should implement a “feed-in tariff” as soon as possible and increase the export tax-rebate rate for semiconductor products—especially solar-PV products. It also should develop comprehensive incentive policies for scientific and technological innovation and support leading enterprises in relevant industries.

In an interview, Zhang Guoming, vice general manager of Beijing Sevenstar Electronics Co. Ltd, stated that Sevenstar is currently developing new models of crystalline-silicon and thin-film solar equipment, such as cleaning and PECVD equipment. It also is collaborating with foreign manufacturers to enhance the research and development of the fifth and sixth generation of wire equipment to meet the needs of the fast-growing domestic TFT-LCD industry. At present, the firm can already provide products for customers.

Bright Future For Semiconductor Equipment

At present, China’s semiconductor industry is evolving. The speed at which it improves will determine the development of relevant equipment-manufacturing industries. Meanwhile, the plan to adjust and revitalize the electronic information industry, which was issued by the Chinese Government, brings new hope to the domestic semiconductor industry. It appears that China’s semiconductor- and equipment-manufacturing industry will no doubt face greater challenges and opportunities in the wake of the financial crisis.

According to industry insiders, domestic semiconductorequipment enterprises should make the most of geographic and price advantages. They also should narrow the technical gap with foreign-equipment manufacturers, strengthen service awareness, provide tailor-made products for domestic customers, and differentiate their products in the market. To provide domestic users with sufficient confidence, they also must establish fast service-response mechanisms.

According to their current market analysis, Pei Erzhang, deputy director of No. 45 Research Institute of CETC, recently told a reporter that the semiconductor discrete-devices segment has already become the first to walk out of the shadow of the financial crisis. Manufacturers are accelerating product upgrades, significantly increasing their equipment investments, and expanding production scale to meet the present overwhelming market demands. To keep up with these trends, No. 45 Research Institute of CETC is committed to adjusting the product structure in a timely way, accelerating the development of new products, shortening the production cycle of pilot products, and striving to achieve yearly sales targets.

According to Zhang Guoming, although domestic equipment isn’t doing well in the IC market, Beijing Sevenstar Electronics Co. won’t give up. Recently, the firm successfully developed high-end, 12-in. cleaning and oxidation equipment.