18 Oct 2013
Lithography and laser system vendor swings to a net loss but sees ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.
Ultratech, the San Jose supplier of lithography and laser systems used by LED and silicon semiconductor manufacturers, has posted a net loss of $7.8 million for the third quarter of 2013, after its sales slumped to less than half the previous year’s level.
Revenues of $29.7 million in the latest period compared with $60.5 million during the third quarter of fiscal 2012, reflecting continued uncertainty among manufacturers of logic chips resulting in a push-out of orders for Ultratech.
CEO Arthur Zafiropoulo said: "Despite recent reports of strengthening in the memory segment of the semiconductor market, we continue to be impacted by the pause in capital equipment spending that is occurring within the logic sector."
The delays have been caused by difficulties encountered by chip makers as they develop manufacturing processes for new three-dimensional “FinFET” devices at acceptable yields. But Zafiropoulo indicated that progress was being made and, stressing that no orders had been cancelled, is hopeful of an upturn next year.
“The good news is that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” the CEO told an investor conference call. “We believe that at least one major foundry has produced a reasonable number of wafers with yields above 80%. We now are much more optimistic about plans to begin manufacturing volume FinFET devices in the second half of 2014.”
If he’s right, that means Ultratech shipments in advance of volume production will be needed by the middle of next year – at the latest.
Zafiropoulo explained that as many as five different laser anneal steps would be required to make the new devices – each foundry has a slightly different approach – compared with only two steps used to make conventional planar chips.
“We believe that those who utilize more process steps with laser technology will have an advantage with improved yields and lower loss wafers due to breakage - thus reducing chip cost,” he said.
Out of Ultratech’s current order book, around one half relates to laser anneal systems, with a quarter attributed to lithography systems and the remainder for nano steppers and atomic layer deposition systems.
However, the company’s CFO Bruce Wright indicated that Ultratech had not yet reached the bottom of the current hiatus in demand, and that the closing quarter of this year could see another sequential dip in sales by as much as 10 per cent.
And despite company expectations that revenues are likely to grow by 20 per cent next year compared with 2013, the market remained unimpressed with the worse-than-anticipated third-quarter results.
Following the Q3 announcement, Ultratech’s stock price slipped in value by more than 12 per cent, before recovering slightly to close around 9 per cent down.