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New sapphire apps can trigger an investment cycle!

December 10, 2012 1 comment

Too many new entrants on sapphire for LED market with unrealistic capacity plans. Most underestimated the technical challenges! Prices are likely to remain low through 2013. Many new entrants will fail in 2013-2014: rationalization (M&A, bankruptcy, attrition). In the long term, vertical integration is desirable to avoid margin stacking, said Eric Virey, senior market and technology analyst, LED Materials and Sevices, Yole Developpement. He was presenting a seminar on how new sapphire applications can trigger an investment cycle.

According to him, adoption of CFL and LED stretches the replacement cycle and cannibalizes lamp volume sales. As for LED manufacturing capacity, with respect to nitride MOCVD reactors, 2009 and 2010 saw increases in Taiwan and Korea in late driven by LCD display market. The years 2010-2012 saw phenomenal increase in China. Government subsidies are likely to build up epitaxy capacity in the mainland, which should be more than $1.5 billion.

YoleCurrently there are ~110 companies with epitaxy capacity. Many will likely disappear! The current excess MOCVD capacity will be fully absorbed by mid-2014. The MOCVD reactor installation will resume mid-late 2013. The global MOCVD utilization rate is 61 percent. There is wide variability between leaders and tier 2 players in China. The Q4-2012 LED sapphire consumption was worth 3.9 million two inch equivalent per month.

As for companies in sapphire wafer, 130+ companies are involved in the sapphire substrate (established or development stage). Less than 30 currently are deriving meaningful revenue from LED substrates. The capacity is ~80 percent higher than demand. It could get worse in 2013! Prices are likely to remain low. Many new entrants will disappear, and others will scale back. A few will succeed.

Conditions for survival through 2013 include, having a lot of cash, be qualified in supply chain, achieve <$4/mm cost (2” basis), and serving other market could be a plus. As for wafer price trends, the finished wafers following similar trends. The 6” is now offered for <$200, but price can vary significantly based on specifications. There are said to be simulated 4” core cost structure for various manufacturers.
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