Fluoroware Inc. of Chaska, Minn., has formed a joint venture with a Singapore custom injection molder to make wafer carriers and other products for the semiconductor and data storage industries. First Engineering Plastic of
Singapore and Fluoroware will form Fluoroware Asia South, which is scheduled to begin operating shortly after Jan. 1 in a new, 28,000-square-foot facility in Sing-apore.
Dave Ring, newly appointed general manager of the Wafer Management division, said the first expatriate general manager from Fluoroware will be Frank Walsh. The plant also will provide support products to the company's Asian customers.
Although the U.S. semiconductor industry has been relatively flat this year compared with the two previous years, it remains a strong growth industry in Asia. Nader Pakdaman, senior industry analyst at the San Jose, Calif.-based market research firm Dataquest, said the combined semiconductor industry in Taiwan and Singapore had a 140 percent growth rate in capital equipment consumption.
``These two countries, along with Thailand, have been the focal point of investments for the fast-growing semiconductor contract manufacturing market,'' he said.
Stan Geyer, Fluoroware president and chief executive officer, said the company now will be able to ``provide our Southeast Asian customers with a full range of Fluoroware products more quickly and at a lower cost,'' as well as local engineering and technical expertise.
Fluoroware also recently restructured its Microelectronics Materials Management business, separating it into two distinct divisions: Wafer Management, and Material and Device Handling. The two semiconductor industry segments have very different product requirements, Geyer said.
Wafer Management will focus solely on the semiconductor industry and will encompass the company's front-end products such as wafer carriers. Material and Device Handling will focus on Fluoroware's packaging products for the semiconductor and data storage industries. Products made by that division include wafer shippers, chip trays, matrix trays, read/write trays, rigid and optical disc shippers and process carriers.
Also, ``there's some distinct changes occurring in the wafer management business,'' Ring said.
``As our customers move to larger-sized wafers, they're adding huge amounts of automation to the process, and that's a real strategic shift,'' he said.
``As they spend more money on their facilities, automating these plants to a great degree, they're also changing the way they look at their business. Changing our business by dividing into the separate business units allows us to be more responsive.''
Fluoroware injection molds wafer carriers, the devices that actually carry the wafer through the manufacturing process. The firm serves large original equipment makers such as IBM, Texas Instruments, Hitachi and Toshiba, among others.
Fluoroware operates four manufacturing/molding plants in Chaska, a plant in Japan, and another facility in Germany. The company molds its products using high-performance engineering thermoplastics such as Du-Pont Co.'s Teflon fluoropolymers, filled polycarbonates and poly-propylenes, and carbon fiber-filled polyetheretherketone and other compounded materials.
``Today, with the money being invested in [semiconductor manufacturing] facilities, the demands on our products have gone up exponentially,'' Ring said. ``The use of different materials has changed dramatically. They must withstand high temperatures, have low particle generation and adhere to extremely tight tolerances for use in the automated handling equipment.
``The process has evolved, and the movement of the wafers from one process tool to another has become critical for our customers. So that's what's critical in our business.''