The acceleration of the electronics market began with the rise of computing and mobile phones in the 1980s. Since then, the sector has been growing exponentially, transforming every aspect of our lives, with yesterday’s science fiction becoming today’s reality: big data, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars. Behind these innovations are increasingly powerful electronic components: processors that convert real-world information to digital signals and perform massively complex calculations, memory chips that store vast amounts of data, and touchscreens that simplify the life of users. The electronics industry uses gases and other innovative materials for the manufacturing of smaller and faster chips. Air Liquide is a world leader in the supply of many of these advanced materials.
Air Liquide products are used to build all these components, either as inerting gases like ultra-pure nitrogen used to inert the manufacturing environment, or as deposition and etching materials for building chips and flat panels.
The last decade’s advances in the semiconductor industry – from hard disks to microprocessors to today’s smartphones – have been enabled, in part, by Air Liquide innovations in advanced materials. In 2018, the Group supplied almost $ 2 billion worth of gases and materials to electronics customers and the potential of this fast-growing market is huge: every year, 1.5 billion smartphones are sold and each of them contains chips that are made with about $2 of gases and advanced materials. Also, each of today’s connected cars contains about $3 of these materials, which are used in microprocessors, memory chips, sensors or screens.
In this rapidly evolving industry, with its constant demand for improved technologies and capabilities, new materials play a more critical role than ever before. The challenge is both technical and economic: the performance of computers, smartphones and servers must keep improving, while reducing their energy consumption and costs. Meanwhile, manufacturers must also reduce the environmental footprint of their etching process.
In this context, R&D is a key differentiator. Air Liquide’s strategy is to work alongside its customers and partners in their ecosystem to design customized solutions. This collective in- telligence approach has allowed the development of advanced materials that have today become industry standards. In 2015, the Group combined its ALOHATM and VoltaixTM product lines, designed for some of the most critical steps of the micro- chip manufacturing process, to create Air Liquide Advanced Materials, a global entity serving this market segment.
More recently, the enScribeTM family of etch gases was launched and adopted in 2018 by sev- eral customers. Developed in close cooperation with semiconductor manufacturers, universities and customers, this new offer enables addressing the growing complexity of 3D memory chip structures while helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Beyond innovation, the electronics sector demands infallible quality at ever-growing volumes. As the industry consolidates, the market leaders are building more and more ‘mega fabs’ that require several times the volumes of gases and new materials needed previously. Thanks to its technological expertise, its worldwide presence and investment capacity, Air Liquide can meet its customers’ growing needs and support the industry-wide effort to become more environmentally responsible.
A major actor of the infinitely small, the Group is in a strong position to capture the great potential of this market in the coming years.
Source: Air Liquide Annual Report 2018