The business of SiCrystal, Nuremberg manufacturer of SiC wafers, is booming. CEO Dr. Robert Eckstein in conversation with Markt&Technik.

Markt&Technik: SiCrystal was founded 25 years ago and you were there from the start. Why was it founded and what were the ideas at the time about how the market would develop?

dr Robert Eckstein: At that time there was already a significant need for SiC substrates for the production of light-emitting diodes. A first volume product was established. However, at that time, experts believed that in the short term, i.e. within a few years, an additional market for power electronics would develop that could surpass the optomarket by far. All that is needed is a 2 inch diameter substrate and some improvement in quality - reducing the number of micropipes (MPD) - the general consensus is. Inspired by the success stories of the Neuer Markt, founders were found who were willing to invest in what was then SiCrystal AG.

What was the state of the art at that time, on which wafers with which diameters was production made?

The diameter was less than 2 inches, for example 35 mm. The microtube densities were between a few 100 to a few 1000/cm2. Up to 1000 small holes in the substrate were to be expected per square centimeter.

What major technical hurdles have you overcome over time?

Of course, the reduction in microtubes to almost zero wasn't the only improvement. Other things to mention are: improvement of the surface quality, optimization of the geometry of the discs, reduction of dislocations in the material and much more.

Were there times when you yourself doubted that SiC technology could still make a breakthrough?

Of course, over a period of 25 years there have always been difficult times. But obviously the doubts were limited both for me and for other companions from the very beginning, because otherwise we would no longer be on board today.

In 2000, Siemens acquired 60 percent of the shares. Why did Siemens exit again?

As far as I know, there is no official statement from Siemens, so I have to speculate here. Today I assume that Siemens saw itself neither as a semiconductor company nor as a material manufacturer and thus adjusted the portfolio. However, the fact that the shares in SiCrystal were sold to Rohm and the SiCrystal company was not wound up suggests to me that Siemens saw a certain value in the activities of SiCrystal.

When will 200mm wafers go into volume production? Can we even expect 300 mm wafers?

Today, SiCrystal manufactures 100mm and 150mm substrates in volume; the production of 200 mm substrates is still very small in comparison. Volume production of 200mm substrates is planned to start around 2023. From a technical point of view, I think a diameter of 300 mm is quite feasible. Time will tell whether the manufacture of such products makes economic sense.

SiCrystal is currently growing at an average annual rate of 60 percent. How can this growth be managed?

Growth of between 50 and 60 percent in recent years and probably in the future is a major challenge. The continuous recruitment and retention of qualified employees in all areas of the company is certainly the key to such growth. Only on this basis is the necessary continuous further development of the processes and systems possible. In addition, securing the supply, for example of material and media, is playing an increasingly important role against the background of the increasing demand for SiCrystal products. Only if this is guaranteed can the needs of customers also be met in the future.

What is the current capacity and what are the plans for the coming years? Where are new fabs being built, at the Nuremberg location or in other regions of the world?

Current capacity is adequate for current needs, but needs to be continually expanded as the market grows. At the Nuremberg location, we still have expansion reserves that we are using. In addition, we have started to evaluate other possible locations. For reasons of business continuity, however, it is obvious that the search is not just "across the street", even though the physical proximity to the mother fab has advantages. Both Japan and other European countries can therefore be considered as alternatives.

What do you wish for the more distant future?

My wish for the future is that SiCrystal will supply 300mm wafers to Rohm, which has risen to become one of the leading global semiconductor manufacturers. Then SiCrystal would produce several million wafers per year in several fabs worldwide, which would correspond to a turnover of several 100 million euros.

By Heinz Arnold, source