They are in our smartphones, computers, and pretty much most of our day-to-day appliances – but what do we really know about silicon wafers? Silicon wafers began being manufactured by renewable energy companies in the United States in the 1960s. Silicon, in itself, can be fabricated using various dopants (or additive elements such as aluminum, nitrogen, etc.) to create electrical stimulations of various degrees. Dopant elements, such as phosphorus, boron, and even arsenic, are critical in developing semiconductors. When added to pure silicon, they create conductivity by either adding or removing electrons. These small, round silicon disks – known as wafers – are primarily used for integrated circuits which send electrical impulses that run handheld devices like our iPhones and tablets. Silicon is one of the most utilized elements in the world of electronics due to the fact that it is also one of the most common elements on Earth which can serve as a semiconductor material. As a result, the demand for silicon wafers has sky-rocketed within the past couple of decades due to the technological advancements being made across all boards – but most importantly, within the semiconductor industry.
Semiconductors can be described as the “brain” of most electronic devices. These small, intricate gizmos contain various chips and transistors which control and run the operations. The semiconductor industry is a complex one: consisting of product categories ranging from memory chips to microprocessors to integrated circuits. As technological advancements continue to sweep the world, semiconductor companies are trying to build faster, better, and more affordable products to keep consumers coming for more. There’s a constant pressure on chipmakers, transistor engineers, and silicon wafer producers to meet these demands. Silicon wafers have to be manufactured quickly and efficiently in order to keep up so far. So, what is the actual driving force behind the universal need for semiconductors and, therefore, silicon wafers.
On average, American consumers are said to spend about $2300 per year on communication services and technology alone. In a capitalist environment, the success of any given company or sector depends on these consumer-driven forces which generate revenue and increase rates of production. The more money consumers put into these hi-tech businesses, the more likely that progress will become a sustainable notion. Whether it is buying a new television or set up a phone plan, consumers are the primary contributors to an array of technological productions. With the current increase in consumer spending, the tech sector is seeing exponential growth at a spellbinding rate. As a result, the fabrication of semiconductors is a process which will not become obsolete any time soon.
According to an analysis conducted by Semico – a semiconductor research and consulting group in Arizona – silicon wafer demand is predicted to increase about 7% by 2020. From creating an iPod to more advanced electrical systems used in space shuttles, silicon wafers are the basic components in semiconductor production. In a 2016 quarterly analysis conducted by the SEMI Silicon Manufacturers Group (SMG), silicon wafer shipment was said to have been 2,730 million square inches and growing. Since they are so versatile in their creation and application, silicon wafers are not all created equal. There are different companies using different materials and methods to meet the needs of technology manufacturers around the world so far.
The billion-dollar silicon wafer industry is a vast and growing market which is being made even easier with recent developments in manufacturing. Normally a complex and time-consuming process, silicon wafer development is being sped up as companies are learning to reclaim materials and lower production costs. By 2024, it is even believed that the reclamation of silicon wafers will comprise its own sector and be valued at nearly $600 million. Reclamation of silicon wafers will not only keep wafers out of our oceans and landfills, but it will also yield benefits for consumers as time and production costs are cut back while the quality of the product continues to improve – and this is not the only environmentally-friendly use of silicon so far.
Silicon wafer production is also important when it comes to creating solar panels. As energy consumption begins to move towards more environmentally-friendly means, renewable energy sources are becoming more and more relevant. The creation of solar cells which convert the sunlight that hit solar panels into harvestable energy primarily relies on crystalline silicone to carry through the process. These wafers can either come in the form of monocrystalline, polycrystalline, or epitaxial silicon. Major players in the solar panel manufacturing game – such as Ameresco and Trina Solar – rely on the production of silicon wafers at a large scale. Whether the panels being produced are being sold for homeowners or they are powering large-scale energy operations, they all rely on the electrical capacities that silicon semiconductors bring to the table.
The semiconductor production equipment market is also experiencing growth as the materials needed to actually produce silicon wafers are in high demand as well. From companies physically extracting silicon from the earth’s crust to advisement corporations popping up across the globe, the world demand for silicon wafers is stimulating economic breakthroughs across different industries. This domino effect relies on the need for semiconductors in technological devices. As long as they remain an important part of the manufacturing process, the demand for silicon wafers will not see a decline anytime soon. There are different companies using different materials and methods to meet the needs of technology manufacturers around the world.
Although silicon is a non-renewable resource, it is so incredibly abundant on Earth that it might as well be categorized alongside wind and sunlight. Its versatile composition makes it the ideal substance for semiconductors and now, with new manufacturing techniques which allow for the reclamation of silicon wafers, they can be re-utilized time and time again. The world demand for silicon wafers is one that is very pertinent and growing in today’s society. When you go out and buy the next iPhone or your sitting under a solar-paneled bus stop, it biomes obvious that these semiconductors are essential in our everyday lives as we know them.