i-Micronews: GaAs substrate manufacturer Vital Materials targets next generation optoelectronics and RF applications – An interview with Vital Materials

In the past few years, the GaAs wafer market has been dominated by radio frequency (RF) applications. But as of 2020, according to Yole Développement’s latest research, photonics and LEDs now represent the main drivers for these markets.

Yole Développement’s “GaAs Wafer and Epiwafer Market: RF, Photonics, LED, Display and PV Applications 2020” report forecasts the total GaAs wafer market will increase from $200 million in 2019 to more than $348 million by 2025, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10%.
With the transition of LEDs from low-end applications to high-end applications, such as horticulture lighting or automotive, LEDs now represent the highest GaAs wafer market volume with 41% share. As a market leader in 100mm GaAs substrates for LED applications, Vital Materials is well positioned in this landscape to target the fast-growing optoelectronic applications. Ahmed Ben Slimane, Technology & Market Analyst, Compound Semiconductor Monitors and Ezgi Dogmus, Technology & Market Analyst, Compound Semiconductors & Emerging Materials, both at Yole Développement, had the pleasure to interview Hari Balasubramaniam, Director of Sales for Vital Materials’ compound semiconductor products.

Yole Développement (YD): Could you please introduce Vital Materials and its history to our readers? What business model has Vital Materials chosen and why?

Hari Balasubramaniam (HB):Vital Materials has been in the GaAs/InP/Ge substrate space for more than five years now and has one of the largest production capability among GaAs and InP substrate manufacturers. We are vertically integrated and offer many product solutions in the compound semiconductor industry, including substrates, metalorganic (MO) sources and ultra-high purity (UHP) materials for MOCVD and MBE. Our careful product selection reflects our approach to partner with customers and offer them a comprehensive set of product solutions. This will create a great value proposition for our customers for current and future products.

YD: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers? What are your responsibilities?

HB: I am Director of Sales for Vital’s Compound Semiconductor Products for the US region and also work on the Technical Sales team for CS Products for other regions.

YD: What is your product portfolio, product line or service?

HB: Primarily GaAs and InP substrates and also MO sources, specifically TMGa, TMIn, TMAl, and TEGa.

MO Sources – Courtesy of Vital Materials

YD: How do your GaAs substrates add value?

HB: We provide GaAs substrates that are competitive on the world stage in terms of product performance and value. We can offer standard and custom GaAs substrates for a wide variety of radio frequency (RF) and optoelectronics applications.

YD: Which markets do you target with GaAs substrates?

HB: We offer GaAs substrates for next generation optoelectronic and RF applications.

YD: You have access to material sources, such as gallium. Can you explain to our readers how this can be an advantage?

HB: Having control of the inputs and raw materials in addition to a strong technology platform gives us the unique advantage of providing cutting-edge products with a strong cost model that can be leveraged as our products mature into high volume. Also, having control over the raw materials gives us the ability to control our delivery schedule, with less dependency on external disrupting factors. For example, in the current scenario with the COVID-19-induced disruption in the industry supply chain, which resulted in shipping delays at some other manufacturers, we were able to maintain our shipping schedules. In fact, we were able to help some of our customers with quick turnaround spot orders to make up for some delays from other vendors. This is a unique value proposition that we can provide that is well recognized by our customers.

YD: Vital Materials has also recycling facilities for advanced materials. Can you tell us more about the value that having this capability adds?

HB: A lot of companies are starting to see the value in a single company that can partner with them on multiple products, like substrates and MO sources, fab materials like metal targets, and that can also offer recycling services and provide a closed loop solution. Rather than working with several different vendors for various aspects of a supply chain, it is beneficial to work with a single partner who can work with you across many links on the supply chain. It is a much more desirable model for high volume manufacturing.

YD: In the GaAs wafer supply chain, we see new Chinese suppliers taking a bigger share in the GaAs LED market. What is Vital Materials’ position in this segment? Which substrate diameter are you offering, and how is it evolving?

HB: We are the market leaders for 100mm GaAs substrates for LED applications. We are using that market manufacturing knowledge and economies of scale for other emerging markets such as higher performance GaAs RF devices and VCSELs and other substrate platforms such as 150mm.

YD: In the display market, there is significant development of red miniLED and microLED lights and competition between GaN based LEDs and GaAs based LEDs. In this context what value do GaAs microLEDs add? Also, this market will evolve rapidly. How is Vital Materials preparing for this?

HB: We continue to work with leading players in the LED space who are already our customers and leverage our existing relationships with them on these emerging technologies as well.

YD: The VCSEL market has seen strong growth thanks to the penetration of 3D sensing technology in smartphones. What is Vital Materials’ roadmap to follow the evolving specifications for the laser-grade substrates?

HB: We are excited to work with many VCSEL manufacturers closely to help them meet and push the boundaries of VCSEL-grade GaAs substrates. As the industry matures and there is higher deployment of VCSEL chips in existing markets, and as we move towards new applications, the correlations between VCSEL device performance and substrate quality is being well studied and understood. We work with our customers to look at this data together and tailor our products to help them meet their product criteria.

YD: What is your status in RF GaAs substrates? What is your position in this market?

HB: We are working with some RF epitaxy foundries on cost-effective solutions for GaAs substrates for advanced RF applications.

GaAs Substrates 4” and 6” – Courtesy of Vital Materials

YD: As of today, there is almost no demand for 8” GaAs wafers. Do you see any development in the coming years? Which application will drive the 8”market?

HB: There are some very early stage discussions and opinions on how, as volumes increase on GaAs platforms, would it make sense for the industry as a whole to look at a larger diameter? But we think this is not anything imminent. There is capacity in the existing 6” supply chain, so investment in 8” infrastructure in terms of epitaxy and fab are not likely in the next two to three years. That being said, we do have capability for 8” GaAs that we can bring online. Maybe the microLED markets could be the potential drivers, but not anytime soon.

YD: Could you please describe your product roadmap for GaAs substrate products for coming years?

HB: We are working primarily with VCSEL and RF manufacturers to work on products for existing and next generation devices. We are working actively on high quality and cost effective products that can help our customers get to the next level in terms of device performance and cost metric.

YD: What is your target revenue or market share target in five years from now? How will you drive this evolution?

HB: Our business model is to closely partner with our customers. We have a close and open working relationship with them and there is mutual sharing of data as we look at the markets together. Similar to others in the industry, we have a positive outlook on the GaAs markets for the next five years. While we would not like to make a comment on any target revenue or market share, what we would like to emphasize is that based on our unique working model, supply chain characteristics, strong technical team, combined with astute management and leadership, we should be strongly positioned to be among the top two or three players in the GaAs substrates markets within the next three years.

YD: Are there any other aspects you would like to mention?

HB: These are very exciting times for the GaAs industry as a whole, with a lot of potential for new products and applications, especially in VCSELs, RF, LEDs. Vital would like to take this opportunity to thank our existing customers for their continued support and also our new customers for inviting us to be a part of this exciting journey.


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