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All Eyes On Silicon Carbide

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GT Advanced Technologies opens new crystal growth facility to meet imminent silicon carbide market boom, reports Rebecca Pool.

In June this year, US-based GT Advanced Technologies, opened a state-of-the-art silicon carbide manufacturing plant in Hudson, New Hampshire.

Equipment, including crystal furnaces, has been shipped over from the company's former Merrimack facility, sold in December 2016. And as GTAT chief executive, Greg Knight, puts it: "Merrimack was designed for a very different business so we're now at Hudson, which has been designed from the ground up for this business."

"The facility is designed to be north of 100,000 square feet of crystal growth production," he adds. "The first batch of furnaces are already installed and are producing crystal. In the past we have installed thousands and thousands of furnaces so this is very much a known entity for us and we intend to ramp production very quickly."

GTAT has been producing crystal-growth equipment for the photovoltaics industry, as well as honing SiC boule production, for several years. Emerging from bankruptcy following a disastrous sapphire furnace supply contract with Apple in 2014, the company set out to establish a stable, high yield robust six inch process for SiC boules for photovoltaic, electric vehicle, data centre markets and more.

The current process includes the company's 'SiClone' SiC sublimation furnace and full silicon carbide seeds, and Knight is confident the resulting six inch boules compete with four-inch versions on quality. What's more, the chief executive is certain his company and process is ready for a SiC device market that is poised to explode.

"We believe that the demand for silicon carbide will truly start to accelerate around 2021 to 2022, so in my mind, now is the time to enter the market," he says. "The market is still far from this inflexion point, when you see volumes ramping, but we are entering at scale and will add incrementally as utilisation rises."

"We can respond very quickly to utilisation, which is important as you don't want to outpace your self and end up with a factory that's say, 30% utilised," he adds. "But we will be able to be a major player as the market gets through the inflexion point and and reaches true volumes."