SAN JOSE, Calif. In a major move into the solar-cell and other equipment markets, Applied Materials Inc. on Thursday (May 4) announced a definitive agreement to acquire Applied Films Corp. for $464 million in cash.
With the surprising acquisition of Applied Films (Longmont, Colo.), chip-equipment giant Applied Materials (Santa Calif.) expands its product portfolio. Applied Films is a supplier of thin-film deposition equipment used in the manufacturing of flat-panel displays, solar cells, flexible electronics and energy-efficient glass.
Applied Materials, the world’s largest chip-equipment vendor, is a major player in the flat-panel display tool arena, but the company has not participated in the solar sector. However, Applied Materials is quietly working on its own, internally-developed machines for solar-cell applications, according to analysts.
Applied Films' physical vapor deposition (PVD) tools are said to be complementary with Applied Materials' existing machines for flat-panel displays. Applied Materials is a supplier of chemical vapor deposition (CVD) and test equipment for manufacturing the display's transistor layer, while Applied Films is a recognized leader in the production of display color filter systems and has developed significant expertise in large area PVD.
"The acquisition of Applied Films expands our flat-panel business to offer color filter products, and opens the fast-growing solar market for us," said Mike Splinter, president and CEO of Applied Materials, in a statement.
"In solar cell manufacturing, we expect to help customers deliver higher levels of output at lower production cost a critical step to making alternative forms of clean energy more available and affordable,” said Mark Pinto, senior vice president and chief technical officer of Applied Materials, in the same statement.
Applied Films has over 720 employees worldwide. Also on Thursday, Applied Films said revenues for the third quarter of fiscal 2006 were $62.0 million compared to $44.9 million for the third quarter of fiscal 2005, an increase of 38.1%.
The net loss on a GAAP basis for the third quarter of fiscal 2006 was $0.8 million or minus $0.05 per fully diluted common share, compared to earnings of $2.9 million or $0.19 per fully diluted common share for the third quarter of fiscal 2005.
Here comes the sun
Meanwhile, Applied Materials is jumping into new markets for good reason: it is losing share in the chip-equipment arena.
But with little or no fanfare, the chip-equipment giant has been quietly developing its own tools for the solar market, but it’s unclear if or when the company will launch those products. “As most are aware, Applied Materials has been working on a PVD product for the solar cell market,” said Darice Liu, an analyst with Maxim Group LLC (New York).
Applied Films, meanwhile, already has its foot in the door. “Applied Films also has a PVD solar cell product called the Aton,” Liu said. “They have sold roughly 7-10 beta tools.”
Both companies are much stronger in the display arena. “We estimate that Applied Films has over 80 percent market share in the 6Gen and above color filter PVD market,” the analyst said. “Both companies entered the TFT (thin film transistor) PVD market less than 1.5 years ago and penetration has been slow.”
In that market, Applied Films has tools at South Korea-based liquid crystal display (LCD) supplier LG.Philips LCD and Taiwan’s Quanta Display, now part of AU Optronics. Applied has a beta tool at LG.Philips.
“Both [LG.Philips’] tools have not been signed off yet,” according to the analyst. The major competitor in both the color filer and TFT PVD market is Japan’s Ulvac Inc. In the latter market, Ulvac is the dominant player with over 90 percent market share, according to the analyst.
“In addition, Applied Films has been working on an organic light emitting diode (OLED) PVD product, but it still a work in progress,” Liu said.
Applied Films also designs and manufactures advanced vacuum coating systems for the architectural and automotive glass industry. The main question is what’s going to happen to those businesses?
“Historically, architecture has been 30-to-40 percent of Applied Films’ sales,” according to the analyst. “In the last three years, the market has been very slow due to oversaturation in the U.S. and European markets. These product lines are not a fit with Applied Materials, in our opinion.”