Big news today is that ion implant market leader Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates is to be acquired by Applied Materials for approximately US$4.9 billion.
Though this is most definitely a semiconductor play for Applied, it does raise some issues over Applied’s motives as Varian launched the Solion implanter to the solar manufacturing industry a year ago, having poured significant capital into developing the technology.
However, this is not Applied’s first foray into ion implant technology, having closed down its ion implant business unit in 2007. The closure meant that Applied acknowledged that its competitive position against market leader, Varian was not sustainable. Varian went on to dominate the semiconductor implanter space with approximately 80% market share. However, Varian has also made a move to bring implant technology to the PV space with the potential to boost cell efficiencies by 2% and is both complementary to Applied’s selective emitter technology but also a competing alternative technology at the same time.
The deal however would seem to be semiconductor-based rather than the potential of solar. Rumours had surfaced about a year ago that Applied could resurrect its implant business to offer a competitive alternative to Varian in the PV manufacturing market as the technology adoption could be a drawn-out affair due to capital equipment costs and the conservative approach of many PV manufacturers when adopting new technology.
The purchase of Varian also highlights long-standing concerns that Applied has lost the ability to innovate in-house by developing equipment from inception through to market-leading positions - not seen since the introduction of its CMP tool in the late 1990’s.