The Week In Review: Manufacturing

Solar Apple; Applied’s results; Dickerson’s outlook; 1.5nm patterns; GaN/SiC challenges.

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First Solar announced that Apple has committed $848 million for clean energy from First Solar’s California Flats Solar Project in Monterey County, Calif. Apple will receive electricity from 130 megawatts (MW) AC of the solar project under a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA), the largest agreement in the industry to provide clean energy to a commercial end user.

Applied Materials reported its results for the first quarter ended Jan. 25, 2015. First quarter orders were $2.27 billion, up 1% sequentially. Net sales were $2.36 billion, up 4% sequentially.

In a conference call, Gary Dickerson, chief executive and president of Applied, said he is cautiously optimistic about 2015. “We believe wafer fab equipment spending for calendar 2014 was approximately 15% higher than the previous year. And as we look ahead, we maintain our view that the market could grow another 5% or more in 2015,” he said on the Seeking Alpha Web site. “In summary, while there are risks related to the timing of customer investments, our current view is that 2015 will be a solid market growth–a year of solid market growth, driven by robust memory spending in the first half and foundries ramping finFET production in the second half.”

What’s new with Applied Materials’ proposed acquisition of Tokyo Electron Ltd. (TEL)? “Applied Materials continues to make progress on its merger with Tokyo Electron. While management would not provide a material update on the merger, we continue to believe it will close in the first half of the year,” said Weston Twigg, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities, in a report.

TEL posted mixed results in the quarter. For 2015, WFE capital spending is expected to rise around 10%, according to TEL. CapEx is driven by memory, backed by strong mobile devices and the enterprise server markets, the company said.

Lam Research announced that its board has approved a quarterly dividend of $0.18 per share of common stock.

Researchers from aBeam Technologies, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory have developed a technology to fabricate test patterns with a minimum linewidth down to 1.5nm. The fabricated nanostructures are used to test metrology equipment.

Worldwide silicon wafer area shipments increased 11% in 2014 when compared to 2013 area shipments according to SEMI. However, worldwide silicon revenues increased by just 1 percent in 2014 compared to 2013.

After a four-month investigation, the U.S. Department of Commerce declared the export controls on certain etch equipment and technology ineffective, thereby removing a cumbersome and onerous impediment to efficient trade, according to SEMI.

SMIC’s planned 2015 capital expenditures for foundry operations is approximately $1.4 billion. This is mainly for the expansion of capacity in its 300mm fab in Beijing and the new 200mm fab in Shenzhen.

Wide-bandgap (WBG) technologies for power electronics remains a hot topic. According to Yole Développement, WBG technologies are almost ready to be used by power electronics integrators. But industry players have identified many module packaging challenges.

Power electronics based on gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) have the potential to improve efficiency. But since these materials are higher-cost, companies need market-specific strategies in order to succeed as these new WBG materials claim market share from silicon-based semiconductors, according to Lux Research.