Applied Materials to Extend Solar Reach With Acquisition of HCT Shaping Systems

June 27, 2007 by Jeff Shepard

Applied Materials, Inc. announced that it has agreed to acquire HCT Shaping Systems SA (HCT), a privately-held company based in Switzerland. HCT is a leading supplier of precision wafering systems used principally in manufacturing crystalline silicon (c-Si) substrates for the solar industry. Under terms of the agreement, Applied will pay approximately CHF 583 million (or approximately US$475 million at the current exchange rate) in cash for all of the outstanding shares of HCT. The acquisition is part of Applied’s strategy to accelerate customers’ ability to reduce the costs of photovoltaic (PV) cell manufacturing to make solar energy more competitive with grid electricity.

"This acquisition aligns well with our overall strategy to drive down the cost-per-watt of solar power for c-Si and thin film applications," said Mike Splinter, President and CEO of Applied Materials. "HCT will significantly expand our opportunities in the c-Si PV technology sector, which currently comprises 90% of solar panel production. By combining HCT’s precision wafering systems with Applied’s strong manufacturing technology and global support infrastructure, we believe we can take solar wafer manufacturing to the next level of production efficiency."

HCT is said to be a pioneer in precision wafering, with technology that also includes products for squaring and cropping ingots and for slurry recovery. After a silicon ingot is formed, HCT’s wafering systems exactly section it into thin substrates for subsequent use in fabricating c-Si solar cells. As a result of the substantial expansion of the solar industry, HCT has recently experienced rapid growth, supplying its products to c-Si solar manufacturers worldwide.

Currently, one of the major challenges in manufacturing solar cells is the cost and supply of the raw silicon material. In c-Si manufacturing, HCT’s precision wafering systems enable customers to significantly reduce the thickness of wafers used to make c-Si solar cells, decreasing silicon usage. In addition, Applied’s products for thin film solar cell manufacturing reduce silicon utilization by forming atomically thin layers of silicon directly from gases onto a glass substrate.

Completion of the transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including receipt of certain non-U.S. regulatory approvals. The parties expect to close the transaction during Applied’s fourth fiscal quarter of 2007.