The emergence of major PV manufacturers from China has resulted in half of production of modules now emanating from the country. However, China-based PV equipment suppliers have been slow to break into the major league, which has been dominated by European- and U.S.-based companies. That’s now changed, according to the VLSI Research's Top 10 PV equipment supplier rankings for 2010.

The 48th Research Institute of CETC, based in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province, placed ninth in the VLSI Research rankings for 2010, with revenue of US$295 million last year.

CETC claims a domestic market share of 80%, buoyed previously by being a key supplier of process equipment such as diffusion furnaces and etching systems to Suntech, the largest c-Si module manufacturer in 2010.

Another new entrant to the equipment rankings was Rena Sondermaschinen, noted for its wet processing technology and complete integrated system approach. Rena had revenue of US$300 million in 2010, driven by the significant capacity expansion plans of ingot/wafer producers and companies expanding their integrated manufacturing operations.

According to VLSI Research, the overall trend of capital spending shift away from amorphous silicon towards crystalline silicon cell technology supported both new entrants making the Top 10 rankings.

Despite the shift away from amorphous silicon, Applied Materials was the clear market leader overall. Revenue from both its thin-film and crystalline silicon segments reached nearly US$1.5 billion in 2010. Having strong market exposure in both wafer and cell segments meant Applied capitalised on rapid capacity expansions in both, in particular, wafer sawing and screen printers.

This is the third successive year that Applied Materials has topped the equipment rankings. It has also dominated the rankings in the semiconductor industry.

Ranked second for another year was centrotherm photovoltaics with revenue of US$825 million. According to the market research firm, centrotherm was the top supplier of cell and module equipment for the crystalline silicon market in 2010. It achieved this despite the cyclicality in the polysilicon business, another key market it is involved in.

Another firm that continues to benefit from the growth in ingot/wafer markets was ranked third in 2010, GT Solar. The company gained from revenue of US$775 million, representing 168% growth, compared to the previous year, enabling the DSS furnace market leader to move one position higher than it reached in 2009. 

Meyer Burger jumped two places to be ranked sixth on the back of sales reaching US$570 million. No guesses why the company moved up the rankings, though it did benefit from acquisitions that have broadened its product offerings into downstream markets. 

Ulvac, the top Japanese equipment supplier in the PV industry also gained one position, moving from seventh to sixth with sales of US$380 million. German-based Roth & Rau also moved up behind Ulvac to seventh on the back of sales of US$325 million.

With several new entrants and others moving up the rankings, several firms lost out in 2010. One of those was Gebr. Schmid, which dropped two positions with sales of US$570 million and is now ranked number five.

The biggest loser would seem to be silicon thin-film turnkey supplier, Oerlikon. The company was ranked fifth in 2009 but scraped into the 2010 rankings at tenth.

Companies just outside the Top 10 included Jusung Engineering, Despatch Industries, Amtech Systems, ALD Vacuum Technologies, and NPC.

According to VLSI Research, 2010 was a record-breaking year, with sales of PV manufacturing equipment crossing the US$10 billion mark (US$10.4 billion) for the first time.

During the PV Fab Managers Forum, held in Berlin at the beginning of this week, John West, VLSI's head of PV market analysis, noted several key drivers for the equipment market during his presentation.

West said that PV module sales revenue was expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22% over the next 5 years, which would drive a CAGR of 10% in equipment spending over the same period.

He also saw amorphous silicon cell/module technology suppliers doing better in 2011, as many are rolling out next-generation technologies offering higher module efficiencies and lower manufacturing costs.

The market researcher also highlighted the geographical shift in equipment suppliers, so far represented in the entrance of CETC in the 2010 Top 10 rankings.

In 2006, European suppliers dominated the then US$2.1 billion market with 57% share. However, in 2010 that market had grown to US$10.4 billion and European suppliers share declined to 42%. In the same period, Japanese supplier share declined from 18% to 10%.

China-based supplier share has grown from 10% in 2006 to 17% in 2010. North America-based suppliers actually gained the biggest share in the period, up from 9% in 2006 to 25% in 2010. However, acquisitions of European suppliers by Applied Materials would need to be acknowledged for supporting some of the share gains.

West also said during his talk that the PV equipment market was expected to grow 24% in 2011 to a value of US$12.4 billion. 

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