We've been tracking the demise of the SunFab line of equipment for producing amorphous silicon solar panels. The panels off SunFab lines, according to many, are more expensive than panels from conventional equipment. After initially pledging to support SunFab, Applied in a recent conference call admitted that it would curb its enthusiasm for the line.
"We are taking decisive steps to redesign the business with a lower outlook," Applied CEO Mike Splinter told analysts on a conference call in May.
In the meantime, SunFab customers have been having problems -- and the latest appears to be Signet Solar. Reports from Intersolar (in German) indicate that Signet, Applied's first and one of its biggest customers, may be insolvent.
Signet Solar ist Insolvent, says Evertiq.
I only know enough German to get a hotel room and communicate with my relatives, but it's a pretty straightforward headline. Other headlines are similar. We don't know the exact text yet, but we're getting there.
Rumors about trouble at Signet have circulated for some time, and recent events have not helped. In April, Signet Solar pulled plans to build a factory in New Mexico. Another early customer, SunFilm, filed for bankruptcy protection (SunFilm was actually two Applied customers in one: last year, it bought Sontor). Then, more recently, Masdar PV, another large customer, abruptly got rid of its CEO. Suntech Power Holdings has a SunFab set of equipment, but Suntech is retooling its thin film strategy.
The saga began in March. Back then, we reported on rumors and speculation that Applied Materials might look to scale back or even sell its group that makes equipment for amorphous silicon solar panels. After that, analysts at Goldman Sachs attributed a rise in Applied's stock to news reports that the company might actually scale back on SunFab. Then, at the end of March, Applied indicated it would reduce its investments in SunFab.
We've heard that an official announcement comes tomorrow.
We called Signet's U.S. offices but have not received a response. In the meantime, we are looking for German translators. We will tell you more as we learn it.