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Applied Materials exits turnkey thin-film solar, cuts jobs

The market for thin-film solar panels has not materialized as Applied Materials had hoped, as it shifts focus to silicon solar equipment and LED lighting.

Applied Materials said on Wednesday it will stop new sales of its "turnkey" SunFab thin-film solar manufacturing line and concentrate on silicon solar and LED lighting.

The restructuring of its Energy and Environmental Solutions business will lead to the elimination of 400 to 500 positions and a third-quarter charge between $375 million and $425 million.

Applied Materials' SunFab line is an integrated system for manufacturing thin-film solar panels.
Applied Materials' SunFab line is an integrated system for manufacturing thin-film solar panels. Applied Materials

Applied Materials had been selling SunFab, an integrated line of equipment to manufacture amorphous silicon thin-film solar panels, but the business has been losing money for months.

In a statement, Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter said Applied Materials will seek growth by selling equipment for making crystalline silicon solar panels and LED lighting.

"The thin film market has been negatively impacted by several factors, including delays in utility-scale solar adoption, solar panel manufacturers' challenges in obtaining affordable capital, changes and uncertainty in government renewable energy policies, and competitive pressure from crystalline silicon technologies," he said.

The company will stop sales of SunFab but will continue to sell individual pieces of equipment for thin-film manufacturing. Another technology Applied plans to pursue is electrochromatic glass, also called "smart glass," which can change tint or color automatically.

Many companies have developed new thin-film solar technologies in the past decade but most companies have had trouble bringing thin-film to market at large scale because of competition from silicon solar panel providers and incumbent thin-film providers, such as First Solar.

Updated at 7:16 AM to clarify Applied Materials' plans.