The last four years have been extremely difficult for PV equipment makers. Following industry-wide overcapacity, orders of new tools began to collapse in 2011, and have remained depressed at a level of $100-$300 million per quarter since that time.
However, the latest figures from the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (SEMI) and German engineering association VDMA show a rebound in Q2 orders, which rose 166% sequentially to the highest level in over three years at over $300 million.
Given that billings were still under USD$250 million in Q2, this led to a book-to-bill ratio of 1.58. This is by far the highest ratio since the crash began in 2011, and serves as a concrete industry-wide indicator of recovery in the sector.
This also follows VDMA’s statement earlier in the month that German PV equipment orders had almost tripled year-over-year during Q2 2015, despite increased competition from Asia.
It is a different industry after four years of profound downturn, particularly in the United States. Applied Materials, formerly the leader in sales, has greatly limited its participation in the sector. This includes dropping its wafer sawing and solar implant lines in August. GT Advanced Technologies remains in bankruptcy and recently laid off 2/5 of its workforce, and Spire is considering a sale of the business.
It should also be noted that despite this healthy increase in bookings, both orders and revenues remain only a small fraction of levels seen during the boom times of 2010 and 2011. The future may see a leaner equipment sector, with more focus on low-cost upgrades such as passivated emitter rear contact (PERC) tools.