The merger of Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron, two of the largest makers of chip manufacturing equipment, would ordinarily draw criticism over antitrust concerns. The deal creates a company with $29 billion in market value.
“It’s a big merger, as if you woke up in the morning and found Google and Microsoft were merging,” said Dan Hutcheson, head of Santa Clara, Calif- based chip equipment research firm VLSI Research.
VLSI Research estimates that Applied had about 15 percent of the overall chip equipment market in 2012, while Tokyo Electron had 11 percent. Together, they would have $12 billion in sales and 26 percent of the overall equipment market. They would have about a third of the market share in front-end wafer fabrication equipment.
But Hutcheson said that he doesn’t expect large chip manufacturers — the customers of Applied and Tokyo Electron — to object. That’s because the equipment industry is just beginning another major ecosystem change from 300 millimeter wafers to 450 millimeter wafers. That’s the equivalent of enabling a pizza oven to make more pizza by equipping it so it can handle larger pizza dishes.
That change is a huge one in terms of research and development costs. It’s possible that the R&D could be handled more efficiently if consolidation happens, Hutcheson said. The 450-millimeter wafers are in development, but it may be seven or eight years before those are put into production in chip factories.
“The people who buy the tools have testified in favor of the market, on the notion that R&D costs are rising so fast that costs can be lowered through consolidation,” Hutcheson said. “A lot of this is about how do you get to 450 millimeter wafers.”
There still may be an objection on other fronts. In the U.S., antitrust law prevents companies from combining in a way that does harm to consumers, resulting in ills such as higher prices. But in Europe, the antitrust law is different. It protects competition, and that could arguably be harmed by the merger of Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron.
A lot depends on whether the customers are worried about competitive issues. A spokesman for Intel declined to comment.
One issue for Tokyo Electron has been finding a successor to the CEO, Tetsuro Higashi, who has been with the company for 35 years and became CEO in 1996. Under the proposed merger, Higashi will be vice chairman alongside Applied’s Mike Splinter, while Applied CEO Gary Dickerson will be the joint company CEO.
Tokyo Electron was founded in 1963, while Applied Materials, based in Santa Clara, Calif., in Silicon Valley, was founded in 1967. Tokyo Electronic had revenue last year of $5.4 billion, while Applied’s revenue was $7.2 billion. Tokyo Electron is a critical player in chip technology. It is the maker of resist processing equipment. Without that, there would be no lithography equipment, and without that, no Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law is the foundation of the electronics industry. Formulated by Intel chairman emeritus Gordon Moore in 1965, it holds that the number of components on a chip doubles every couple of years.