Applied Materials, Inc. is the global leader in providing equipment, services and software to enable the manufacture of advanced semiconductor, flat panel display and solar photovoltaic products. Its technologies help make innovations like smartphones, flat screen TVs and solar panels more affordable and accessible to consumers and businesses around the world. Aninda Moitra, president and managing director, Applied Materials India Pvt Limited and vice president of Applied Materials, Inc., speaks to Jalaja Ramanunni and Dilin Anand of EFY.
Q. What verticals does your company focus on?
A. Applied Materials is the largest equipment manufacturer for the semiconductor, solar and display industry. We manufacture the equipment needed to manufacture semiconductor chips, display panels and solar cells.
Q. Are you a solution provider?
A. Yes, you could take it that we are a solution provider to anybody who is manufacturing chips or solar panels or display panels.
Q. Do you have a R&D centre in India?
A. Yes we do. We are the largest resource pool for the company outside the Head Quarters in California. We have over 1200 engineers working on design, software and support in India. All these activities are done for our global product base and customers. We also have some sales and services that we manage out of India. Our largest site is in Bengaluru, we also have offices in Chennai and Noida.
Q. What do the design team in India focus on?
A. They work on every aspect from basic drawing to full module level designs. Since our equipment are highly complicated they can be broken up into significant pieces of smaller modules. We in India do design and testing for these modules.
Q. Do you handle manufacturing yourselves or are there third party companies handling it for you?
A. We manufacture all our products on our own. We have global manufacturing centres all over the globe.
Q. How does Applied Materials try to be energy efficient in terms of design and manufacturing?
A. Energy efficiency is one of our strategic differentiators. We have our strategic initiative as a corporation to minimise our energy footprint as well as strategic initiatives in terms of targets for the reduction of power usage for all our product development. So before we embark on any new product development, we have a clear target that we try to hit in order to decrease energy consumption and usage against the previous generation of products. Our current target is 20 per cent reduction product-over-product in energy consumption.
One of the things to note is that the semiconductor equipment used does play a huge part in the manufacturing energy needed to get the product out. So we are fully aware of that and we try to make that a big differentiator by paying extra importance to designing and using energy efficient components.
Q. Do you have any new technology that helps you reduce energy usage?
A. We have a product called iSYS. To understand it, first consider a semiconductor fabrication plant. Here the equipment is supported by a subfab that contains all the pumps and the other different machinery required to operate all the machines which produce the chips. The iSYS product monitors the status of the equipment. The wafers in a semiconductor manufacturing fab do not go through the machinery continuously. iSYS monitors the state of readiness of each component of the machine and idles it based on its state, so that energy is conserved. This conserves a lot of energy. This product is designed by us and a lot of the design and support for this product also comes from India. This is a system that results in energy reduction in the fab which ultimately leads to cost savings to the fab.
Q. What are your target markets in India and which one is the most successful?
A. As a business, we have verticals in solar, display and semiconductor manufacturing. So until today our target market in India is solar cell manufacturing. We are also looking at India for semiconductor manufacturing. That will be our next big target here.
Q. Are there any interesting marketing trends in India that is relevant to your line?
A. The solar market is of huge relevance as there is the National Solar Mission and the overall need for energy in India. Solar energy is going to increase by leaps and bounds in India over the next few decades. We definitely believe that Indian manufacturers and cell manufacturers have differentiated products and we would like to work with academia and as well as the customers here to generate innovative differentiated products so that that supply can from India as the demand is clearly there.
Q. Who is your direct competitor in the Solar area?
A. There is no Indian player who is a direct competition to us.
Q. What technological developments has taken place with respect to improving solar cells?
A. We are currently focussing on crystalline silicon based technology for this and there is a lot of work being done with passivation technologies and new advanced sawing technologies to make the wafers even thinner. The different passivation technologies help to reduce material costs and also enable higher efficiencies is what we are working actively on.
Q. Could you comment on a challenge that you faced while improving solar technologies?
A. In the solar area, grid parity is what everyone is striving towards. Thus the challenge is not purely technical or cost. It is a balance of both. Therefore, our strategy is something that balances the two. We need material innovation which looks at alternate materials while making sure that they are not cost prohibitive. The other thing is how to innovate amongst those materials in how to reduce the cost or usage of the materials in creation of solar panels. Ultimately, it is a combination of challenges.
Q. Do you intend to increase your presence in India?
A. We have over the years continued to improve our talent pool in India and at this stage we are interested to see semiconductor manufacturing in India. Once this moves forward we would see a substantial increase in our presence.