According to a new study, Japanese suppliers extended their dominance of the world market for semiconductor production equipment, the esoteric gear needed to make the silicon chips that form the bedrock of the computer and electronics industries. At the end of last year, reports market watcher VLSI Research Inc., Japanese companies held four of the top five positions. That's a dramatic reversal from just five years ago, when U. S. companies dominated the industry.
The sole surviving U. S. company in the top five is California's Applied Materials Inc., which holds third place. Tokyo Electron Ltd., with $706 million in sales in 1990, is the top dog, with Nikon, Advantest, and Canon ranking second, fourth, and fifth, respectively. Together, these Japanese suppliers control nearly one-quarter of the $9.6 billion market for chipmaking equipment. In 1987, alarmed by their growing dependency on Japanese equipment, U. S. chipmakers--with Defense Dept. funding--formed Sematech, the chipmaking-technology consortium in Austin, Tex. But as the new rankings show, America's slide in this key business won't be arrested soon.