An Applied Materials ‘SunFab’ thin film customer files for bankruptcy

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The cards would seem to have been stacked against Sunfilm on multiple fronts that have resulted in the a-Si thin film producer filing for insolvency on March 26, in the district court in Dresden, Germany. Despite a merger in May 2009 with another thin-film start-up, Sontor, that gave the company a combined capacity of 145MW and tandem junction cells with 8% claimed efficiencies, a resurgent crystalline solar competitive position, and the dominance of CdTe thin film and global leader, First Solar, has squeezed many thin-film producers through 2009 and into 2010. Approximately 300 employees at the two manufacturing plants had been on shorter working hours since late 2009. The merged company had approximately 400 workers when the merger was announced.

However, the insolvency is hoped to enable a new investor to take control and undertake a restructuring of the company to reduce debts and re-enter the market as module supply is constrained due to renewed demand in Germany and other European and international markets.

“By filing for insolvency we are aiming for a strategic realignment of the company with a new investor,” commented Wolfgang Heinze, chairman of the executive board of Sunfilm AG. “Our high-performance products, the state-of-the-art production lines in combination with an above-average market- and growth potential of our technology and the competence of our employees form a very solid basis for this. We regret the current development and want to express our thanks for the support we have received so far. We will use all our efforts to lead the company into a successful future.”

The production line in Grossroehrsdorf, Germany, uses the SunFab thin-film technology from Applied Materials. The turnkey equipment supplier has recently acknowledged that its hopes for the technology have been revised and would be downscaling activities though it continues to work with existing customers on next-generation technologies and potential capacity ramps.

However, according to sources at a recent SEMI PV Fab Managers Conference, Applied has already reduced staff levels dedicated to the SunFab technology and realigned others to other crystalline projects.

Sunfilm was initially backed by Q-Cells, Good Energies, and Norsun. Q-Cells has since started a major reorganisation and has focused technology and manufacturing on a smaller core of subsidiaries. The company reported losses of approximately €1.35 billion in 2009 and saw the exit of its cofounder, Anton Milner.

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