BTU International reduces headcount on weak solar equipment sales

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Thermal processing equipment specialist, BTU International is reducing its US-based workforce in response to the slowdown in demand from PV manufacturers as the industry tackles overcapacity and weaker than expected second-half year demand. Workforce reductions started in June, 2011, which included full-time and contracted workers. The company did not disclose the actual number of jobs lost. Temporary furloughs were also being initiated.

BTU reported third quarter net sales of US$16.9 million, down from US$19.0 million in the preceding quarter and compared to US$19.0 million for the same quarter a year ago.

Net loss, including a restructuring charge of US$352,000, was US$2.0 million, compared to a breakeven position in the preceding quarter.

BTU also reported net sales for the first nine months reached US$61.3 million compared to US$54.2 million for the first nine months of 2010. Net loss for the nine months ended October 2, 2011, including the restructuring charge of $352,000 was US$0.2 million.

Paul J. van der Wansem, BTU chairman and CEO, said in a statement, “Our quarter was clearly affected by the slowdown in the solar industry that has impacted all equipment suppliers. As a result, we took the difficult step of reducing our permanent and contract staff, primarily in the United States, from June 2011 levels. Sales reflected solid contributions from our electronics business which delivered the majority of our major systems revenue for the third quarter.”

Management noted in a conference call to discuss results that approximately 50% of sales in the first-half of the year came from the PV segment but expected this to decline to approximately 40% in the second-half of the year.

BTU also noted that it was addressing a range of annealing process steps, such as ion implant repair amongst Tier 1 PV manufacturers to prepare for the next technology and capacity upswing – by holding meetings and demonstrations.

“We are encouraged by the recent results of our latest generation solar products including our in-line diffusion and next generation metallization technology. BTU shipped the first production sized anneal systems during the third quarter, 2011. These systems address new market opportunities in increasing cell efficiencies. This process step is applicable to both P- and N-type cells. Our solar process laboratories in the USA and China are playing an important role by demonstrating new technologies to our customers. These technologies will drive cost per watt down by means of increased cell efficiencies and improved line throughput,” added van der Wansem.

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