‘We see customers focusing on hybrid solutions’: Autowell on its work at Intersolar Europe 2024

By PV Tech
“Today we see customers focusing on hybrid solutions,” said Paolo Rocha (right). Image: Autowell.

Chinese manufacturer Autowell (ATW) has sought to expand its presence in international markets in recent years, having showcased its work at Intersolar North America for the first time in January of this year. This week, the company is demonstrating its portfolio of ingots and stringers at Intersolar Europe 2024, where it has already completed its ‘Beyond Boundaries, Shaping Tomorrow,’ product launch.

Here, PV Tech speaks to deputy international sales director Paulo Rocha about some of its successes in recent years, and how it plans to expand its footprint into a number of new markets around the world.

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PV Tech: How would you describe the company’s current market position? How have both the company’s PV and storage sectors performed recently?

Paolo Rocha: In general our market position is great. With our hard work we have managed to make the ATW brand very valuable and linked to high tech and quality products. In module equipment, particularly the cell interconnection process, we are recognised as the number one solution with highest market share, close to 80% overall. In cell equipment we are making important steps and taking a considerable market share, as we entered major projects in the US, with our cell equipment.

In ingot and wafer solutions, our low-oxygen pullers are under the spotlight in China, and in international markets we are waiting for major projects to kick off as we are shortlisted on the most important international projects. PV is still doing better than storage, where we reported significant growth last year with several projects outside China, mainly the US and Turkey.

In the near future we want to provide smart manufacturing solutions that will help customers to use our tools more independently from operators, following the AI trends worldwide.

Are there any deals you would point to as a particular success for the company?

I can point out a single order of 1,200 ingot pullers, particularly because that customer was previously a customer from our competitor. This shows our technology is solid and exclusive. In international market, we received major order from the US market for a cell equipment printing line and wafer sorter. On module equipment, I would point out that all orders in international markets made by ATW crossed over a 75% market share last year, being recognised as the most reliable and competitive cell interconnection process provider.

What of your string welding machines in particular? Have you seen an increased appetite for such products as the global solar sector grows?

Our cell interconnection solutions (stringers) have always had high demand and been a best seller within our products. Today we see customers focusing on hybrid solutions, meaning tools that allow for the conventional soldering of the super multi busbar (SMBB) cell type, but also allow for a future upgrade to zero busbar (0BB) solutions, with UV glue screen printing. Here we created synergy between our cell printing equipment with our stringers, and easily developed a tool that can accommodate booth conventional soldering SMBB and 0BB with glue screen printing. This solution is in high demand from our customers.

Also very interesting is our bussing solution, that combines bussing and layup in one machine, meaning it skips the conventional layup system. In our solution the strings move directly from the stringer to the bussing station and the cell matrix is created at the bussing station, eliminating the need for a layup system, thus reducing string handling, which then considerable reduces module rework rates.

What do you aim to deliver with your new manufacturing base in Malaysia? How have you seen demand for your products from different markets change over time?

With our manufacturing in Malaysia we want to enhance our internationalisation and get closer to customers. We are a company with customers in all continents but we only produce in China. Right now, with our Malaysian manufacturing, we can provide customers with alternatives for optimised logistics, as well as an after-sales service closer to the customer.

Are there markets that you have found greater success working in? What is the current state of the global solar sector, and what opportunities exist for ATW in this environment?

I would say the US. Last year the US kicked off close to 30GW of projects and we are honoured to participate in most of them. We entered the US market in 2019 and learned about its specific needs. All our equipment to the US is customised to follow local standards.

Last year’s projects are a recognition of our US success story. It was hard to establish our US leadership position, and it is even harder to keep it, but I think it has been a success and we are working hard to stay on top. The US is a very demanding market, customers are demanding and perfectionists, and so far we have been doing a good job.

Currently the global market is slow as there is an oversupply of products in most locations. In China, players are not running at full speed and this year will be a restructuring year. There are opportunities for technology upgrades, since tunnel oxide passivated contact (TOPcon) and heterojunction (HJT) capacities still have a lot of market to grow.

Here we are focusing our efforts as well as automating processes that are currently done manually, for example the string rework process. String reworking is the reality that comes with the increased number of wires, and soon we will introduce an automatic rework tool. Meanwhile we are focusing on developing our smart manufacturing solutions, that will allow us to provide not only equipment but also manufacturing services with high productivity and yields.

How would you describe Europe, in particular, as a market to work in? Are there considerable opportunities in Europe, and how do you plan to work with European companies as the continent’s solar industry grows?

Europe is where it all started, what goes around comes around, so Europe is where we want to be. Currently there is a crisis within European manufacturers as Chinese module prices have reached unseen lower values, but Europe has a strong research and development (R&D) and innovation mindset. In the future with smart manufacturing it will be easy to produce in Europe at competitive costs. We want to be part of this industry rebirth, giving it the tools for hight productivity and yields, for the whole PV value chain. Let’s not forget that for Europe to be competitive it needs to invest in the whole value chain.

Are there challenges associated with working in such a range of markets? How has the company sought to overcome these challenges, and are there any lessons you have learned from working in one market that can be applied to others?

There are always risks in each market. We minimise the risk by studying the market environments and allocating the right resources to each of them. Different cultures require different communication skills. We are proud to have a dedicated international sales and service team, as well as an R&D department used to developed solutions for the different market demands. And the proof of success is our global customer footprint that keeps growing.

26 November 2024
Málaga, Spain
Understanding PV module supply to the European market in 2025. PV ModuleTech Europe 2024 is a two-day conference that tackles these challenges directly, with an agenda that addresses all aspects of module supplier selection; product availability, technology offerings, traceability of supply-chain, factory auditing, module testing and reliability, and company bankability.
11 March 2025
Frankfurt, Germany
The conference will gather the key stakeholders from PV manufacturing, equipment/materials, policy-making and strategy, capital equipment investment and all interested downstream channels and third-party entities. The goal is simple: to map out PV manufacturing out to 2030 and beyond.

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