Fire shuts down Abound Solar line; no injuries reported, production ramp resumes

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A small electrical fire in a piece of production equipment shut down the Abound Solar thin-film photovoltaic module manufacturing line in Longmont, CO, on New Year’s Day. No one was injured from the resulting smoke, no other tools were damaged, and operations resumed the following day, according to company sources.

Calling the early morning fire a “relatively minor incident” and a “low probability event,” Abound’s Mark Chen told PV-Tech that production was stopped for safety reasons, adding that the facility was evacuated once the fire department was called.

The Coloradoan.com news site reports that 11 employees and four firefighters went to a local hospital as a precaution, but all were released within a half-hour or so. Chen (who is Abound’s director of marketing) added that there were no health issues or injuries with any workers.

The company has been running around the clock as it ramps its first 65MW cadmium-telluride thin-film module line. Chen said the mishap resulted in the line being down for a day or so, and that modules “had been moving through since Saturday (Jan. 2),” with “inventory at different stages of production” and “workarounds” in effect.

He could not confirm if the inline manufacturing system had returned to continuous end-to-end processing yet.

Chen said the tool where the fire started was not one of Abound’s proprietary semiconductor deposition chambers, but a piece of equipment purchased from a third-party company.

Although he would not specify exactly which tool was involved in the incident or the name of the vendor, the company spokesman did say that Abound is working with the supplier (who now has a team on site, with the proper documentation) and is helping with its failure/root-cause analysis studies, and that the damaged machinery has been replaced and a backup tool is being ramped up.

Chen would not offer a precise timeline of when Abound expects to reach full capacity on its first line, but he did say the company had been making “good progress” before the accident and that the “capacity continues to grow” toward the nameplate target figure. 

“All the equipment is in, all the chambers are in” for running at full capacity, he explained, and are “being qualified as we speak.”

Once the first line is fully ramped, a second line will be added later this year, according to Chen, with a third line—which would bring the facility up to its projected 200MW—beginning to ramp by late 2010 or early 2011.

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