GT Solar thinks big with beta testing of 650 kilogram ingot furnaces

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The technical/economic debate over ever increasing Directional Solidification System (DSS) furnace sizes that cast multi-crystalline ingots, heats-up with the news that GT Solar is beta testing with select customers its next DSS crystalline growth furnace, the ‘DSS650.’ The larger furnace capacity of up to 650 kilograms comes hot on the heals of the official launch in May, 2010 of the ‘DSS450HP,’ a high performance ingot growth furnace with a thermally optimized, second-generation hot zone that claimed to have improved throughput while delivering industry-leading crystal quality.

A key limitation in moving to ever increasing ingot sizes is the technological capability to manufacture the crucibles used in the furnace. The common industry practice is to place multiple crucibles at a time within the furnace for optimization and greater throughput.

The new system is still intended to provide an upgrade path for users of its smaller furnaces, the company said. Competitors to GT Solar, such as China-based JYT have been developing larger furnaces for several years, though rivals had argued that ingot sizes above 600kg could lead to other equipment changes that actually add to the cost of production.

“The DSS650 continues our commitment to customers to lower their manufacturing costs by leveraging their investment in our crystalline growth furnaces to take advantage of new technology,” commented Tom Gutierrez, President and CEO of GT Solar. “We designed the new DSS650 system so current customers can easily upgrade to the new system, which underscores our commitment to protecting our customers’ investment in GT Solar DSS equipment.”

Commercial availability of the new system is expected for early calendar year 2011. Yingli Green Energy, JA Solar and Sino-American Silicon Products (SAS) are all key customers of GT Solar and approximately 85% of its business is now done in Asia.

New regional hub

Not surprisingly then that GT Solar has now opened its new Asia operations, headquartered in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong headquarters is intended to serves the needs of its customers throughout the Asia Pacific region.

“Over eighty-five percent of our business now comes from Asia, particularly from China where most of our customers are located,” added Gutierrez. “Our Asia headquarters is the next logical step in developing the most appropriate business model to support our growing customer base in the region. By focusing the operations of our business in Hong Kong, we will be more responsive to our local customers and continue to provide the high quality products and high levels of support they have come to expect from GT Solar.”

However, GT Solar established a Shanghai, China facility last year though it will continue to provide installation resources, demonstration capabilities for customers, including product training and spare parts inventory.

GT Solar reiterated that its PV equipment product development, engineering and R&D will remain in the company’s corporate headquarters in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and product development, engineering and R&D for its polysilicon equipment will remain in Missoula, Montana.

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