PV equipment makers rejoice as cell expansions exhibit strong growth, technology diversification

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In contrast to the cloud of uncertainty prevailing over much of the thin-film equipment supply chain today, recent quarterly results within the c-Si segment from the likes of Centrotherm, Roth and Rau, Manz Automation, Applied Materials, and Amtech suggest sunny times lie ahead for these leading c-Si tool suppliers.

It's not simply the rate of c-Si capacity expansions within China and Taiwan over the past few quarters (which alone blows away any quarterly expansion levels seen historically), but the change in c-Si cell technology types being implemented. Driven by efficiency and cost reduction roadmaps, these changes impact on process flows, equipment spending capex, and the specific tool types that enable these new or modified cell designs.

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For much of the equipment supply chain, years of tool R&D and process development are being rewarded. This includes new front-end diffusion furnaces being shipped by Amtech/Tempress or drop-in PSG doping solutions from Manz Automation, back-end double printed and aligned metallization tools from AMAT-Baccini, ASYS and DEK-Solar, and selective emitter turnkey lines and upgrades by front-runners Centrotherm and Schmid. Other established tool suppliers, such as Roth and Rau and also Rena, are in advanced development stages to enter this new space.

Equipment supply for c-Si cell production has just got a whole lot more exciting and, by default, now calls for an altogether new approach to forecasting tool spending bottom-up across the plants as cell makers implement capacity expansion using a wide range of different tool types. Adapted from the forthcoming PV equipment quarterly report from Solarbuzz, c-Si cell equipment spending over the past four quarters paints a clear picture of this evolving landscape. Incremental tooling for Standard-Extra lines (incremental enhancements to the conventional Standard cell type) and new Gen 2 High Efficiency c-Si cell types with a Selective Emitter bias (Suntech, Sunergy, Yingli, JA-Solar) now account for an increasing share of quarterly equipment spending.

Ultimately however, success will be judged on production output from new cell lines being implemented and how many meet their goal of high average efficiency and low operating cost coupled with reliable operation at high yield and utilization levels. With BP Solar's mothballed Saturn lines still looming in the not-too-distant past, tracking these metrics and how many manufacturers implement follow-on tool orders down through the equipment supply chain will provide the most realistic check here over the next 12 months.

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