SNEC 2011: Manz Automation to build new Chinese factory; touts c-Si, thin film advances

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Manz Automation will break ground later this week on a new production, technology, and training facility in Suzhou, China. The factory will manufacture equipment for the photovoltaics, FPD, and PCB industries, with 50% devoted to solar tools, said company executives during a press conference held in conjunction with the SNEC trade show in Shanghai. The building will be finished by the end of this year, with production machinery installed early next year and the initial production ramp planned for February 2012.

The first phase of the facility, which will be located in the Suzhou New Area Science and Technology Industrial Park, will feature about 20,000 sq meters of cleanroom and other manufacturing space, with another 7000 sq meters devoted to offices. Manz purchased nearly 67,000 sq meters of property at the site and said it has enough room for future expansion.

The company said it plans to hire 600-700 staff for the new factory. With most of its customers now in Asia, Manz has existing facilities in Suzhou and Taoyuan, Taiwan, which employ 800 of its 1750 global workforce.

CEO Dieter Manz explained that the initial PV tools to be produced at the Suzhou site will be automation and other more mature equipment, but not any of the company’s latest technology, which will continue to be manufactured in Germany. He cited intellectual property concerns, noting the importance of protecting key company trade secrets.

During the press conference, Manz officials also discussed recent developments in both the crystalline-silicon and thin-film sectors.

The company offers a selective-emitter solution for c-Si cells developed at and exclusively licensed from the University of Stuttgart, which incorporates its high-precision laser process technology.

CEO Manz said that based on multiple tests with customers, it would increase absolute conversion efficiency by 0.5%. He also claimed the approach offered the lowest cost of ownership on the market, largely because it was a single-step process that used no consumable materials such as pastes. The company’s studies show that by deploying the laser-based SE technology in conjunction with its high-speed, high-accuracy screen printer, a 60MW cell line would bring in an additional €2 million in revenues based on the efficiency enhancement.

Bosch, Conergy, and Yingli Solar are among the cell companies already working with the technology, according to the German firm.

The chief executive also discussed Manz’s laser-scribing capabilities in thin-film PV, noting that the firm is the number-one worldwide supplier of this category of equipment including a near-total domination of the Chinese market. Noting the tight accuracy of as many as 16 lasers working in parallel, the tools can help reduce the “dead zone” found on TFPV modules and thus increase their efficiencies.

A key addition to the company’s scribing portfolio has been the inline precision control system, which has been found to decrease the dead area to <160µm, compared to as much as 500µm on competitive equipment.

The company also announced its financial results for the first nine months of fiscal 2010, in which it saw its revenues increase well over 100% year over year to €121.3 million, including Euro €53.8 million in the third quarter alone. The increased income was largely driven by new crystalline-silicon products.

Manz expects to hit between €170 million and €175 million in revenues for the full year, up from the €140 million previously guided, with potential for even greater results if certain developments in the company’s thin-film order activities in particular come into play.

(Manz’s SNEC booth is located in Hall E3, Number 560.)

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