ssolar panelThe manufacturers of the equipment and production lines that are needed to produce solar cells and modules are an important segment of the overall value chain in the solar PV sector as a whole. Who are these US based solar photovoltaic equipment manufacturers and how are they fairing in the global recession of 2009?

by Chris de Morsella, Green Economy Post

The manufacturers of the equipment and production lines that are needed to produce solar cells and modules are an important segment of the overall value chain in the solar PV sector as a whole. These companies are making a wide variety of equipment that finds use in the manufacture of solar cells, ranging from tradition semi-conductor manufacturing equipment that has grown out of the computer semi-conductor industry, to more exotic things like specialized inkjet printers and lasers.

Who are these US based solar photovoltaic equipment manufacturers and how are they fairing in the global recession of 2009? We list six important and also interesting US headquartered players in this market some like Applied Materials are global giants while others are less known,but seemed to be offering critical capital equipment in this rapidly evolving sector.

For a list of the four big US Solar Cell manufacturers see our related post in this series: Four Big Established US Solar PV Companies You Should Know About

The list of US based solar PV capital equipment suppliers begins below.

Applied Materials

Applied Materials, located in Santa Clara, CA is a large multibillion dollar manufacturer and developer of capital equipment, services and software products used in the fabrication of semiconductor products including a product line for solar PV for which it offers production solutions for crystalline silicon, flexible PV and thin film silicon solar modules.

Applied Materials is seeking to leverage its four decades of thin film on silicon experience acquired in the semiconductor sector to the manufacturing of solar modules. It is the world’s largest supplier of crystalline silicon (c-Si) manufacturing systems and also offers advanced hardware and software automation solutions to maximize these systems efficiency.

A few of the other solar related products it manufactures and sells are an automated, glass-in/panel-out manufacturing line for amorphous silicon based thin film PV panel production; high precision multi-layer screen printing technology for c-Si cells enabling the fabrication of advanced contact structures and other multi-layered

Applied Materials recently announced (on 11/6/09) that it has acquired substantially all the assets, including the intellectual property, of Advent Solar, Inc., a developer of advanced technology for crystalline silicon (c-Si) PVs. This acquisition is expected to complement Applied Material’s portfolio of solar PV technologies and enhance its leadership in the c-Si equipment market.

GT Solar

GT Solar, headquartered in Merrimack, NH is a global market leader in polysilicon reactors and converters, and multi-crystalline furnaces that are essential technologies for the production of polysilicon and multi-crystalline ingots, the key materials used to produce solar cells and panels. It does not directly manufacture solar cells itself, but rather is a leading manufacturer of some of the critical equipment, needed to manufacture them. The company’s principal products are directional solidification systems, chemical vapor deposition reactors as well as photovoltaic wafer fabrication machinery. GT Solar currently does a majority of its business in Asia, primarily in China. Its top clients include many prominent global solar products suppliers.

GT Solar ended its 2009 fiscal year with record revenue of $541 million. However fiscal second-quarter profit declined 66%.

There is concern that the company will face difficulties selling its manufacturing equipment to a sector that is in the midst of a global over supply crisis that is hurting margins for everyone and is driving many weaker players under.

Piper Jaffray analyst Jesse Pichel said in a note to clients, explaining why he was downgrading GT Solar that “We speculate that many (polysilicon) start-ups in China could shut down, and it will be difficult for SOLR to get new bookings or realize its contracted backlog.”

Spire Corporation

Spire Corporation, headquartered in Bedford, MA is a leading global solar company providing capital equipment to manufacture PV modules & cells, turnkey solar manufacturing lines and PV systems. Spire, which just recently celebrated its fortieth year in business, is one of the oldest solar equipment manufacturers in the world and has over 200 customers in nearly fifty countries around the world. The company pioneered the solar manufacturing equipment industry and continues to be the choice for many photovoltaic module manufacturing companies around the world.

One of the market segments Spire is currently focusing on is complete turnkey factories that can range in solar PV cell production output from 12 MW to 200 MW. It has achieved industry recognition for this being awarded the Solar Industry Award for “Best Turnkey Solar Factory Provider” for 2009 by Solar, a PV Management Magazine.

It has reported revenue for the first nine months of this year ending on September 30, 2009 of $50.1 million an increase of 9% over the same period last year. In other recent news Spire Solar Inc. recently received the green light to build a $42 million solar cell manufacturing plant in Hudson, N.H. that is expected to add 150 jobs.

Coherent

Founded in 1966, Coherent, Inc., which is headquartered in the Silicon Valley in Santa Clara, CA, is a world leader in providing superior laser reliability and performance. It offers a range of laser based process tools for use in the manufacturing process of solar cells.

Lasers are used primarily during the cell production stage of crystalline-silicon solar manufacturing. Lasers are also used in the manufacture of thin-film panels to ‘pattern’ the layers during the deposition stages. Lasers have been the preferred technology for thin-film patterning and are the area where lasers are most commonly used in solar PV manufacturing and where they have the highest visibility levels.

The company has recently released two new turnkey process tools for use in crystalline-silicon (c-Si) solar cell manufacturing production that provide a simple route for solar manufacturers to introduce laser processing for applications to enable high-efficiency cell performance. Applications include edge isolation, dielectric ablation for diffusion or plating masking, laser-assisted selective-emitter formation including dopant diffusion, emitter or metal wrap-through, and etch-barrier ablation for wet chemical surface texturing of multi c-Si wafers.

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Amerimade Technology Inc.

Amerimade Technology Inc., located in Livermore, CA manufactures manual wet stations for early development of break-through silicon, CIS-thin-film, Silicon/GaAs technologies as well as fully automated as well as wet benches fully automated large batch processing systems for mainstream production applications. Wet processing equipment is used for the cleaning, etching, plating, stripping and polishing steps in the manufacture of solar cells amongst other things.

Trident Solar

Trident, a division of ITW (Illinois Tool Works Inc.) and a leading designer, manufacturer and marketer of piezoelectric impulse ink jet printheads and inks has launched “Trident Solar,” a new division dedicated exclusively to solar photovoltaic inkjet technologies.

Trident has been a leading producer of industrial piezoelectric inkjet printheads and inks for 30 years, and has been involved in the solar PV inkjet market for a few years. It currently produces a dedicated solar PV inkjet that features a 256-nozzle printhead with durable, serviceable design and rugged stainless steel construction which allows for non-contact printing of a wide variety of acid and alkaline etchants and conductive metals for direct write, printable solar photovoltaic production applications.

Inkjet technology, such as provided by Trident Solar can be many times less expensive than lithographic screen printing, while simultaneously providing higher print resolution. Inkjet technology offers several distinct advantages: because printing is finely controlled, it helps minimize the waste of costly materials; digital inkjet printing is a non-contact process, so less breakage and resulting scrap occurs; and because of the fast achievable print speeds, it is also ideal for roll-to-roll applications.

Conclusion

Hopefully we have provided a good view of some of the key US headquartered solar equipment manufacturers including heavy weights such as Applied Material of Santa Clara, CA, but also of some interesting companies that one would not think of as being involved in supplying the solar PV manufacturing sector with key equipment, such as a laser manufacturing company in the Silicon Valley or a division of an old established industrial company in Illinois.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means and it is intentionally focused in on US based capital equipment manufacturers; we intend to cover non-US manufacturers that are active in the North American markets in another post. If you feel we have missed any important US solar PV equipment suppliers we welcome your comments. As we get better information and as the sector evolves we will continue to update this list. It is a rapidly changing landscape and new processes and techniques are rapidly coming out of the laboratories and R&D centers and into ramp up into wider scale production of photovoltaic modules.

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© 2009 – 2011, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.