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Prospects for a Thin-Film Manufacturing Equipment Industry

Prospects for a Thin-Film Manufacturing Equipment Industry

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Published by NanoMarkets
NanoMarkets recently published study, "The Future of Thin Film and Organic Photovoltaics Manufacturing," concludes that by 2015, this sector of the photovoltaics (PV) industry will have a capacity of around 29 GWp and will be spending $4.8 billion on equipment. This suggests important new markets could open up in the thin-film PV (TFPV) sector for equipment firms that currently offer printing machinery or manufacturing equipment sold into the semiconductor and display industry. In many cases, this kind of hardware can be easily adapted for use in the manufacture of TFPV cells and solar panels.
NanoMarkets recently published study, "The Future of Thin Film and Organic Photovoltaics Manufacturing," concludes that by 2015, this sector of the photovoltaics (PV) industry will have a capacity of around 29 GWp and will be spending $4.8 billion on equipment. This suggests important new markets could open up in the thin-film PV (TFPV) sector for equipment firms that currently offer printing machinery or manufacturing equipment sold into the semiconductor and display industry. In many cases, this kind of hardware can be easily adapted for use in the manufacture of TFPV cells and solar panels.

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Published by: NanoMarkets on Nov 13, 2009
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11/19/2012

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NanoMarkets
thin film|organic|printable|electronics
 
www.nanomarkets.net
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Prospects
 
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Manufacturing
 
Equipment 
 
Industry
 
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research
 
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NanoMarkets recently published study, "The Future of Thin Film and Organic PhotovoltaicsManufacturing," concludes that by 2015, this sector of the photovoltaics (PV) industry will have acapacity of around 29 GWp and will be spending $4.8 billion on equipment. This suggestsimportant new markets could open up in the thin-film PV (TFPV) sector for equipment firms thatcurrently offer printing machinery or manufacturing equipment sold into the semiconductor anddisplay industry. In many cases, this kind of hardware can be easily adapted for use in themanufacture of TFPV cells and solar panels.Unfortunately for equipment manufacturers targeting the TFPV space, NanoMarkets researchsuggests that there is a serious barrier to entry: the firms that make TFPV cells and solar panelsseem to prefer to design and build their own fabrication equipment. The purpose of this article isto analyze why this barrier exists and how third-party equipment manufacturers might break through it.
If You Build It Will They Come?
Manufacturers of solar panels and cells often perceive their competitive advantage in the TFPVbusiness as flowing directly from their fabrication processes. It is in those processes that anindividual cell/panel firm can distinguish itself with higher efficiencies, longer lifetimes and lowercosts. This is why TFPV firms are often so secretive about these processes and it is one reasonthey are so reluctant to buy off-the-shelf equipment.Only by building their own TFPV manufacturing equipment, or so it is often claimed, can TFPVpanel/cell makers incorporate the nuances of process and thermal control, materials handling andchoice of deposition/patterning techniques, that they believe will lead to producing the best-of-the-best solar panels.Until recently, the vital point about the economics of TFPV has been somewhat obscured by asecond fact; many firms in the TFPV cell/panel business didn't buy the equipment they needed
 
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because they couldn't. The TFPV sector was just too small for manufacturing equipment firms tochase after, so the cell/panel makers had to roll their own hardware, as it were.This situation has begun to change. At the beginning of 2008, there was well under 2 GWp of manufacturing capacity installed for making TFPV and OPV cells. By next year that will rise to 3.8GWp. That extra capacity translates into demand for more manufacturing, and several equipmentfirms—most notably Applied Materials—have begun focusing on the opportunity. Applied is mainlyinterested in the amorphous silicon (a-Si) part of the TFPV market. But this is just for starters. Inits market research, NanoMarkets found a number of firms that see considerable potential inselling CIGS manufacturing in particular.But the big question for the equipment makers is this: If you build it will they come? In otherwords, given the strategic importance of manufacturing in TFPV, will TFPV panel makers still wantto go their own way in manufacturing? No TFPV solar panel firm really wants to be in the capitalequipment business, of course. But would a panel maker be conceding too much if the companybought off-the-shelf equipment, and thus gave up on the virtues of a proprietary approach tocell/panel manufacture?This same, off-the-shelf equipment could after all be bought by any or all of the panel maker'smain competitors.Depending on the answer to this question is the future of an independent TFPV equipmentindustry. If the intrinsic economics of TFPV is such that the fabrication technology is too importantto outsource, then the third-party TFPV equipment sector will remain small, confined to equipmentthat is of little strategic importance and likely of little aggregate value either.It is far too early in the evolution of the sector to be sure whether or not this is the case, butNanoMarkets market research on the a-Si segment of the TFPV market suggests that TFPV panelmakers will not give up on their "home- brewed" equipment easily. Amorphous silicon PV is theone segment of the TFPV market where third-party equipment has existed for some time and yetwhere solar panel/cell makers still seem quite keen on hanging on to proprietary fabricationapproaches.
 
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Four Entry Strategies for Equipment Makers
This is not the best of news for equipment makers. More optimistically, NanoMarkets' analysissuggests that there are two emerging segments of the TFPV solar panel market that may be moreamendable to buying from third party equipment manufacturers than the market as whole, and athird segment where there would be strategic reasons for manufacturing equipment firms to makea market entry. For the purposes of this article we will refer to these segments as (1) "rapidentry," (2) "value-added," (3) "the flexible electronics beachhead."The rapid entry segment: One group of potential customers that is likely to favor off-the-shelf equipment suppliers are firms hurrying into the PV market for the first time, with no time todevelop their own equipment and processes. As a result of the "cleantech" boom, there is agrowing number of firms that fall into this category. These firms simply want to capitalize onrapidly growing demand for solar panels and believe that a rising ride lifts all ships. They are aprime market for third-party equipment firms, especially those that have the ability build completeturnkey plants. Unfortunately, as "newbies," these TFPV cell/panel manufacturers are the mostlikely to fail; they might simply lack the skill sets required for success. From the perspective of thethird-party equipment manufacturer, this is clearly not the sector to sell to on long-term credit.The value-added segment: The participants in this segment are cell/panel manufacturers whosevalue proposition rests more on the features and performance of products higher up the valuechain rather than performance at the solar cell level, which may only have to be adequate ratherthan industry leading. They may, for example, rest their business case on the size and growth of demand for (say) solar wall cladding and be relatively unconcerned whether their manufacturingequipment can squeeze the last fraction of a percent in energy conversion efficiency out of theirsolar material. Firms in this segment are much more marketing plays and less focused onmanufacturing finesse.The flexible electronics beachhead: In the third segment, we are back to a manufacturingorientation again. There is much talk these days about "flexible electronics," defined as creatinglarge array electronic or photoelectronic devices on flexible substrates. The motivation for thisstrategy is that (a) it facilitates roll-to-roll (R2R) processing, and (2) it enables the creation of novel products, such as rollable displays. As this example suggests, this is a much bigger themethan just PV. But this is just the point. Because TFPV is arguably the most vibrant part of the thin-

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