Inside the First Solar and Von Ardenne partnership

pv magazine: The move of First Solar in publicly recognizing its long-standing partnership with Von Ardenne appears to be a reflection of a number of years of fruitful collaboration. But what does it mean for Von Ardenne?

Thomas Böcke: It is truly an exciting day and we are very proud. For multiple years we have been in business with First Solar and it had already acknowledged the contribution to its success in terms of efficiency and also productivity for a long time, but had never made it public.

Since yesterday, everybody that had a suspicion about First Solar’s equipment suppliers now have the confirmation that it is Von Ardenne. So truly our quality, our ability for execution and our innovation helped First Solar to be where it is today.

Also for Von Ardenne it is a commitment to the future, because we continue supporting the customer well into the future. And we are more than willing to do that.

First Solar is adding capacity, not in new facilities but in existing fabs. What does that mean from Von Ardenne?

Adding capacity can be done by increasing overall line capacity or putting new lines in. First Solar did invest in Ohio and we contributed to that. In general, Von Ardenne supports its customers besides the pure replication business with multiple kinds of upgrades, which help to further improve the productivity and efficiency of the production lines. I think we are in a good situation because Von Ardenne provides a complete package from a single spare part to complete tools or even the complete setup of a plant to our customers.

How does the manufacturing equipment market look more generally, outside of First Solar?

From an equipment point of view we see a very diverse customer base from small-scale production or R&D operations, which we can support with flexible coating systems for smaller substrates, to basically three or four major players. The good thing for us is there is at least some kind of relationship with the most important companies of the market.

Thin film equipment isn’t the only market that Von Ardenne is involved with and here at your booth you have the XEA|nova tool on display. How is Von Ardenne’s supply of the crystalline silicon (c-Si) market going for you?

Von Ardenne approached the c-Si market some time ago and then we paused to focus on other areas. Then, due to some requests from customers, we gave it a second thought. There were lots of lessons learned incorporated into the solution we now have and to get us to this design that was first presented around nine months ago.

We have transitioned from a first draft idea into a machine that we have built and sold. We have already sold quite a quantity of the XEA|nova tool.

For sure the c-Si supply through the XEA|nova will become our second leg in the PV industry. Both thin film and c-Si have their importance and we know that c-Si is the larger share of the market and I think now we have the chance to address this properly.

And the part of the c-Si market that Von Ardenne is addressing the high efficiency end, is that right?

Certainly we are looking towards high conversion efficiency production as we think that represents the future of PV.

Are you seeing much investment in the high efficiency end of the PV equipment market right now?

We are seeing a lot of requests for quotations and interestingly they are coming from all over the world! Not just in China or North America, some are coming from regions that were previously not interested in PV before. These regions are seeing the need for PV production and the transition to clean energy and they are taking all the information from the market and also see that the path into c-Si PV is through high efficiency!

Many equipment suppliers have had a very tough couple of years. How does Von Ardenne find itself in the current market and compared to competitors?

Von Ardenne is in pretty good shape as it can really support potential and existing customers in the future requirements of the industry. We are investing in R&D and growing that even as the market goes up and down. With R&D we remain loyal to our highly educated workforce and increase our engineering staff.

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