Transformations in the PV industry are relatively predictable as breakthroughs are often the results of technology accumulation. Hence, suppliers that can offer the market the best kind of solutions that can balance price, quality and technology will establish a stronger position in the PV value chain. Heraeus Photovoltaics, a metallization paste specialist under Germany’s Heraeus Technology Group, has played an important role in the global PV industry on account of the firm’s breadth of technological expertise and deep understanding of the market.
Technology forms the basis of the recipe that is the core of the high-performance conductive paste. “We insist on three essential features to keep our predominance over other global competitors: quality, reliability and service,” noted Andreas Liebheit, President of Heraeus Photovoltaics’ Global Business Unit. As one of the world’s top four paste suppliers, Heraeus focuses on developing good relationships with its upstream and downstream partners. Through ongoing communications with the clients, Heraeus is able to maintain an efficient R&D center that is able to consistently seize market and technology trends and respond very quickly to changes.
|Andreas Leibheit, President of Heraeus Photovltaics' Global Business Unit.|
“Technology, technology and technology!”
When it comes to Heraeus’ business strategy, Liebheit repeatedly stressed the importance of technology. “We have diverse lines of paste products designed for mainstream and next-generation PV technologies,” said Liebheit, “Moreover, one of our R&D focuses is on paste products for niche PV applications.”
Due to the company’s R&D efforts, Heraeus was already working with leading companies such as Q CELLS and SolarWorld on conductive pastes for PERC cells long before PERC technology officially became the market mainstream in 2015. Heraeus sees a bright future for PERC and expects this technology to dominate the market in the next five years. Liebheit acknowledged that the development of PERC still has challenges including LID and stability of aluminum pastes, but he believes these problems can ultimately be resolved. During the interview, Liebheit disclosed that his company is developing high-performance pastes with several PERC cell manufacturers.
Heraeus is also paying attention to the possible successor technologies to PERC. Liebheit mentioned that HIT, IBC, N-type and multi-busbar cells all have a chance to emerge as the next major cell technology. HIT, in particular, has been aggressively promoted by major manufacturers recently. Heraeus, for instance, has been working with a German HIT equipment supplier for many years and has successfully developed low-temperature Ag metallization pastes for HIT cells. At this year’s PV EXPO 2016 in Tokyo, Japan, Heraeus introduced a new Ag paste for HIT cells that can accommodate printing temperatures under 200˚C.
“Common paste products work with printing temperatures of over 400˚C, way beyond the acceptable temperature range for HIT cell manufacturing,” said Liebheit. “Heraeus recognized the market potential of HIT cells and offered high-quality Ag pastes for low-temperature production early on.Our low temperature silver paste supports the high-efficiency roadmap for HIT like for Panasonis’s HIT cell, which has a 24% conversion efficiency.”
Heraeus’ works on PERC and HIT cells show that the company has keen insights on the dynamics of the PV industry and is always ready to provide the necessary technological support to its clients. “Our strength is that we are always a year ahead of the competitors in terms technology,” said Liebheit. “This advantage is based on our extensive supply chain and excellent customer relations.”
Clear and precise business strategies
At the beginning of this year, Japanese silver powder manufacturer DOWA Hightech, who provides more than 50% of the global PV-bound silver powder supply, suspended operation for several weeks because of a fatal industrial accident. Soon after this incident, Heraeus deployed its multi-supplier strategy to ensure a steady supply of silver powder, resulting in a product offering of redundant pastes which backup each other.
“Having multiple suppliers ensures a more reliable supply chain,” explained Liebheit. “Furthermore, the competition among suppliers will result in more R&D efforts that will benefit our paste products.”
This strategy also allows Heraeus to offer integrated service solutions. For example, Heraeus has teamed up with a high-tech printing company in Japan to come up with an optimized manufacturing process. By providing this kind of services, Heraeus ensures its reputation as the supplier of reliable and high-quality metallization pastes.
Heraeus’ ability to offer comprehensive solutions in addition to just high-quality pastes is something that Liebheit emphasized repeatedly. Not only can Heraeus offer customized products for specific needs, he claims that the company has an excellent understanding of its customer processes and can also send technicians to help customers optimize their manufacturing equipment.
In sum, there are many factors that contribute to Heraeus controlling a large share of the global conductive paste market. With its many supply partners, the company is able to provide products of excellent quality and reliability along with holistic solutions for various PV applications. Heraeus’ commitment to the R&D of next-generation technologies also forms an important cornerstone to the company’s foundation of success.
Outlook on the Asian market
Despite the industry’s concern towards the future condition of the Japanese market, Heraeus believes that the country can reach a consistent level of demand. As Japan has a strong demand for high-efficiency products, Heraeus is planning to recruit and collaborate with the local R&D talents to develop pastes for HIT cells and other products. Japan will ultimately become one of the company’s technology research hubs in Asia as well as the region’s market indicator.
Taiwan is a major PERC production site, and Heraeus has already established an R&D center here to provide localized services and strengthen the company’s ties with local manufacturers. Liebheit is very optimistic about the future of the green energy industry in Taiwan and said that the company will continue to invest in the island.
As for China, Heraeus will adopt a dual-pronged approach. The company will first focus on registering patents for its paste recipes and strive to improve patent protection in the Chinese market. At the same time, the company will also promote the value of its high quality products to the potential clients. Liebheit believes that while there is the risk of paste recipes and manufacturing processes being copied by competitors, high-quality products can only be made by those who have the know-how. Liebheit is confident that “there will be more Chinese clients choosing the reliable and high-quality Heraeus pastes in the future.”
Heraeus will enter China through the OEM strategy, which means that the company will directly negotiate outsourcing contracts with local manufactures in order secure downstream markets for paste products.
In terms of production planning, Heraeus intends to expand its capacity. The company will also continue to do R&D on a diverse range of paste materials and technologies as to meet future needs of the PV industry. With a precise grasp of the market trends, Heraeus is always prepared to provide its clients fully rounded solutions that are a least “a year ahead” of other competitors.