Starting in a two-room office in 1977, Christopher Associates quickly expanded by focusing on technical service and an international product mix. By 1984, the company grew to become one of the leading suppliers to the printed circuit industry. Today, its customer base includes more than 1,200 companies worldwide in the Printed Circuit Fabrication and Assembly industries.
Altenergymag Interview - Christopher Associates and the Solar Industry
Matt Holzmann | Christopher Associates
The company works side by side with its long-term equipment partners to deliver truly world-class technology. The products that Christopher Associates represents are recognized as the premier solutions in their fields. Here, we sit down with Matt Holzmann, President of Christopher Associates, to find out what the company is doing in the solar/photovoltaic industry.
Christopher Associates is a pioneering supplier and distributor to the electronics and chemical processing industries. What does this mean to your customers?
Christopher has the core engineering and materials team as well as the skills necessary for our customers to ramp up quickly in mono/polycrystalline and thin film manufacturing with the highest yields. With more than 30 years experience, we are dedicated to our customers’ success and have a proven track record with many of the world’s largest manufacturers.
How does the company fit into the photovoltaic and solar industries?
What we have seen is that our experience in electronics manufacturing in many cases translates into solar manufacturing. The fundamentals of solar are not new in a number of cases, and some of our engineers have experience dating back many years.
The chemistries of the materials are similar. The equipment in many cases crosses over, and with the core skills and some of Asia’s leading manufacturers as our partners, we can draw on existing infrastructure and technical support that is already world class.
You mention “partners.” How do you decide who to partner with?
We have partnered with some of Asia’s leading manufacturers including Tonsan, who is one of the largest PV materials manufacturers in the region. Orient is China’s largest laminator manufacturer with more than 1,000 units installed. Zoomlight is one of the most innovative backsheet manufacturers in the world, while GSE is a major EVA film supplier. Our other equipment and materials suppliers also are world class.
In each case, we have tried to partner with the best in class. Photovoltaic manufacturing in particular requires a unique combination of technology, support and price. It is a global industry and our customers must have the best and most efficient solutions to compete successfully.
Can you briefly explain Beijing Precision’s Solar Testing Solutions? Why is this advantageous to the industry?
Beijing Precision is China’s leading manufacturer of cell testers and solar simulators. The company’s software is robust and meets AAA standards.
China is the world’s #2 market and, as a result, the photovoltaic industry there has become quite sophisticated. Beijing Precision was founded 10 years ago and it has an excellent technical foundation. The company is shipping systems worldwide to some of the largest manufacturers in the industry and offer excellent quality and performance.
We’ve been hearing more about sealants and potting compounds. What are these? Why does Christopher Associates distribute Tonsan’s compounds over any other competitors’?
These sealants are a critical component in ensuring the 25+ year module lifetimes that the industry demands. They have unique mechanical and electrical properties and must withstand the most extreme of environments from Antarctica to the equator. Resistance to moisture, weather and heat is critical and the Tonsan materials actually have exceeded industry specifications by a significant margin.
Tonsan is China’s largest manufacturer of adhesives for high-technology applications. Its involvement in photovoltaic applications dates back to the late 1990s when it began shipping sealants to some of China’s largest manufacturers. The company has two state-of-the-art factories and a world class R&D facility with more than 80 engineers and scientists, most with advanced degrees. Additionally, it has made a tremendous investment in research and development that is paying off with industry leading products and increased market share.
Will Christopher Associates be adding further PV products to its repertoire?
We have an excellent portfolio at present and are growing rapidly. There are several niches we are looking at, but we want to make sure we do our best for our customers.
Matt, we understand that you are involved in the start up of the Solar Engineering and Manufacturing Association (SEMA). What led you to do this?
Several colleagues from different fields and I saw a significant need for training, education and networking. We got together and looked at professional associations in other industries and saw the possibility to make a significant contribution. Our first meeting attracted a healthy cross section of the industry with a wide range of experience, so we were very pleased with both the demand for such a forum and the willingness to participate.
What is the main purpose of SEMA and when do you expect it be fully up and running?
There are a number of excellent organizations involved in the industry, but none of them address the needs of engineering and manufacturing professional. Education, training, technology, and networking are all critical to the success of both the individual and his/her employer.
By establishing a member-driven organization, we can work together to solve common problems, provide a forum for ideas, and provide a framework for educational and training activities.
Is the solar industry growing at a rapid, average or stagnant rate at this time? In your opinion, why is this the case? Where will the solar industry be in five years?
The first half was very positive, especially with strong demand for modules in Germany. This had a global effect. With the phase out of the German subsidies, demand has trailed off in many countries, but China seems to be doing very well on its own. North America is stall ramping up.
I expect that we will see a very dynamic environment in five years. The installed base of solar technology is nowhere close to the perceived demand. As countries such as Canada and the United States ramp up, and with the huge potential of solar to change living standards fundamentally in the countries between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, solar can make a significant contribution to the world’s energy needs.
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