Aurora Solar Technologies Inc. is pleased to provide an update on general corporate developments and our previously announced evaluation project for the Company's initial version of the InsightTM data science product, called "Insight Essentials".
Insight Essentials evaluation project and trade show preview
Insight Essentials is the first of a planned series of Insight versions, focused on plant-wide yield management and reporting. Future versions of the product will be developed to support the use of value-added data from sources such as Aurora's DM family of products, enabling critical process control needs and providing a fully integrated system for yield and quality control management in solar manufacturing.
The first phase of the evaluation project consisted of integration and verification of the solar cell tester and wafer flow data collection functions, validation of the operation of the Insight Essentials analytical toolkit, and validation of the user interface and reporting capabilities. With the above core elements completed, the evaluation has now proceeded to the second phase, which is the determination of utility and economic value. At this stage, the findings are that "problem batch" flagging, automated experiment analysis, and process equipment performance comparison and analysis show significant utility and value. This aligns with Aurora's expectations.
A "problem batch" is a group of wafers that are degraded due to a fault or process drift in one or more of the manufacturing steps. Insight quickly and efficiently identifies the problem batch, where and when the problem occurred, and can also ascribe the probable cause(s). Problem batches are not infrequent - they can occur multiple times per week. Aurora estimates that the reduction or elimination of problem batches alone can generate millions of dollars in incremental annual value in a five-Gigawatt factory (production of approximately 900 million solar cells per year) at current finished goods selling prices. Therefore, this is an important commercial and yield management focus area in this second phase of the evaluation.
In early June, Aurora showcased Insight Essentials at the annual Shanghai New Energy Conference and Exhibition ("SNEC"), the industry's leading commercial event. Insight generated considerable interest at SNEC from both top-tier and emerging solar cell manufacturers. The company is following up on these leads as a part of our selection of initial China-based customers.
Products well-positioned for new cell technologies
As described in the Company's January 22, 2021 news release, our widely used measurement products have been accepted and are being used in production for the next generations of high-efficiency solar cells, termed Heterojunction Technology (HJT) and Tunnel Oxide Passivated Contacts (TOPCon). At SNEC, the Company also introduced a new release of our product line for HJT solar cell transparent conductive oxide measurement, the TCM-120 and TCM-121. Like the DM series of products, these are based on the Company's patented IR technology. The leading research firm for the solar products manufacturing market, Solar Media, projects that HJT and TOPCon manufacturing capacity will grow more than 20-fold over the next five years as they supplant the currently dominant PERC cell technology. With our TCM and DM products, the company is well-positioned to capitalize on this rapid growth, and at SNEC we received strong interest in the DM and TCM products from multiple solar cell manufacturers of these next-generation solar cells. Additionally, AST has recently implemented DM product enhancements at selected customer locations. These have systematically improved product performance and utility and we are now advancing toward acceptance at these customers to ensure that we are well positioned for the next buying cycle later in 2021 and into 2022.
Strengthening the Aurora team for sales and product delivery
As the Company prepares for introduction of Insight to the mainstream Chinese market, the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions, and for increasing sales following final acceptances with current customers of its measurement product line, we have strengthened our team with key management and subject-matter expert additions in product development, operations and China-based business development and sales. In product development, the Company recently brought in a seasoned leader with decades of expertise in building and growing high-performing teams in both software and hardware development. The product team has also been expanded in the areas of data science software design and development, which is crucial as we bring Insight to market. The Company has also strengthened the operations team leadership in product delivery, quality assurance and applications engineering. In alignment with the Company's focus on the China market, we have also strengthened our in-country team with the engagement of experienced personnel in process control systems business development and sales, again a key element of the introduction of Insight to market.