Northern Ireland: Euro 55 million for new Vacuum Tube Manufacturing Facility

 Inauguration of Kingspan” The Northern Ireland Government Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster together with Noel Crowe, Managing Director of the Environmental & Renewables division for Kingspan Group, presents the new Varisol collector at the inauguration of the new factory in Portadown on 19th of May 2010.
Photo: Kingspan Renewables

The completely new building complex and vacuum tube factory in Portadown, Northern Ireland, follows an investment of EUR 55 million. According to the investor, the Kingspan Group, a construction material manufacturer from Ireland, the new site will create 163 new jobs. The enterprise received a support of EUR 7.7 million from the government’s Invest initiative.

 Vacuum tube production” The new highly robotized factory for vacuum tube production.
Photo: Kingspan Renewables

The new vacuum tube collector line is highly automated. “Once the raw glass tubing is fed into the line by a worker, the tube is not any more touched until the packaging unit”, Shane Caher, Operational Director at Kingspan Renewable, explains. “Every 7 seconds a vacuum tube leaves the line.” For a 20-tube-collector that adds up to a cycle time of 140 seconds per collector module.

Shane: “The two previous Kingspan solar factories in Bangor and Blackwood, both Great Britain, are already closed down since the beginning of 2010. It was rather risky to rely 100% on a brand new, totally automated production line”, admits Caher. But with a large stock and a decreasing demand in Europe, Kingspan managed the complete transfer of production to the new factory.

The factory opening coincides with release of the latest vacuum tube product called the Varisol. “After three years of R&D and rigorous testing, we are extremely proud to launch this new technology to the market. There is nothing else like it,” Patrick Davis, Research and Development Manager at Kingspan Renewables, commenting on the new product. Each Thermomax direct flow tube will now have a Varisol connector attached, allowing the tubes to click together in whatever numbers are required. This gives the flexibility to match the collector size more exactly to the expected demand and to simplify the number of materials an installer needs to keep in stock. The collector can now be easily fitted around other features on the roof.

 New collector design with flexible connectors” New collector design with flexible connectors so the tubes can now be clicked together in customised numbers.
Photo: Kingspan Renewables

The Varisol connector uses a high performance polymer material which means the use of brazing and welding of copper and aluminium has been eliminated and replaced with injection moulded components. “The testing took place in extremes of temperature from -60°C to 250°C, giving us confidence that Varisol is suitable for all geographical areas and climatic conditions,” confirms Davis. The plastic components also reduce the lifting weight for the installer because the heaviest collector item is now only 2.2 kg.

This news is written by Chris Laughton, founder and managing director of the Solar Design Company in United Kingdom.

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