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Lesson 2: Low or High Automatization

Lesson 2

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Low or High Automation?

You can make an automatization mainly for two reasons:

1. Because of quality advantages
2. Because of cost savings

Below we will make some examples for this two reasons.

Automation for Reason of Quality

It makes a lot of sense to make automation in all the parts where it is critical for the quality. You can automate not only the production process it self (stringing, layup and so on) but also in the quality check there are a lot of quality systems that help you to check the quality automatically.

Automated Production Process

There is no security that an automated process in all parts over your production will lead to a much better quality result in the product!

Of course even with 100% manual made panels you will be able to produce a very good solar module with a very good quality.

But: The work of a human is not stabile all the time! Some days he will be better and some days he will make failures.

A machine will make all the time the same quality: If you adjust the machine well it will make perfect solar modules and one will be as good as the other. So it is much easier to improofe your quality if you have a highly automated solar module production line!

This is the reason why you can say that in a long term, a higher automated production will make panels with a higher quality than a production line that is based on a hand made process.

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Critical Production Processes

If we go through the process of a solar module production, than there are some parts where it is very critical for the quality if a solar module and some parts where it is less important to have an automated process. Below we will list some critical parts of the production:


Cell soldering:

Solar cells are very thin and can break very easy! If the solar cell is broken in the micro structure (you can not see it with your eyes) than the power of the solar module will go down over the time much faster than with a perfect soldered cell.

This is why it makes sense to automate this part first with an automated stringer!

This part you should think about before thinking about any other automatization.

We recommend to make stringing fully automated even with the smallest line!


Layup of the strings:

Next part in the production is to take the strings of solders cells onto the glass.

Also this is very critical to make it by hand because you can crack cells by touching them or if you take a manual gripper and moving too fast there can be damages as well!


The automated solution is a layup station with automated grippers or robots that are placing the strings very soft on the panel. Addition to the technical advantage of this station you will get a much better result in the "optical quality". This means that all the strings will be 100% placed the same (space in between, complete parallel). This will make a better impression by your customers. If your line is about 20 MW or bigger, you definitely should make it fully automated!


Soldering of the sides (busing):

After placing the strings on the panel they have to be connected together to be able to produce power and transport it to the junction box. It is very important that the soldering connection is 100% perfect to avoid hot spots and to avoid losses.

Of course the safest way to make the soldering of the sides is a fully automated soldering process, but on the other hand this systems are very expensive. Because of the costs we do not recommend an automated soldering system for the sides for lines below 100 MW. In all other lines you should make it by hand.


Lamination process:

The lamination process it self always is automated, you can not make it by hand. But there are differences in the way you load and unload the laminator.

Especially the loading of the panels is very critical, because: 


  • every solar module have to make the same process. If one solar panel is heated a bit longer and another a bit shorter, than the quality will not be the same!
  • when you load the panel, than it is not a package it is all separated. Every touch can damage the panel and the cells.


With loading the laminates fully automated you will be able to make sure that every lamination is the same quality. We recommend to make the laminator fully automated, at least if you have 20 MW or more!


Of course there are many other parts where it makes sense to make automation but this four steps are the most important processes where you really should think about an automation.

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Automated Quality Check Systems

Of course you can make most of the quality checks (not all!) manually! But you have to think about the long term reliability of a quality check:

A human can be very very good in the quality check, but sometimes when he is tired or a bit ill, he will be less efficient and sometimes he will be 100% accurate.

The result will be a quality check that is not the same all the time and so the quality of your product will be not the same all the time. However the goal for every production should be to have a stabile quality all over the process and at any time.

This is why it makes sense to think about automated quality check systems, for example:

Optical cell tester in the stringer: Make sure that there will be no damaged cells in the strings
String tester: Make sure every soldered string will produce enough power
EL-Tester: Will show if there are (hidden) micro cracks in the cells that will make problems in the future
Hi-Pot Tester: To find out if there are any leakage currents in the panel isolation
Flasher: Making sure the panel has the power you are claiming! The flasher is one of the most critical parts in the production where you really should think about a very accurate one

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Optical Quality

There is another point in quality: The optical appearance!

Even when a panel will be 100% electrical OK you might have problems to sell it for the normal price if the appearance is like:

Strings not parallel
Cells distances are variating
Frame is not 100% 90°
Frame is bending
Label is not always at the same place

And so on! This has nothing to do with the electrical quality but optical.

Automation for Reason of Cost Saving

Animation can lead to a higher quality or it can replace workers and therefor saving costs. Unding out if it makes sense to make an automation for cot reasons it is simple: You can easily calculate how many workers can be saved with a robot or an automation. Than you take the salary of the worker(s) and the costs for the automation. With dividing them you will find out how long it takes to get this money back.

Of course it depends a lot of the salary that the workers get. This is why an automation in a country with low salaries makes less sense than in a high salary country.

Now we will make some examples for automation to replace human workers.

Example 1: Cell soldering:

Cell soldering can be done manually but you need a lot of workers to make it. To give you some idea: A new stringer can make about 1.200 cells / h wich is about 40 MW. To operate this stringer you need 1 operator per shift, so 3 person in 3 shifts.

To make the same amount of cells with manual operators you will need 12 people per shift, so 36 in 3 shifts.

So if you will make 40 MW automated stringing instead of manual stringing you will safe about 30-33 people. This is a lot and one of the reasons why even in low developed countries with low labour costs, the stringing will be done automatically at a size of 20-40 MW latest.

However it might make sense if you want to make only some MW like 2/3/4/5.

Summary: Cell soldering makes sense for automation not only for quality matter but also for cost savings.

Example 2: Trim/tape:

Trimming and taping can be done manually and fully automated. There is no advantage in quality of an automation but of course you can save some workers and therefor costs.

One worker can make trim and tape for about 50 MW. To make it with a robot you can also do both steps with one robot and you would have a capacity of 100 MW maximum.

So lets compare the solutions:

100 MW manual trim / tape -> Two workers per shift, 6 workers in 3 shifts

100 MW robot -> one robot

If you want to have the return on invest in 3 years you can calculate:

6 workers + 25% (for example for holiday) = 7,5

So in 3 years you have to pay 22,5 "year salaries".

The robot will cost minimum 100.000 € more than the manual solution.

Result:

If the monthly salary of one worker will be 370 Euro or more AND if you can assure hat in the first 3 years you will always be 100% operation, than it might make sense.

Summary:

In my opinion even with 100 MW it makes no sense to make the trim / tape by a robot. You are loosing cash and you are loosing flexibility. Also the risk is high if anythink changes in your production that you will have to invest again in the robot. So trim / tape is not a part in the production where I would spend any Euro / Dollar in automation.

This calculation can be done in any other step of the production line in the same way as I did above.

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  • Good day, please am interested in this information to be able to produce my own module, but I am writing to you from Nigeria please how can you help me to benefit from this lecture. I love the idea is very important please enlighten me more. Thank you.

  • Hello. I need to understand something please. The prices quoted have 3 zeros after the decimal point (300.000). Does that translate to three hundred or three hundred thousand?

  • I’m so much in love with solar eight now. And with this lesson, it enlightens me more about solar production.

    I just need your help in knowing more about this. Thanks.

  • Good day, please am interested in this information to be able to produce my own module, but I am writing to you from Kenya please how can you help me to benefit from this lecture. I love the idea is very important please enlighten me more. Thank you.

  • Good day, please am interested in this information to be able to have my 600mw production , but I am writing to you from Kenya please. how can we work together to achieve this since green energy is the talk in Kenya. I love the idea is very important please enlighten me more. Thank you.

  • Thanks for the lessons which i found very educative and appreciative. From your lessons, I realised that to set up a production unit requires a lot of money considering where I come from, Nigeria. Here only few people can afford the budget with the exception of the politician who prefer to buy finished products from abroad. Here earnings are poor and no loan facilities o upcoming entrepreneurs for such ventures despite very poor electrical services from the national grid. Its worthy to not that investment in renewable solar energy will highly profitable in Nigeria, our elites use generators mostly as alternative source of power. I will encourage your company or other German companies to consider investment in Nigeria. As industrial giants of Europe, I will love to be part of the success inroad into Nigeria energy success as giant of Africa. I will appreciate if you consider this proposal while waiting for your response. Thanks.

    • Hi, we are a machinery producer, we are not the investors. Finding investors will be your goal.

    • The lessons can not be sent by mail. The file is too big, you have to watch them here in the website.

  • Thanks once again thoma and your team. Every time I read a lesson I get more interested. And already planing on how to raise the funds so you can help install machines and test run this knowledge

  • Thank you for the lesson. It helps to compare the advantages of technology over humans in order to make a good investment judgement

  • Mr Patrick I find your lesson very interesting, I work for a state in Nigeria and there is a plan by the state to build solar plant to distribute power to commercial consumers in the wake of power failure in Nigeria. The state government is Ernestly in need of partner in this project. I need your reply. Thanks.

  • Very in-depth knowledge and analysis of costs especially when automation is concerned.

  • Very encouraging but funds in this Covid-19 era?.Let us try and see how it works out.

  • I’m interested I need only an expert and I will source out the funds for the project I also have a registered company in electrical

  • Thanks so much for the information. However, I think this will be more helpful if information about the cost of the whole project including the automation is included.

  • Yes very good session this has been my bug bare….what size of plant the Benefits of all time to think Thank You

  • Really educative at making informed business plans for the project of solar panels production

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