With cost cutting in mind, the photovoltaics industry increasingly relies on automation, expecting it to bring about sustained high product quality and increased productivity. PES explains all.
Industrial robots feed and discharge solar cell production lines and sort the finished components by pick-and-place processes. They handle glass panes, cut films and foils and assemble frames around solar modules and have recently even started installing junction boxes. Be it at Q-Cells in Bitterfeld, at Conergy in Frankfurt/Oder or Bosch Solar Energy in Erfurt – most production lines in the solar sector are highly automated these days. And with good reason: “Here in Europe we have to increase capacities to remain competitive,” says Carsten Busch, Head of the Solar Unit at ABB Automation in Friedberg, who adds that price pressure is enormous. If we are to keep manufacturing modules in Germany then robots will have to be used for even more tasks in future. “The automotive industry has proven that successful manufacturing is possible here in this country.”
The solar sector is increasingly interested in manufacturing concepts that have “empowered” the likes of Mercedes, Porsche or BMW. Many manufacturers of automation technology boast precisely this know-how.
ABB, for example, offers robots for nearly all segments of cell and module production – ranging from FlexPickers for transferring silicon cells and lines for handling and conveying sheet glass to systems for packaging and palletising the finished solar modules. Busch emphasises that “In the solar sector the prime objective is not to save labour costs.” But if large product volumes of the same high quality are to be manufactured robots simply outperform human beings. A case in point being the cross-soldering of so-called strings, i.e. strings of already connected solar cells. “When just one single cross-soldering is not 100% perfect this affects the efficiency of the entire module,” explains the Manager. A single dry soldered joint can even render a complete solar module useless. This is why more and more producers are taking to the fully automatic soldering of cells and strings.