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AUTOMATIONMES


Manufacturing management


36


The PV industry is experiencing rapid growth but the picture changes dramatically when viewed at a local level. With this sort of competitive environment every improvement to the manufacturing process can provide a company with the edge to develop locally or globally. There are a number of manufacturing industries with experience adaptable to the PV industry but when to move to some technologies is not always easy to decide. One possible area of improvement is manufacturing management systems. David Ridsdale asks whether the PV and Solar industry needs to move in this direction.


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nlike most industries the photovoltaic and solar industries has experienced remarkable growth in the last few years as energy became a key global focus. With such growth comes manufacturing pressure as well as competition to keep products reliable and cost effective. Many other industries, such as semiconductor, have already gone through this sort of ramp up of capacity while improving technologies and there are many lessons for the photovoltaic and solar industry as companies realise they must find every advantage in an increasingly competitive market.


One area that has had an impact on the semiconductor industry and other automated manufacturing industries is the interaction between tools and the overall manufacturing flow. The semiconductor industry faced its automation demons when the conversion to 300mm wafers began. At first there was a great deal of fist waving and confusion but information filtered over from other industries and the semiconductor community began to initiate automated processes into manufacturing. With more precise scheduling and process control, manufacturers saw big


improvements to quality, output and yield. Add precise material requirements into the mix and the need for centralised and precise control and interaction made excellent sense.


Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) are coming up as a topic of interest in discussions and conferences for manufacturing. MES are only a part of a broader group of information technology solutions to improving manufacturing flow and output. Many PV and solar manufacturers ask do they really need to invest heavily in software and automation systems when the choice is endless and the ROI unsure. The main question is invariably what will be the benefit to them. The answers are as varied as the people and companies wanting to provide an opinion so Solar asked around the industry to see how impactful MES can be for the PV industry and whether they are worth the investment.


To MES or not to MES


Automating a production line seems a fairly sensible thing to do for a manufacturer but using information technology to integrate tools and process is more than adding robots. A PV and


www.solar-pv-management.com Issue IV 2010


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