German joint venture M10 Solar Equipment may have shown European solar cell manufacturers how to scale giant factories using Siemens factory simulation software to increase production of its innovative shingled-matrix solar cell production equipment, explains. Tobias WachtmannHead of Global Glass and Solar Energy at Siemens.
In late 2021, German manufacturing equipment supplier M10 Industries and research institute Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems published details of their shingled cell matrix technology for the first time. After only a seven-month development period, the partners were able to present a manufacturing tool ready for series production, which they have named Surface.
This led to the creation of M10 Solar Equipment GmbH in 2021, a joint venture between M10 Industries and automation equipment supplier Zahoransky, which began production of Surface machines for large-scale commercial solar cell interconnection at the joint venture’s Freiburg factory. Germany.
The potential is huge. The Stringer system is the world’s first – and so far the only – series-produced stringing machine for shingle matrix solar modules, which places and connects shingle cells in an offset pattern over the entire surface of the module in the same way as bricks are placed. out to the wall. The traditional method of joining cells – where they are aligned vertically and connected as a strip – is replaced by a method where strips of cells are placed on a surface and joined in such a way that they overlap while being moved vertically. Electrons flow across the entire surface of the resulting module matrix in series and parallel.
Especially in building facades, the shingled cell matrix approach shows its strength. The technology produces aesthetically appealing modules with no gaps between cells and also offers strong shading tolerance to improve performance. Since M10 Solar introduced the production machine – capable of processing 12,000 cell strips of all sizes per hour – at last year’s Intersolar Europe trade show, it has attracted interest from a number of PV manufacturers. The M10 site has a factory that supports potential customers in the development and production of prototype modules.
During the development phase of the machine, operators ask themselves whether it can process 12,000 cell strips per hour in use, and if it can, is that the limit. What levels of scaling and scaling would be realistic, the partners asked.
Philipp Zahn and Marco Saladin were particularly interested in the answers. As joint CEOs, the couple is responsible for the fate of M10 Solar Equipment. The Zahoransky business, an expert in mechanical engineering and automation, had worked with Siemens for several years, and the technology companies collaborated again on the Surface innovation process.
“We had already started simulations about 10 years ago, which is very unusual for a medium-sized company,” says Saladin, who previously worked for Zahoransky. Instead of wasting years on spreadsheets or trial-and-error loops, the company relied on simulation programs for machine concepts early on.
The managers chose Siemens’ Tecnomatix Plant Simulation software, which Zahoransky already had experience with. The software simulates complex production systems and processes in easy-to-understand computer models and is used to simulate, visualize, analyze and optimize production and logistics processes.
“We were able to make quick and reliable decisions and evaluate different scenarios early in Surface’s development,” says Saladin. “The simulation of the factory helped us plan the layout, control logic and dimensioning of resources.” Saladin and Zahn believe they have achieved about 30% time savings throughout the project thanks to the simulations.
“With device simulation, we were able to quickly find the best design for our interface system and also achieve maximum performance,” says Zahn. This both shortened the initial phase of production and eliminated time-consuming and expensive repairs later in the production process.
With its innovative Surface tool, M10 thinks outside the production of PV modules and wants to play a key role in bringing large-scale PV production back to Europe. “If we want to make a significant contribution to Europe’s energy transition, we need to revive solar power production here at home,” says Saladin. “Research expertise, product innovations and historically strong machine construction can be of great help.”
A matter of time
“Ultimately, it’s about scaling and reconstructing entire value chains despite supply chain difficulties, price increases and geopolitical uncertainty,” says Zahn. Germany and even the rest of Europe and the world are currently heavily dependent on China for the supply of solar cells, modules and related components. “In Europe, our strength lies in innovative production concepts. We need to improve them,” Saladin says. That means gigawatt-scale factories. “At this scale, simulations are essential,” he adds. “They become the most important tool to enable rapid startup at realistic costs.”
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Factory simulation is often used in complete concepts to optimize performance, eliminate bottlenecks and minimize inventory. In order to analyze the effects of different production versions, the simulation models take into account internal and external supply chains, production resources and business processes. At the same time, they can evaluate different line control strategies and synchronize main and auxiliary lines. Factory simulation can be used to define complex material flow rules and monitor line performance.
Simulation for performance
In addition to Tecnomatix, Siemens offers a complete range of solutions for the entire value chain, from polysilicon production and ingot cutting to cell and module manufacturing. The integrated solutions aimed at solar panel manufacturers and plant and machine builders include everything from the power source to plant-wide automation.
The goal is always efficient, flexible and sustainable production of high-quality solar panels. The M10 Stringer system is the first step and others will follow.
About the author: Tobias Wachtmann has been Head of Global Glass and Solar Business at Siemens in Karlsruhe, Germany since June 2020. The 47-year-old man started his career at the company in 2000. After training in industrial engineering, he worked in sales at Siemens before moving to the process industry headquarters in Karlsruhe in 2012. Since 2017, he has been working with vertical glass and solar energy for Erikoistu’s customer development.