CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA: GE Intelligent Platforms, a unit of GE Enterprise Solutions, announced that United Solar Ovonic, a leader in the manufacturing of flexible solar modules located in Rochester Hills, Michigan, has standardized on GE’s Proficy software platform to reduce scrap, increase throughput and lower the cost of manufacturing thin-film photovoltaic laminates.
The Proficy software, which includes Operations Management, HMI/SCADA and Reporting modules, will allow the company to improve the quality of its product while taking cost out of its operations.
The project is expected to cover operational manufacturing sites in Michigan, and the company’s Mexico assembly plant. United Solar expects the project to produce significant benefits over three years time with more than 80% of the benefit associated with quality improvements and scrap and waste reduction.
“The constraints posed by the worldwide dependence on oil has led the charge toward more renewable energy solutions and thin-film photovoltaic solar modules are state-of-the art in this industry,” said Erik Udstuen, Vice President of Software and Services for GE Intelligent Platforms.
“Investing in manufacturing processes to increase their ability to meet those needs and taking costs out of operations, will propel United Solar in renewable energy, and help them to produce more sustainable products for the global marketplace. ”
United Solar, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices Inc. (ECD), builds integrated rooftop photovoltaics that are flexible, light weight, easy to install, durable, and provide excellent real-world energy production.
Keeping up with one of the fastest growing segments of the solar power industry led the company to realize the need to implement a system that could address quality, throughput and sustainability issues in their manufacturing process.
United Solar began a very competitive evaluation process including multiple vendors, more than a year ago. Important to the company’s decision-making process was GE Intelligent Platforms’ expertise in solar photovoltaic manufacturing and the company’s adherence to the Microsoft technology stack of which United Solar is a big supporter, as well as GE Intelligent Platforms’ proven track record in both the Continuous and Discrete industries.
“Companies that participate in this fast growing solar industry, will differentiate themselves with high quality products at competitive pricing levels,” said Joe Conroy, Senior Vice President of Operations at United Solar. “Our goal in implementing this solution is to reduce scrap, increase throughput, gain greater visibility into material consumptions, reduce work-in-process and, ultimately, lower costs.“
“By better monitoring and controlling the production process,” Conroy continued, “we are improving quality and yield and therefore reducing the cost of modules produced.”
United Solar uses Proficy iFIX and Proficy Historian in all of the five current manufacturing sites today, and will be implementing the Proficy Operations Management suite including Proficy Plant Applications, Proficy DataMart, Proficy Workflow, and Proficy Scheduler.
Proficy iFIX is used for process visualization and process alarm management providing the company a window into their process by displaying key process indicators along side animated process graphics. Proficy Historian records key process indicators for process optimization activities today.
With the expansion of their use of additional software, Historian will be used to correlate relationships between KPIs and downtime events, OEE performance across manufacturing assets, waste /scrap and other process variables.
The Proficy Quality module will be also used to insure all quality characteristics are checked during manufacturing as defined by product specifications, monitor how the plant floor processes are performing from a quality perspective and manage all quality data in a centralized manner.
The Proficy Efficiency module will be used to monitor asset performance in relationship to availability, rate, alarms and waste. Accurate real-time and historical information will allow United Solar personnel to quickly pinpoint problem areas, report asset efficiencies, and automate analysis of root causes for production problems.
The Proficy Production module will be used to automatically dispatch Production Orders to the plant floor providing real-time visibility of schedule attainment while also tracking the complete genealogy of each solar panel.
GE Intelligent Platforms’ new Proficy Scheduler will be used to optimize production schedules based on real-time feedback from the plant floor regarding asset and material availability and other key performance indicators. Business rules can be used to model the effect of plant performance on schedule attainment and forecast production and material usage. The entire system will be tightly integrated with United Solar’s ERP system to truly close the loop between plant performance and the demands of the business.
“Reduction on manufacturing costs leads to profitability of the company overall,” said Udstuen. “With the Proficy software platform – work process management, MES, SCADA – United Solar has chosen an operational excellence platform that drives success now and into the future.”