Unified Equipment Communication Interface for PV Production Systems
Today, the PV industry lacks a unified communication standard between production equipment and the shop floor. This is similar to the state of the semiconductor industry in the 1980s, when this failing was recognized as a major roadblock to efficient manufacturing. The development and implementation of SEMI Equipment Communication Standards/Generic Equipment Model (SECS/GEM) resulted in a reduction in the cost required to automate a factory, increasing throughput and efficiency, thus adding great value to the IC industry. A new Standard, SEMI PV2-0709 (“PV2”), defines a unified equipment communication interface for PV production systems and will provide multiple benefits for the PV industry. PV2, titled “Guide For PV Equipment Communication Interfaces”, was developed by the European Equipment Interface Specification Task Force (EIS TF) to reduce the effort equipment suppliers have to spend to develop and maintain a variety of equipment communication interfaces, and establish the foundation for deploying advanced factory management and control software systems.
Equipment integration – expensive, time consuming, and risky – has become a significant cost factor throughout the life cycle of PV production equipment, as there were previously no standards describing the IT interfaces for this equipment. Equipment suppliers must spend considerable amounts of both time and money to enable access to process and product data through different types of interfaces. Standardized interfaces, and tools built upon these standards, have the potential to reduce costs and efforts on both the customer and supplier side; they also allow each party to focus their energy on value-added activities.
Today’s PV production lines demonstrate an increased need to control production equipment from external software systems and also to acquire data from production equipment, regardless of the base technologies (silicon, thin film) being used. As Matthias Meier, from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, a key leader in development of PV2 states, “Tasks such as equipment efficiency monitoring, maintenance management, scheduling, dispatching, work-in-progress tracking, yield optimization and process monitoring and control are either fully automated or at least strongly supported by shop floor IT systems that depend on being able to communicate with production equipment. The ability to communicate with production equipment from an IT point of view is a prerequisite to operate PV manufacturing systems at maximum efficiency.”
Through implementation of this Standard, manufacturers will no longer have to specify, test, and integrate specific interfaces to ensure IT functionality at the factory management level, and accordingly, suppliers will no longer be required to implement and maintain proprietary interfaces for each of their customers. Other benefits include:
- shorter ramp-up times due to the reduction of issues related to IT integration
- increased functionality available through the standardized interface, supporting more sophisticated production through advanced process control, leading to yield improvement
- simplified requirement specifications
- simplified testing, as integrated equipment can be tested and verified based on generic tests for all interface layers
- increased potential cost savings as manufacturers are better able to predict integration risks and efforts
This Standard is a best-practice approach, based on proven concepts and scenarios that have proven of great value in the semiconductor industry and can be of great use in PV as well. A small set of restrictions and clarifications are included that simplify SECS/GEM for the PV industry compared to the version used in semiconductor manufacturing. An initial tool operation specification based on PV2 has already been developed and a high level of industry acceptance and usage is projected. Mathias Glaser of Manz Automation confirms the benefits of PV2: “Implementation of the new equipment communication standard (PV2) into Manz’ advanced equipment control architecture (aico) took less effort than initially expected. Through utilization of PV2, Manz will be able to fulfill its customers’ increasing requirements related to equipment automation.”
Document Development History
The EIS TF was formed in September 2007 beneath the newly established SEMI European PV Standards Technical Committee to define the interface between Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and production equipment. As the PV manufacturing community saw an urgent need to unify the multiple existing interface solutions in order to reduce costs for cell manufacturers and equipment suppliers, a collective, pre-competitive approach was considered the best, most time efficient solution. The task force has since then enjoyed active participation by many European and international companies, with a broad distribution of PV manufacturers, equipment suppliers, research institutes, and software providers, highlighting the industry-wide demand need for a Standard to address this critical issue.
Two sub-teams were established under the PV-EIS TF: one to evaluate existing solutions, such as SECS, XML-based approaches, and OPC; the other to determine and investigate new and PV-specific requirements in cooperation with manufacturers and suppliers. Finding a good solution quickly was a high priority for all participating stakeholders. The SECS/GEM approach the Task Force eventually agreed on offers a platform of already well established Standards, existing tools and libraries, and a proven track record of successful implementation over many years, thus enabling a fast and solid solution. Other approaches, by contrast, would require a long period of concept development, validation, consensus-building and global acceptance of the end result. The consensus decision was to use SECS/GEM as the base, adapted for the specific needs of PV manufacturing, leveraging the approach that has made the IC industry the highly efficiency technology leader that it is today.
More information on PV Standards activities at SEMI and PV Group
Initially formed in 2007, the charter of the SEMI Photovoltaic Standards Technical Committee is to “Explore, evaluate, discuss, and create consensus-based standard measurement methods, specifications, guidelines, and practices that, through voluntary compliance, will promote mutual understanding and improved communication between users and suppliers of photovoltaic manufacturing equipment, materials and services to enhance the manufacturing efficiency and capability so as to reduce manufacturing cost of the photovoltaic (PV) industry.”
The global committee now has regional chapters in Europe, North America, and Japan, as well as a Working Group in Taiwan.
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