New SEMI PV Automation Standards Committee Formed
By James Amano, Director, SEMI International Standards
Since its formation in 2007, the SEMI PV Standards Committee has grown to address a wide variety of topics, including materials, test methods, connector ribbon, equipment communication, thin film substrate dimensions, transparent conductive oxide, wafer and cell transport, silicon feedstock, module vibration, crystalline silicon cell appearance, gases, and chemicals. The SEMI PV Standards Committee has now developed and published twelve standards, and over 20 other activities are underway.
In order to effectively address the growing activity level in standardization of PV manufacturing hardware and software, the SEMI International Standards Committee recently approved formation of a new PV Automation Standards Committee. The first chapter of the global committee was established in Japan, and a European counterpart was approved in July at SEMICON West / Intersolar NA. The PV Automation Committee in Europe is co-chaired by Tino Korner (Q-Cells), Martin Zenning (Jonas & Redmann), and Eberhard Teichmann (Peer Group), and the PV Automation Committee in Japan is co-chaired by Emi Ishikawa (Atelier Ishikawa) and Terry Asakawa (Tokyo Electron).
The new PV Automation Committee will initially focus on existing efforts related to equipment-to-equipment communication, cell transport carriers, and single substrate tracking, but activities are anticipated to rapidly multiply, as the PV industry is increasingly recognizing the essential role Standards will play in reaching grid parity. Automated material handling is a prerequisite for efficient PV module fabrication, and the PV Transport Carrier Task Force is looking at Standards needed for PV wafer and cell carriers. The current reality is that PV manufacturers and equipment suppliers are spending significant time and effort on material handling within their production lines, distracting them from focusing on their core competencies.
The Carrier Task Force effort will enable standardization of equipment load ports and transport systems, resulting in both direct and indirect cost savings throughout the whole supply chain, less risk during ramp-up, and less effort for integration of production lines. Q-Cells’ Tino Korner, leader of the Transport Carrier Task Force states, “The industry’s response to the need of productivity enhancements is to set automation standards. These standards will help the photovoltaic industry to master manufacturing challenges and provide better communication between equipment of any sort - from wafering to module build. Without automation standards it will become very hard for the industry to achieve its ambitious performance targets.”
Martin Zennig of Jonas & Redmann, who leads the PV Equipment Interface Specification (EIS) TF, emphasizes that development and implementation of Standards in the PV industry is extremely helpful and reduces cost at all points where hardware or software interfaces exist between different pieces of equipment. A good example of where such a Standard is needed is the vertical communication between equipment and shop floor manufacturing execution system, where the PV EIS Task Force developed SEMI PV2: Guide for PV Equipment Communication Interfaces (PVECI) . Zennig reports the EIS TF is now working on a Standard for horizontal communication from equipment to equipment: “A lot of different hardware layers are being used and an immense number of proprietary protocols currently exist in the fabs. Of course this has a negative impact from several different standpoints – first the time for the ramp-up of a production line (cell manufacturer), second the efforts for the development of such protocols (equipment supplier), and last but not least the missing flexibility for end customers to replace a piece of equipment from another supplier.”
Horizontal communication is a critical topic with a high amount of global interest. The European PV EIS Task Force and the Japanese PV EIS Task Force are working together to find the best solutions for different use cases for both crystalline silicon and thin film PV. Zennig continues that “This activity is a big challenge given the many industry players involved, but working within the SEMI framework is a big advantage. The global presence of SEMI enables stakeholders worldwide to contribute their opinions and develop a Standard beneficial for all.” Zennig’s counterpart in the Japan PV EIS TF, Mitch Sakamoto of Tokyo Electron confirms the urgency: "Standardization of PV factory automation is a critical requirement to reduce PV manufacturing costs - we must develop and promote high-impact standards as soon as possible. The creation of PV Automation Committees in both Japan and Europe will allow a more focused discussion and accelerate worldwide standards development and consensus."
How to Get Involved
If your company is not yet involved in these efforts to shape the future of PV, now is the perfect time to register, as several key documents will be balloted this fall and winter. To learn more, please visit www.pvgroup.org/standards, or contact your local Standards staff. Participation in the SEMI Standards Program is free, but Standards Program registration is required.
Upcoming PV Automation Standards Meetings
Standard Watch - September 2010