Automation Software: Key to Moving Solar Manufacturing Forward

Sep282009

The solar manufacturing industry is facing more pressure for a technology ramp-up than any other semiconductor-related industry at this time. This ramp-up is taking place in an environment where economic conditions force a major focus on cost savings and rapid return-on-investment.

Luckily, the solar industry has many similarities to the more mature LCD flat panel display and integrated circuit industries —enabling us to leverage innovation and solutions from these sister industries.

Key among these is automation software systems, a largely untapped resource that can provide for improved production efficiency and reduced waste in solar manufacturing. As a prime example, Advanced Process Control (APC) stands out as an automation software technology that can reduce scrap, improve yield and significantly improve quality of solar cells by:

  • Delivering capabilities for individual and overall factory process control and optimization, equipment and process diagnostics, and statistical process control (SPC);
  • Enabling continuous “tuning” of factory processes to optimize process capability and yield, continually monitors and assesses equipment health so that product scrap and equipment downtime is minimized; and
  • Helping factories move from a reactive mode of operation to a predictive mode.

Tight process specifications and complex processing in the semiconductor and display industries has led Applied to develop an innovative APC solution infrastructure.

This infrastructure features an open and standardized integration architecture, a graphical “drag-and-drop” control strategy configuration mechanism and a dashboard style customizable user interface.

The impact of applying this technology to a lithography process, which is common to both semiconductor and solar manufacturing, is significant; it has been shown that applying APC can result in process capability improvements of over 100%.

Applied is now introducing these APC capabilities to the solar industry to augment existing capabilities that are primarily limited to statistical process monitoring notification. While the benefits achievable with this move are immediate and significant, there is also a need for further research and development focused on application of APC techniques specifically in the solar manufacturing industry.

Concepts such as APC integration with yield prediction, predictive and preventative maintenance, and virtual metrology all show great promise as future APC capabilities that will further improve solar production efficiency and quality.

See attached document for more information on improving factory productivity and efficiency.