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ecoContact – the world’s fastest fully automatic contacting system for the manufacture of thin-film photovoltaic modules
More efficient contacting of thin-film modules
Because of the large capital expenditure involved, production systems for thin-film photovoltaic modules must operate as efficiently as possible. And that is where ecoContact comes in. This innovative and fully automatic contacting system was developed by St. Georgen-based automation specialist ACI-ecotec GmbH & CO. KG. It comprises standard components for applying conductive adhesives, longitudinal and lateral contacting and soldering bus bars, in accordance with the corresponding production technology. These components can be combined in a flexible way to manufacture all common thin-film module sizes. The substrates are transported and precisely positioned using a multi-lane conveyor belt. The patented ecoContact system is already being used in more than ten production facilities for thin-film PV modules worldwide.
Application of conductive adhesives using two autonomous dispensing heads
The conductive adhesive is applied via two dispensing heads at speeds of between 40 and 70 mm per second, with ongoing monitoring of the needles Any bumps or irregularities in the surface of the glass plate are automatically levelled out. Thanks to the controlled, high-precision application, only around one gram of adhesive is required for a substrate that is 1300 to 1400 mm long. Because the CNC heads operate autonomously, the position, length and distance between the adhesive strips can be programmed flexibly. This enables the application of more than two adhesive strips without modifications.
High-precision contacting with huge cost savings in materials
Following application of the conductive adhesive, the substrate is automatically indexed and aligned for longitudinal contacting. The tin-plated bus bar is applied using reels holding up to 380 mm of material, minimising downtime due to changeovers. To maintain the required tension between the continuously spinning reel and cyclical application of the bus bar, the system has an integrated bobbin. This detects if there is insufficient bus bar left on the reel and stops the machine automatically, minimising substrate waste.
To prevent the bus bar from breaking loose until the adhesive has cured at over 100 °C in the laminator, it is fixed with specially designed adhesive tape. In conventional contacting, this tape is applied along the entire length of the bus bar. However, ACI-ecotec deploys an innovative solution that automatically cuts small pieces of tape from the roll, removes them from their backing and sticks them onto the bus bar at predefined points. This economic use of the adhesive tape enables annual cost savings of up to 100,000 euros a year, as well as a significant increase in system availability. Exactly the same technology is used for lateral contacting. Afterwards, at a different workstation, the bus bar contacts are soldered together and their ends turned upwards or downwards, in accordance with the customer’s specifications. Optionally, the glass cover can also be applied fully automatically.
Greater productivity and flexibility
Like the adhesive dispensing station, the standard components for longitudinal and lateral contacting are fitted with two autonomous CNC units for attaching the bus bar. With ecoContact, ACI-ecotec aims for manufacturing times of less than 40 seconds for a complete thin-film PV module. Furthermore, the redundant solution, which has programmable axes, allows production to continue while maintenance work is being performed on one of the dispensing heads or application components.
Robust design with integrated switchgear cabinet
Each ecoContact module is based on a stable steel structure with an integrated switchgear cabinet. As well as saving space, this design enables rapid implementation of the contacting system.
More information: ACI-ecotec GmbH & Co. KG, Bahnhofstrasse 10, 78112 St. Georgen, Germany. Phone +49 (0)7724 934-0, www.aci-ecotec.com
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