Making Quality Solar Modules: A behind the scenes look
At Mission Solar Energy, quality is at the forefront of everything that we do. In fact, making quality solar modules is a process that starts before raw materials make it onto the production line. James Whittemore, Quality Manager at Mission Solar Energy, takes us behind the scenes to show us how quality controls are implemented before, during and after the production process.
Each day at Mission Solar Energy, hundreds of boxes enter the factory, containing thousands of pieces of raw material for module production. Simultaneously, hundreds of modules make their way down the production line and packaged for distribution to the customer. It’s the job of James Whittemore and his quality control team to monitor each step of the production process to ensure that each module adheres to Mission Solar’s strict quality standards.
“My team is in charge of quality control and quality assurance. We take a comprehensive approach to quality, meaning that we come at it from many different directions,” says Whittemore. “We make sure that raw materials adhere to our standards and that our manufacturing line is optimized for industry-leading quality. Most importantly, we listen to our customers and incorporate their feedback into our process.”
“There are many pieces to the puzzle,” Whittemore explains. “And each piece is crucial to producing a product that exceeds our customers’ expectations.”
Here are just a few of the steps that James and his team take to produce Mission Solar’s quality solar modules.
1.) Research and Development
The focus on quality begins at the very early stages of product development. Prototypes of each potential new product receive UL and IEC certification. During this process each module is subjected to a stringent battery of tests performed by a third party.
Products that successfully pass this rigorous testing then move on to the next set of the product development process, production testing. Here we ensure that any products that we make for customers can be produced with high quality in a production environment.
“This final step in the development process is where the rubber meets the road. Here, we ensure that new products can be made with the same or better quality than our painstakingly made prototypes in a production environment,” says Whittemore.
2.) Incoming Quality Control
Mission Solar Energy selects the finest materials for its solar modules. However, there can be irregularities in the materials, or they may not be up to the standards that Mission Solar demands. James and his team randomly sample every lot of materials that enter the factory door. Each sample is inspected to ensure all quality and production specifications are met.
“It may seem basic, but this is incredibly important. These inspections build a strong foundation for quality during the rest of the manufacturing process,” says James. “One bad ingredient can ruin a whole recipe. This step keeps that from happening.”
During production, modules are subjected to quality checks at each point in the process. Cells are double checked, electric connections are inspected and finished modules receive automated and visual inspections before being packaged.
“We have a highly automated production process, which is a very important factor in a quality product,” Whittemore explains. “However, there is still room for error. We have incorporated visual and automated inspections throughout our process. This ensures that our customers are receiving the highest quality product possible.”
4.) Post Production
At this point, modules cure for a full 24 hours before being further handling. This ensures the sealant for the junction box and frame is settled. Prior to shipment, the team checks that quality packaging is used to ensure safe arrival to their new 25+ year homes.
“If a module fails inspection, then that module is removed from the production line and quarantined. We then send a signal down the production line communicating the problem in order to prevent the production of subpar workmanship,” says Whittemore.
5.) Continuous Improvement
Making the country’s highest quality solar modules is a process that is constantly evolving. Evaluating current processes, finding ways to improve on them and implementing those changes is a very important aspect of James’ role at Mission Solar Energy.
“We are making great products, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make them even better,” says Whittemore. “We look at our processes with a very critical eye and listen carefully to customer feedback in order to improve however we can.”
The results of all of this hard work and attention to detail speak for themselves. Third-party testing recently found that Mission Solar Energy modules exceeded minimum IEC performance ratings by three times. Additionally, Mission Solar’s modules were found to have better performance than other modules in their class.