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Mass customization labs: open innovation for integration of solar energy

Mass customization is a new pv manufacturing concept based on cleverly designed semi-finished products. TNO wants to use this concept to enable the production of a wide variety of affordable integrated solar energy end products. Together with partners, we are building a pilot production line that will demonstrate the industrial approach to create suchf semi-finished products. As a next step they can be flexibly integrated into all kinds of surfaces and objects, such as facades and cars. 

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In our labs we develop this new mass customization technology and together with companies, we design innovative solar energy products. Customization, low production cost and integration are the key concepts here. This responds to the demand from industry to incorporate PV functionality in their own products and thus no longer be dependent on the standard solar panels.  

Shifting roles 

These developments open the way for new entrants to the market or for existing parties to open up new routes. For example, a construction company will in the near future be able to order complete roofs in which solar cells and all electronics have been incorporated invisibly or in a pattern of their choice. We also anticipate changes in the supply chain: new players will be able to supply semi-finished products that manufacturers of building components and prefabricated products can then integrate into their manufacturing process. 

All conceivable variations 

The pilot production line to be opened in Eindhoven in the autumn of 2021 has been designed by TNO and is being built together with partners from industry. It will be unique in the world: here we will make flexible semi-finished products with PV functionality, in all conceivable variations of size, shape and electrical power. In the first phase, we focus on three areas where a large part of the existing surface are can be used to produce solar energy: the building industry, the road and rail networks with hundreds of kilometres of noise barriers, and the automotive industry. Mass customization can lead the way that these applications become more large-scale and affordable. 

New industrial value chain 

The TNO pilot production line is in fact a pilot plant that serves as a blueprint for a new generation of factories that will in the future produce the wide variety of semi-finished products. In this way we are building a new industrial value chain in The Netherlands, in which our manufacturing, construction and installation sectors play an important role. Companies can make use of the open innovation environment realised by TNO in Eindhoven and in Petten. The facilities are equipped for both silicon and thin-film technology, and for the new high-efficiency solar cells, known as tandem technology. 

Prototyping, testing, analysis 

In the lab in Eindhoven there will be a production line that will produce solar foil with a maximum width of seventy centimetres and a length of several metres. Vacuum lamination will soon be replaced by roll lamination, which will remove the restriction on the length of the material. We want to demonstrate that future manufacturers will be able to supply these semi-finished products fully automatically in any required size, shape and electrical power. Their customers will thus buy perfect products for integration in buildings or infrastructure. 

In the mass customization lab in Petten we give demonstrations with semi-finished products on a smaller scale. In addition to experiments and demonstrations, we also have our own equipment for measuring and analysing semi-finished and finished products in terms of performance, safety and lifetime. 

Want to know more?

Get in touch with Peter Toonssen

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