Affordable manufacturing of tailor-made products on a large scale. It may seem contradictory, but this is the future of solar energy. TNO has developed a production method for manufacturing solar modules from all kinds of materials in any desired form. This mass customization provides an enormous impetus for making the built environment more sustainable and offers unprecedented opportunities for companies.
Because solar modules are no longer limited to a particular size or shape, they will be easier to integrate into roofs, windows and facades – a breakthrough innovation for the building and construction industry. Infrastructure will also change; noise barriers along roads or railways, for instance, can be fitted with flexible solar modules. Thirdly, this development is important for various forms of on-board solar energy, such as the (successors to) the Lightyear One.
A new generation of factories
This development is now gaining momentum since the pilot production line that TNO is building with partners will soon bring many more applications within reach. This will serve as a blueprint for a new generation of factories that will produce tailor-made semi-finished products in large quantities at low cost and high speeds. These semi-finished products will form the basis for the end product: integrated solar energy products for application in the built environment, for example. This will bring about a shift from the production of standard solar panels to the manufacturing (by existing parties or newcomers) of semi-finished products that can be processed into end products. This may lead to the creation of a whole new industry.
Manual production of tailor-made solar modules
Easily integrating semi-finished products
There is a substantial demand for ways to integrate photovoltaic (PV) functionalities into products such as roof tiles, noise barriers or car roofs. Technically, this can all be done with customer-specific solutions that involve a lot of manual work, but this is at odds with cost targets in the sector. The TNO concept makes it possible to produce semi-finished PV products which can easily be integrated into existing products. Manufacturers of building and construction elements or car bodies, for instance, can do this while keeping close to their existing production process.
Lamination of roofing elements with the required shape, size and power
Extensive freedom of design
The application of semi-finished products, such as in the form of flexible modules on a roll, represents an affordable solution for both supplier and customer, and provides extensive freedom in terms of dimensions and the use of materials. What is now a standard end product from a manufacturer of solar panels will soon be a wide variety of intermediate and final products involving various parties. In the building and construction sector, for example, this will lead to the fully automated lamination of roofing elements with the required shape, size and power. Even so for noise barriers, the limitations caused by the manual application of standard panels will no longer apply. A variety of semi-finished product will be processed automatically from the roll.
Ecosystem mass customization labs
An ecosystem of companies involved in this new development has evolved around the mass customization labs of TNO. These companies supply high-quality equipment and components, innovative materials and end products. A new supply chain develops around the value of semi-manufactured products, offering excellent opportunities for existing parties, start-ups and companies that want to take on new activities.
More information about mass customization for your company?
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