PES caught up with Laura Sartore, CEO at Ecoprogetti, to get the latest from this innovative European provider of Turnkey lines for Photovoltaic Panels production, who has been in our business for over 20 years. Cost reduction and reduced downtimes are always at the forefront of R&D work, as well as European and safety regulations.
PES: Hi Laura, it’s great to have you with us at PES Solar/PV. Would you like to begin by telling us a little about Ecoprogetti?
Laura Sartore: Well Ecoprogetti is the only company in Europe that designs and manufactures complete machines for the production of photovoltaic panels 100 % in Europe. We have been working on big projects since 1998, especially in Europe, The Middle East and India, where we have the biggest customer base.
We have driven development in the PV industry, starting from the old 4’ 600µm thickness round cells, through the whole evolution of solar products arriving at today’s peak, to create production solutions for PERC, bifacial, round wire, glass-glass, shingling, adhesive technology and so on. We continue to drive dynamic and advanced research, both on machine innovation and cost reduction solutions so that we always provide the most competitive and efficient turnkey production solutions from 10MW to 1GW.
PES: We are keen to know more about your turnkey lines for the production of PV modules. Are you able to customise these to suit the customers’ needs?
LS: Of course this is part of our core business, together with standard lines we make tailor-made machines and tailor-made production lines quite frequently.
More and more often the module producers don’t require a standard machine, but rather need a product that differentiates them from the competition and that maintains their competitive advantage.
Our clients get the answers from us that can’t find from the competition thanks to our decennial experience, also in the PV process. Some clients ask for flexible modules, no glass, with innovative materials, compositions and substrates that makes the panel highly customized.
We study with these clients the best method to industrialize their product, from start-up, the tests and validation and to the series production.
We work according to three keywords: flexibility, simplicity and modularity. These stand for the adaptability of the machines/production lines to the customers’ needs, the suitability to work with different types of cells and raw materials to produce all kind of PV modules, the simplicity of use and the little maintenance needed and the easiness of upgrading a production line to a higher efficiency in a very cost-competitive way by upgrading and working on the existing equipment.
By then using Ecoprogetti’s PV panel manufacturing machines, customizable in whole or in part, it is possible to make a quality product, whilst optimizing operational costs and cycle times.
Ecoprogetti’s solar panel manufacturing machines provide the right level of automation depending on the business needs.
PES: What are the benefits in terms of cost and production to the end-user?
LS: Everyone thinks that the CAPEX is the thing to look at when purchasing a machine, but what if the OPEX is very high?
Some of our competitors’ equipment have very high operating, running and maintenance costs, which are felt on a daily basis their customers. production costs and the final selling price of the PV module. So, even if the CAPEX for the asset investment looks cheaper, the OPEX, which the module producer has to bear are much heavier in the long term.
Thanks to Ecoprogetti’s design solutions and the quality of the equipment raw materials, the required level of maintenance, consumable changeover and operating running costs are significantly low and the operating costs, for the module producers, are very limited.
The operating costs impact directly on the final module selling price, therefore, it is clear that the producers, who are able to control and reduce the running costs, are able to have a cheaper module selling price.
It is indeed not correct to consider only the CAPEX in the initial purchase equipment and to compare only the CAPEX between Chinese or European equipment. The ‘daily’ money required to run a production line, in terms of operating and running costs must also be considered carefully when defining the investment.
Since the beginning, Ecoprogetti has chosen to maintain a policy of constant ‘low-cost spare parts and consumables’, most of the components which are used in our equipment are commercially available and can also be found on the local market. A fact which is recognized and highly appreciated by all our customers.
For us, the analysis and constant innovation in the reduction of the operating, maintenance and running costs in our Equipment have the same importance as the competitive price which we propose to our customers.
Ecoprogetti has its roots in a solar panel manufacturing company, so we really understand the importance of keeping the line running at the lowest production cost and how expensive production stops can be.
We believe that the key to compete is to keep a high level of innovation and R&D in all our equipment, updating continuously and releasing new features and solutions that enable the production process, quality and cycle times.
We do compete daily with Chinese equipment suppliers. Our approach is to keep a very competitive price, maintaining our equipment to the highest European and safety standards.
One key aspect, which allows us to maintain competitive prices is to optimize production times and the cost of our equipment.
In order to do this, we continuously invest in our internal procedures to improve our production efficiency, with automated warehousing, integrated and dedicated software systems and assembly solutions.
PES: Can you tell us about your laminators, what are they used for?
LS: Ecoprogetti offers fully automatic solutions for the lamination of photovoltaic modules. Our laminator technology has full electrical heating, not oil based, guaranteeing the maximum flexibility in terms of temperature balancing, control and uniformity.
The ECOLAM series has excellent vacuum levels and the gel content tests performed on the laminates give optimal results.
The solar laminator machine enables the encapsulant material polymerization process. This transformation process, during which the multi-layer module becomes one unit, is one key step as it influences the lifetime of the module.
Our ECOLAM laminators can be configured in different ways, such as the size, single step or double step, automatic loading and unloading belts, pin lift systems, vertical storage solutions and advanced cooling systems (i.e. Cooling press).
With the selection of the proper encapsulant (EVA, POE, PVB etc…) it is possible to obtain different cycle times according to the desired throughput of the production line. The ECOLAM series works with all the available encapsulants, also for an ultra fast cure. It is capable of laminating not only standard PV modules but also particular architectonic modules with prismatic glass, double glass, colored glass, transparent back-sheet and flexible modules.
PES: Are you able to tell us more about testing machines and its importance to Ecoprogetti?
LS: Ecoprogetti’s main testing equipment for PV modules is the innovative LED sun simulator, the Electroluminescence tester (EL) and the Hi-pot tester. These testing machines control the quality and the efficiency of the photovoltaic modules. Every machine encompasses the best technology in order to perform the best measurement possible.
The LED sun simulator, ECOSUN PLUS, is the 1st LED sun simulator on the market for PV module testing and IV curve measurement. It is certified A+A+A++ by TÜV and it follows the IEC 60904-9 ed.3 standard.
Due to a steady irradiance test and light soaking capabilities, it is suitable for testing all the new varieties of solar modules and new high efficiency solar cells such as PERC, HIT, bifacial, back-contact, thin film and hybrid silicon solar cells. The LED technology ensures a much longer life time, no recharging time between tests, very low maintenance costs, excellent long pulse duration up to 5 seconds and a much better stability of the light source over time.
We offer electroluminescence test systems, to be integrated into a production line, or stand-alone for laboratory tests. The EL test station, ECOLAB EL, enables the user to perform a thorough and extensive check of the production and allows the process to be continually monitored and to make improvements based on the raw material in use. With the assistance of adapters, it’s possible to test single cells or strings not yet laminated. Its high-resolution cameras take excellent images and the auto detection software provides automatic detection of relevant defects.
The hi-pot tester performs tests on framed and frameless modules, thanks to a conductive sponge that guarantees the isolation test over the whole surface of the module.
Ecoprogetti offers an instrument which checks the electrical insulation of the modules during the production process in compliance with the IEC 61215/61730 for 1000V and 1500V.
PES: Does this add value to the machines in terms of life span, production and quality?
LS: A thorough quality inspection throughout the production line and a corresponding optimization of the production process, will definitely improve the PV panels’ life span, quality and efficiency.
PES: Could you explain to us what robotic automation is and its various uses?
LS: Robotic automation is the use of robots in the production process. We use both robots and XY axis in automation and we choose, depending on the application, the best automation or combination of automation.
We integrate the robotic operation in our solutions (Strings layup, glass loading, packing, and more) and are very flexible and customizable, the software is made entirely internally, without third parties, 100% customizable and controlled by Ecoprogetti.
PES: How do you ensure you adhere to your green policy and economic sustainability and how does this manifest itself in the company?
LS: In our company, we use green renewable energy to power our production site in Italy and our clients are becoming more and more part of this green philosophy. Thanks to the know-how transfer provided during our complete training, our clients also learn how to work in a green, environmentally friendly way. Ecoprogetti is certified by ForGreen as a Green Generation Company, saving thousands of CO2 emissions.
PES: Geographically speaking, where are your main markets and are there any areas you are currently targeting?
LS: Ecoprogetti’s main markets are: India, Middle East and Europe, these are where we operate the most and where we have a total of 9.5GW installed production lines.
Now more than in past, the African continent is opening up to the solar industry and we are targeting that market. We already have 2 installed production lines in Ghana and Mozambique and in North Africa, we have lines in Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia.
Some new markets are undoubtedly starting with the solar and there is no other investment that has a higher growth expectation than this, every Bloomberg report states this too.
Energy demand is increasing everywhere and the quickest, available everywhere, efficient, zero emissions and cost-competitive energy source is SOLAR ENERGY.
With over 30 years of experience in the photovoltaic business, Ecoprogetti remains committed to providing innovative and reliable production and testing solutions for photovoltaic panels.
You can contact us by email or phone, we will reply with all the required information, take advantage now!