Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

Solar power industry using robotics and automation to achieve productivity gains

The solar energy sector is seeing many advances both in the products it makes and in the way they are made. 

JinkoSolar, which claims to be the world’s largest solar photovoltaics manufacturer, says it has set a new record for solar cell efficiency.

And it has achieved this through “new applications of cutting-edge technology such as IoT devices, intelligent mobile devices, and mobile robots to its manufacturing process”. 

JinkoSolar makes a new type of solar cell called a “p-type monocrystalline perc solar cell”.

Perc stands for passivated emitter and rear cell, and it’s said to be different from the standard solar cells which have been in use for the past three decades, according to an explanation on Aleo Solar.

JinkoSolar says this new type of solar cell is capable of 23.45 per cent efficiency, beating its own previous record of 22.78 per cent.

The company says the breakthrough was made possible by “innovative applications”, which allowed it to:

  • consolidate data collection;
  • enable yield traceability;
  • improve workflow efficiency; and
  • optimize material transportation.

All these things ultimately allowed JinkoSolar to “continuously enhance its fab operating efficiency”, says the company.

JinkoSolar says it has further integrated functions such as advanced data analytics, smart diagnostics, self-reporting, and precise forecasting, with its operational know-how.

The integration has revolutionized its fab operations from “automated” to “intelligent”, allowing the company to achieve greater efficiency, flexibility, and quality, maximize cost-effectiveness, and accelerate overall innovation.

Through agile and intelligent operations, JinkoSolar continues its drive towards manufacturing excellence.

The company says its “agile operation system” has integrated demand and capacity modeling, lean manufacturing, and lot dispatching and scheduling, all of which provides short cycle time, stable manufacturing and on-time delivery.

The system also provides greater flexibility to quickly support customers’ urgent pull-in requests, says the company.

Kangping Chen, CEO of JinkoSolar, says: “World records have been shattered again and again at JinkoSolar as the company has broken five world records in cell and module efficiency just this year.

“Now with the assistance of intelligent manufacturing, we can translate these world record learnings into mass production, which will undoubtedly make a big splash in the market.

“As the world’s largest solar PV company, JinkoSolar has mastered its physical production processes and products.

“However, JinkoSolar has not stopped pioneering evident in the successful development and implementation of its own digitalization strategy.

“Effective introduction and implementation of smart manufacturing will help JinkoSolar further improve its production flows.

“Excellent technological know-how, manufacturing capacity, and customer loyalty that build on them are the foundation of JinkoSolar current success. Data-driven innovations will be the foundation of its future success.”

Blocking out the sun 

While JinkoSolar congratulates itself for its achievements, one of its main competitors is making similar advances in automation, and is looking to overtake the company.

Tongwei, which recently unveiled what it claims is the “world’s first” unmanned, fully automated monocrystalline solar cell production line, is already said to be the fourth-largest solar cell manufacturer.

However, if its plan to produce a new type of high-efficiency solar cell pays off, Tongwei will become the world’s largest solar cell manufacturer by far, according to an article

As you might have guessed, a solar module is a collection of solar cells. And “module” can mean the same thing as “panel”, apparently.

So, while JinkoSolar and Tongwei attempt to block each other’s sunlight while they argue over who’s the biggest, below is a list of the largest solar module companies in the world, courtesy of

Top 10 solar module suppliers in 2016 

  1. JinkoSolar
  2. Trina Solar
  3. Canadian Solar
  4. Hanwha Q-Cells
  5. JA Solar
  6. GCL
  7. First Solar
  8. Yingli Green
  9. Talesun
  10. Risen also lists the top 10 solar cell manufacturers, along with a whole load of other data and information about the solar cell and module manufacturing industry in its PV Manufacturing & Technology Quarterly report.

Robots used in solar manufacturing 

According to, there are four stages of solar power systems manufacturing in which robotic automation is increasingly being introduced:

  • silicon ingot;
  • silicon wafer;
  • solar cell; and
  • solar module.

This is a basic breakdown and there are of course many other details required to build up a complete picture.

For example, a variety of robot types are used, including delta, scara, cartesian, and robotic arms.

One well-known robot company which has specifically targeted the solar photovoltaic market is ABB (main picture).

The company says its photovoltaic industry-ready robots cover a wide range of applications in the solar power industry.

They include high-speed compact robots for the handling of wafers and solar cells, as well as large robots that can reach more than three meters to handle major components such as solar modules, says the company.

These robots are available with clean room specifications, which they would have to be for some of the aspects of solar power manufacturing process.

A wide range of other robots from other manufacturers also have clean room specifications, and are capable of solar power manufacturing work.