The rise of the solar panel machines

Sensemaking / The rise of the solar panel machines

Germany's Kraftwerker is developing a PV panel-placing robot. Will these automated fitters boost the march of solar power?

By Roger East / 14 Dec 2012

Germany's Kraftwerker is developing a PV panel-placing robot. Will these automated fitters boost the march of solar power?

The price drop for solar panels has turned up the heat on the economics of fitting them. Labour is now a much bigger proportion of the whole system costs. So is automating the process part of the answer? Cue the GPS-guided robot photovoltaic panel fitter. German company PV Kraftwerker has built themselves one, and it’s working.

Up to a point, that is. Put together from off-the-shelf components so it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, their first plant assembly robot should pay for itself within a year of regular use, they reckon, on the large-scale solar PV projects that are their speciality. The robot, named ‘Momo’, is equipped with sensors, a 3D camera and a gripper system, and has been shown off at trade fairs in Munich and San Francisco. PV Kraftwerker’s Managing Director Eberhard Schulz claims that it is accurate to a millimetre, eliminates assembly errors and can save fitters from related injuries. But so far, it still depends on humans to install metal frames first. And more to screw down the panels when the robot has put them in place – and then wire them up. But robots can get smarter – and PV Kraftwerker is developing simpler ways of fixing panels and wiring plugs, too.

Ned Ludd, where are you now? There’s no place, in this modern industrial vision, for a reincarnation of the mythical smasher of early cotton mills, beloved of the handloom weavers who feared being out of business. Then again, there are some places where you wouldn’t want your worst enemy to have to work. Fukushima, for instance – where the Japanese Government is looking to put PV Kraftwerker’s innovation to good use, setting up a PV power station with minimal human intervention in the radioactive wasteland. – Roger East

Photo:Kiener and BeBConsulting

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