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          Technology Trends

Q-Cells: Going Beyond the Usual Solar Cells

OCT 20 2009

Technology Trends

Q-Cells: Going Beyond the Usual Solar Cells


Q-Cells, one of the world's largest solar cells manufacturers in Germany has developed a well-thought-out quality management system that covers all stages of cell production, delivering what it promises top quality.



Performance test with modules in Q-Cells laboratory (Photo by Q-Cells)


In a globalized world where everythings always available everywhere, its not always easy for the customer to tell which product will bring the most benefitin other words, which product offers maximum quality for an acceptable price. The situation is much the same in the solar industry. There are many solar cells manufacturers around the world, and competition is increasing. In a dramatically changing market thats fast becoming a buyers market, the subject of reliability and quality will become much more important to the end customer, and thats where Q-Cells is aiming to bring to bear its image of quality thats been built up over the years.


Q for Quality

Since 2007, Q-Cells has been one of the worlds largest solar cells manufacturers. High quality is essential for each and every Q-Cells solar cell. For all customers, the Q is the symbol that they are holding in their hands a tested and reliable quality product. At Q-Cells, it doesnt just pay lip service to quality. Rather, its a daily challenge for the company to always offer the best product on the market. In order to do justice to this claim, the company has developed a well-thought-out quality management system that covers all stages of production along with the upstream and downstream processes.


Incoming Goods Inspection

A thorough incoming goods inspection that performs visual, mechanical and electrical tests on every single wafer is the first step ahead of the actual production process. This is where mechanical inspections check shape, geometry and thickness, or for the presence of microscopic cracks. Because there is one key prerequisite for being able to produce the best cells: highquality starting material. This is why Q-Cells works intensively with its suppliers in order to guarantee uniformly high-quality standards as early as the wafer manufacturing process.


Detailed Process Monitoring

Yet, thats not enough for Q-Cells. Right along the entire production process from the silicon wafer to the solar cell, a well-thought-out MES (Manufacturing Execution System) carries out detailed process monitoring. Every individual machine from the wet bench and the diffusion furnace through to the cell tester is monitored, and all the collected measured data of the individual wafer is stored. 


Soldering from cross-connectors by hand in Q-Cells laboratory (Photo by Q-Cells)








Why MES in the Production

The focus in solar cell manufacture is on improving product quality and looking for measures with the greatest lever effect. In the current economic situation, MES is a crucial lever for securing unique selling points. The MES in production is the decisive instrument in the production process for being better than the competition and for ensuring the highest product quality. Q-Cells divides up the MES into two logical components: data collection and process execution. The first component collects information about the cell module production. The second component monitors and controls production on the basis of the collected data.


Data Collection

The task of the data collection component of the MES is to collect data of the automation and process plant and process systems (standardized if possible) and to automatically send messages from the system. The greatest challenge here is to harmonize and standardize the interfaces between the systems and the MES. Experience and standards from the semiconductor industry have been adopted to speed up the system integration process. The SEMI Equipment Communication Standard (SECS II describes the messages) connects the systems to the MES using the plug-and-play principle. This results in significant reductions in terms of time and costs for the connection. The data in the MES is broken down into wafer-related data, process-related data, data on tracking and tracing, data on general system effectiveness, parameter data, cycle time data, duration and waiting times, and is collected in the MES data warehouse.


Soldering of solar cells with stringer XCell3400 (Photo by Komax)

Process Execution

The process execution component completes the use of the MES and, via monitoring and control, results in a comprehensive optimization of the processes. It observes, evaluates and improves not just cell production but also the subsequent value-adding processes such as module manufacture. The across-the-board use of the MES allows the quality-enhancing measures involved in all processes to be constantly ensured and determined right through to the customer.


Outgoing Goods Inspection

Besides the intensive incoming goods inspection and the detailed process monitoring, all solar cells at Q-Cells undergo a comprehensive outgoing goods inspection. Each cell is individually measured in the final production step, and its electrical and visual properties are checked and sorted. Resistance, efficiency, weak sunlight performance, etc. are among the electrical parameters tested. Visual sorting of the individual cells is done in a multiple chamber system in order to ensure the strictest quality standards. Using hot-spot cameras enables Q-Cells to exclude with almost 100% certainty so-called shunt cells under the produced cells. With this, the company is setting a benchmark in terms of reliability and durability of its products. The measuring and testing systems used for the outgoing goods inspection are constantly being calibrated using reference standards of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt. With this calibration, the company guarantees its customers that the technically defined parameters are absolutely reliable in every solar cell.

The result of the measurement reflects the actual technical parameters of a Q-Cells product. This enables Q-Cells to offer its customers a high-quality and reliable product.


Q-Cell's R&D center: damp heat chamber loaded with different module and cell types (Photo by Q-Cells)

Strict Testing & Quality Criteria

Q-Cells could actually stop at this point. The significantly stricter testing and quality criteria define the standard for other market participants. As one of the premium manufacturers, the company also regards itself as being responsible to the users of solar systems for guaranteeing the durability of its cells. 

Q-Cell's R&D center:cell handling (Photo by Q-Cells)

For this reason, a module testing center was built at the Q-Cells Reiner-Lemoine Research Centre. This is where, for example, the processability of the cells, such as soldering or lamination, is implemented in practical terms. This represents an additional service for the customers, the module manufacturers, so that they too can produce high-quality products. On the other side, the results from the module test are incorporated into the production lines as a direct recommendation for optimizing the manufacturing process.

In addition, long-term tests covering degradation and climate behavior can be carried out in the module center. The degradation test is carried out at the cell and module level. In the climate test, the behavior of the solar module is tested in various temperature cycles, with the temperatures fluctuating between -40C and +85C at brief intervals. The climate test is performed under the hardest conditions, and humidity can be up to 85%.

The application of these strict quality criteria also enables Q-Cells to guarantee the performance of installed solar cells for 25 years. The quality standards applied by Q-Cells are significantly higher than those demanded by the IEC 61215 industry standards.

The laboratories and the test center are regularly monitored and inspected by an independent institute in order to safeguard and constantly improve the latest standard of the testing methods. The company has been TUV-certified since 2005 in line with DIN EN ISO 9001:2008 and DIN EN ISO 14001:2004.



With these high standards, which go way beyond the industrys usual testing and inspection requirements, Q-Cells sets the benchmark in the solar industry for high-quality and durable products made in Germany. The Q delivers what it promises top quality.


For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

2009 www.exposolar.org. All rights reserved.


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