Top 5 tips to bring a renewable energy equipment prototype to market

New Product Engineers bringing a pilot line of hardware to life (Courtesy: PEKO Precision Products)

Contributed by Scott Baxter

It’s no secret that the renewable energy equipment industry is a sector that is forecasted to grow, with new innovative energy technologies entering the market every day.

Each week different technologies in the energy sector, such as fuel cell power generation, energy storage, solar/photovoltaic, and wind energy, make another index forward. The reality is that this industry is in a race to compete with a depleting supply of fossil fuels, and energy OEMs are creating more groundbreaking technologies today than ever before. Incubators, universities, entrepreneurs, private investors, and even corporate giants are toiling night and day to create tomorrow’s clean technology. 


Read more: 3 reasons to invest in renewable energy now


With so much focus on solving core technology issues, there is a common theme throughout the industry. These core technology experts offer unimaginable ingenuity and brilliance when designing and building their proof of concepts and prototypes. However, where new product teams and entire organizations find a chasm is in the ability to turn early-stage technologies into production scale volumes. A client recently wrote: “We needed to find a true manufacturing partner that could not only build our product but work with our technical team on its design, functionality, and refinement,” which emphasizes the previous point exactly.

Navigating this long and rocky road requires specialized talent. Whether the organization chooses to perform the task themselves or hire a contract manufacturer, it is important that the right planning and preparation are taken. Solving manufacturing and design problems at the early stage will prevent magnified problems at scale volumes in production.


Read more: The importance of long-term planning in short-term power operations


Because the ability to scale production is a key requirement of renewable energy equipment, OEMs can use some quick tips for bringing prototype energy equipment to market. Please note that these tips assume the proven feasibility of the technology.

Tip 1: Assembling a competent team

First, assembling a team of manufacturing professionals is paramount. Members of the team may be internal, external, or some hybrid of internal and external. Your team should consist of three types of personnel:

  1. Engineering experts
  2. Manufacturing experts
  3. Core Technology experts

Once the team has been assembled and briefed, clear roles must be assigned so no responsibilities are blurred. Finger-pointing when introducing new-to-the-world renewable energy hardware will eat up time that most innovators do not have. At the minimum, industry experts suggest the following roles:

  • Program manager
  • Design engineer
  • Subject matter engineer
  • Manufacturing engineer
  • Quality engineer

Your manufacturing personnel and infrastructure will support these main characters.

Tip 2: Compiling a bill of materials (BoM)

The Bill of Material (BOM), sometimes known as an Indented Bill of Materials, is a listing of all the components and quantities within the top-level product.

Most CAD modeling systems will auto-generate your BOM. It is crucial that extreme care is taken to maintain this BOM for revision, quantity, price, and component changes. Maintaining a BOM in this way can be very difficult, but its importance cannot be overstated.

A proper bill of materials should be organized in a hierarchical structure, from top-level down to sub-assemblies and individual component parts. For instance, if an energy storage system is to be built, it would be assigned to level 0, where a major sub-assembly like an ECM might be assigned a level 1. 

Tip 3: Create CAD models & detailed prints

CAD models and detailed prints are a visual aid to understanding the manufacturing of a product.  Furthermore, they are part of the contractual commitment for the delivery of manufactured components.

The detail prints are a 2D rendering of each part and assembled with critical tolerances and notes that fully describe the part (usually by part number). Manufacturers read these parts in detail to deliver the parts needed for integration. 

The CAD models are a 3D representation of the parts, assemblies, and final product. Today’s 3D modeling software programs are ultra-powerful and can provide mechanical, electrical, and functional simulations of real equipment. Ideally, the part numbers and revisions of the drawings and models will perfectly synchronize with the Bill of Materials. 

Tip 4: Create pilot builds following the prototype

Pilot builds are the iteration between prototype and production. For high ticket renewable machinery, the first 5 to 25 units will typically be part of the pilot build.

At the pilot build stage, the new product team incorporates lessons learned from the prototype phase. These might be performance, design for manufacturability, quality, or others.

At this time, the manufacturer will choose to optimize the production layouts in anticipation of the production orders. The final pilot build will be nearly identical to the production-ready revision.

Tip 5: Establish & conduct factory acceptance testing (FAT)

The pilot stage is a great place to define the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) procedure. Ultimately, both parties must determine how a machine can be deemed “Good” before being shipped off to the customer. 

The FAT usually asks and answers critical questions related to functionality. Are we producing the correct amount of amperage? Is the leak rate within specification? Do the cycle times match our expectations? 

FATs are highly customized and perfectly defined so that expectations are met, documented, and archived. Factory acceptance testing usually involves powering up the entire machine and running it through various cycles with different inputs and outputs. In many cases, a custom test rig and a technician can perform the work in minutes or hours. 

Conclusion

Gathering a team of skilled individuals will set the foundation for project success. Ensuring Bills of Materials, Models and Prints are correctly created and maintained will set the framework for manufacturing. Producing pilot builds and defining acceptance testing will generate a deep product knowledge that can be translated into production scale manufacturing. 

These tips are just a piece of the puzzle for bringing new renewable energy hardware technology to market. In one article, one could hardly scratch the surface on this topic. In addition to the topics covered in this article, a secondary emphasis must be placed on the role of forecasting, supply chain, critical parameters and prototype builds. Implement these tips into any commercialization process, and the probability of success will increase greatly.


  About the author:

Scott Baxter, Business Development & Marketing Manager, PEKO Precision Products, Inc.

Scott Baxter has spent over 12 years as the lead content writer at PEKO Precision Products. He has a passion for manufacturing that shines through his work and business relationships. He truly enjoys giving tours of the PEKO facility to professionals within renewable energy and other sectors, as well as finding solutions for customers to help their businesses grow. At home, he loves making sure his three kids play outside and at work loves giving advice that helps machinery and equipment project stakeholders bring their products to market.

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