Last Rays; Acceleraing cos-effective PV manufacturing with a global standards roadmap

SEMI was established almost 40 years ago, and its International Standards Program has operated for almost as long.

Bettina Weiss, SEMI PV Group, SEMI, San Jose, CA USA

SEMI was established almost 40 years ago, and its International Standards Program has operated for almost as long. As SEMI member companies and their customers migrated from semiconductor manufacturing to flat panel displays and later MEMS manufacturing, the challenges remained the same — driving down manufacturing cost, optimizing yield and process efficiency, and improving operator and tool safety. In each of these new fields, standardization was critical from the beginning.

Photovoltaics are no exception. Rapid technology development, highly diverse markets around the globe, and emerging niche applications provided the necessary sense of urgency to collectively agree on at least basic parameters and approaches to ease the burden of high manufacturing cost. To meet this need, members of the PV Group formed a Core Team of industry experts to capture and begin work on a more anticipative, forward-looking document.

Assessing SEMI standards
The Core Team’s first task involved a high-level assessment of existing SEMI Standards and Safety Guidelines by topic, with respect to their applicability for PV manufacturing. Out of 80 topics, 64 were deemed applicable, with 31 of them being rated a top priority. The results are both surprising and expected:

Not even long-time supporters of SEMI Standards realized how much useful and directly applicable documentation already exists. Currently, there are standards that can be implemented for immediate benefit in PV manufacturing.

Due to significant similarities between semiconductor, flat panel display and photovoltaic cell manufacturing, leveraging existing SEMI Standards is possible. In fact, the efforts benefit greatly from the confluence of former semiconductor professionals and “pure” PV experts, lending new and fresh perspectives and expertise to the challenges ahead.

The findings of Phase 1 have been compiled in a Guidance Document that can be downloaded from the PV Group site (http://www.pvgroup.org).

But what about those issues that are truly unique to PV? Which parts of the manufacturing process are most critical with respect to their implications on cost or risk? How can the industry best prioritize those needs and requirements and rally around best practice solutions that make sense? And how can development of new standards be harmonized and aligned while maximizing the value of existing ones? These are some of the questions discussed in Phase 2 of the PV Standards Roadmap project, which began in January 2009.

While the assessment of existing SEMI Standards on a per-document level continues, the team has identified four PV-unique priority areas to focus on in the coming months: automation, materials and substrates, facilities, and environmental, health & safety (EHS).

Smaller teams are in formation with the objective to agree on priorities, timelines and deliverables. A report on Phase 2 progress will be issued in July at SEMICON West/Intersolar North America 2009.

Needed: participation from cell/module manufacturers
What is urgently needed now is the participation from cell and module manufacturers. Since the release of the Guidance Document in February 2009, the Core Team has almost doubled in size, but is still predominantly populated by equipment and materials suppliers, EHS professionals and other interests.

It is critical that the customer base participates in these important efforts. To create something truly global, comprehensive and meaningful, developed by the industry and for the industry, contributions from all partners in the manufacturing supply chain are essential for success. I encourage you to join the PV Group and get involved in the PV Standards Roadmap Core Team efforts. Together, we can move this industry forward.

Bettina Weiss is senior director, Photovoltaic Segment, SEMI PV Group; bweiss@semi.org.

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