Power from the Sun

Feature Article | June 24, 2009 by Dr. Andreas Schaffry

More energy from the sun with solar cells (photo: jupiterimages)

The solar module manufacturer Inventux Technologies develops, produces, and sells thin-film photovoltaic modules based on proprietary micromorph tandem technology. These thin-film modules shine thanks to high efficiency levels and low production costs, making them a promising alternative to conventional crystalline modules.

Micromorph thin-film modules

Micromorph thin-film modules are produced using tandem technology. Technically speaking, different silicon materials are used in the upper and lower cell. The upper amorphous cell transforms the visible part of the light spectrum into energy, while the lower microcrystalline cell absorbs the energy from sunlight in the near infrared range.

Compared with conventional crystalline module technology, the manufacture of micromorph thin-film modules is more cost-effective, because considerably less silicon is required and energy consumption during production is lower.

Since being founded in 2007, Inventux has grown rapidly – from 10 employees to currently over 130. To optimally support this dynamic development, the company decided to implement integrated ERP software.

“The goal of this strategic decision was to link all processes together right from the start and to have a reliable view of them based on consolidated and harmonized data,” says Inventux’ Chief Financial Officer Oliver Rothe.

Implementation in five months

After careful consideration, Inventux opted for the qualified SAP Business All-in-One partner solution it.compact hightronics from the Bielefeld, Germany-based SAP full service provider itelligence. “This solution puts us in the best position to implement our business vision, because the future-proof industry package provides many preconfigured industry-specific processes. It is based on SAP ERP 6.0 and is being continuously enhanced,” Rothe explains.

The solution can also be implemented on an international scale, because it is Unicode-enabled. What’s more, Inventux was convinced by itelligence’s extensive expertise in the solar industry.

The IT-based business processes at Inventux were largely structured using the industry solution’s preconfigured processes. The implementation took around five months to complete and went ahead in two phases. In phase one, the functions for financial and asset accounting, controlling, sales and distribution, materials management, and purchasing were implemented. Two months later – after the production plants at Inventux had been fully installed – the functions for production planning and control were implemented and the industry solution was hooked up to the manufacturing systems.

Rothe put the rapid implementation down to a number of factors – good cooperation between the project partners, best practices, and user training with interactive electronic self-learning units – the SAP Tutors.

Secure order processing

Shortly after the go-live in November 2008, the benefits of the integrated industry solution were already becoming apparent for the 20 or so users. With the ERP software, Inventux bundles all data and information flows. This creates end-to-end IT-based and largely automated processes – from quote assembly through production to the delivery to customers.

“We can process sales orders fast and securely, while managing scheduling, personnel planning, and material planning economically and according to need,” Rothe says. Predefined user roles, a hierarchical authorization concept, and forms that can be used right away – such as for delivery notes and invoices – provide additional and effective support for the employees who work with the solution.

Flasher information for the ERP software

With the ERP application, Inventux can map customer contracts plus the associated processes in materials planning, production, and delivery processing, including invoicing according to power output in watts-peak. Rothe says this is an important aspect, because customers order in watts-peak rather than in number of units.

Watt-peak (Wp)

Watt-peak is a measure of power output and defines the peak output of a solar cell in ideal sunlight conditions.

Inventux produces its micromorph solar modules in various power output classes. The industry solution automatically identifies the power output features of the finished modules, with the required data coming from the company’s manufacturing department.

In technical terms, each finished module is “flashed” at the end of the production process, which includes measuring the power output, electricity, and voltage. These flash values are sent straight to the ERP software through an interface developed by Inventux, where they are stored and processed further in the service history file.

Invoicing to the watt-peak

“This enables us to post the modules – which are sorted according to power output classes – to the right place in the issuing storage location, package them, and ship them to customers together with the flasher information,” Rothe explains. “At the same time, we can be sure that only the power output is invoiced that is actually supplied.”

If several forecast delivery schedules have been agreed with the customer, the power output set forth in the contract is reduced based on the watts-peak actually supplied, without the need for manual intervention. This enables Inventux to give up-to-date information on contract, order, and delivery status whenever customers request it.

The smooth transfer of data and inspection results from production into the information flow in the ERP application ensures effective quality management. Furthermore, all product components can be uniquely identified and tracked, because they are issued batch numbers when materials are purchased and serial numbers when the components are sold.

Setting the course for tomorrow

Inventux has a clear view of all its warehouse stock, because all inbound parts are entered immediately and directly posted as stock. At the click of a mouse, employees in purchasing and manufacturing can see the material numbers and know when they have to order new material.

All the data about costs, revenue, and material consumption is sent straight to financial accounting and can be evaluated there at any time. “We always know exactly where our company stands at any one time,” Rothe says. “As a result, we can grow our business strategically and take important steps to set the course for the future.”

Inventux Technologies

This Berlin-based solar energy company was founded in 2007 and specializes in developing, producing, and selling micromorph thin-film photovoltaic modules. Inventux’ mission is to use future-proof mass production to become one of the world’s leading providers of cost-effective and energy-efficient thin-film photovoltaic modules. In December 2008, the company was the first in Europe to start production of micromorph thin-film modules. Currently, Inventux has around 130 employees.

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