Development of Intelligent Process Control for Thin Film Solar Panel Manufacturing

EPA Contract Number: EPD10011
Title: Development of Intelligent Process Control for Thin Film Solar Panel Manufacturing
Investigators: Atanasoff, George
Small Business: AccuStrata, Inc.
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2010 through August 31, 2010
Project Amount: $70,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) , SBIR - Pollution Prevention


This SBIR project addresses the problem of waste and low manufacturing yield in the typical thin film manufacturing process. It has the potential to make a significant impact on energy utilization and become a critical component to making thin film processes cost effective, leading to waste-free manufacturing.

Thin film deposition processes are extensively used in man-critical industries with significant national importance:  semiconductors, solar cells, optics, displays, telecom, medical, biological, and military. Many of these processes are inefficient, resulting in low manufacturing yield and higher material and energy consumption. The existing process and product control systems typically control the quality of the products post-factum. Significant portions of manufactured products fail to meet product specification and are rejected, inflating the product cost and creating environmental pollution. Billions of dollars and energy are wasted annually due to manufacturing inefficiency, contributing to global climate issues.

Under this SBIR Phase I project, AccuStrata will develop an algorithm and a software program as part of a real-time intelligent optical control system that will improve the quality of thin film products, reduce their cost, and reduce energy consumption and environmental pollution.

This project specifically targets the thin film solar cell industry, which is the most rapidly growing solar industry. The proposed development will increase the conversion efficiency of thin film solar panels, resulting in lower cost, increased solar technology adoption, reduced carbon emissions, and reduced dependency on foreign oil.

AccuStrata’s system measures the optical properties of layers as they are being deposited on a panel in real time as the panel moves throughout the manufacturing line. The measurements are performed seamlessly by miniature fiber optic sensors installed at specific locations in the production line. The proposed software acquires the measured data from the sensors, compares them with the target performance, provides real-time data analysis, and generates messages and corrective actions for each solar panel. As a result, the manufacturing process can be changed to adapt to the actual conditions on the panel under deposition and ensure that each panel will be corrected in real time to meet its product specification.

During Phase I, AccuStrata will develop the software and validate it in a solar cell manufacturer’s facility. In a later development, the system will be incorporated into the product line to take automatic corrective actions without human involvement.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, EPA, solar panels, thin film solar panels, optical control system, fiber optic sensors, real-time data analysis, solar technology, carbon emissions, solar panel manufacturing, intelligent manufacturing process,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final