North Vancouver, Canada, January 15, 2020 – Aurora Solar Technologies Inc. (TSX.V: ACU) (the “Company”) provides a comprehensive review and update on the development of its InsightTM data science product for solar cell production yield optimization. The Insight product is being designed as an innovative platform to maximize solar cell manufacturing yield and extend Aurora’s business to include software solutions capable of generating a recurring revenue stream.
The Company has completed key milestones in the development of the Insight product including:
- Development of proprietary algorithms to “mine” the end-of-line data
- Addition of a new end-of-line test that increases the resolution and accuracy of Insight’s analysis
- Development and testing of wafer path tracking tools
- Extensive field testing and refinement of the technology
Since 2018, successive versions of the technology have been tested and applied within the production facility of one of Aurora’s long-standing customers. Recently a second customer trial site has been added for further testing and qualification.
Insight – Aurora’s data science product for top-quality solar cell production
Aurora’s InsightTM is a novel product using proprietary algorithms to evaluate the large volumes of data collected during solar cell fabrication. The product evaluates these data to inform the manufacturer – in real time – how well its production equipment is performing, where problems may be occurring, or where yield might be improved, with potential benefits in the millions of dollars per plant. Aurora has been developing Insight with the cooperation of two lead customers and our research partners since 2018, and the initial version of this product is now planned for introduction in the second half of 2020.
Quality variations in the complex solar cell fabrication processes reduce plant yield and throughput
A solar cell manufacturing plant contains an extensive set of specialized equipment to process raw silicon wafers into finished cells. This equipment includes raw material testing stations, wet chemical systems to clean, texture and etch wafer surfaces, specialized high-temperature furnaces for atomic diffusion or annealing, chemical layer deposition devices, printing machinery, various wafer handling systems, and cell performance testers/sorters. Due to the complexity of the process, differences in raw materials, equipment failures, process control fluctuations and/or operator errors, each of the billions of solar cells manufactured each year will vary in colour and in their ability to capture light and convert it into electrical energy.
Without continuous monitoring, adjustments and maintenance to ensure product specifications are met, the quality of the finished products will vary excessively and ultimately degrade profit margins.
And current quality control methods do not resolve all of these problems, holding back considerable potential profit
For most cell manufacturers the underlying material and process variations are often hidden or difficult to detect using traditional techniques such as inline instrumentation or offline laboratory tests. This is because some critical-to-quality properties cannot be measured inline, and a laboratory cannot always replicate the conditions that develop and evolve in the production equipment. These experiments also require a temporary reduction in plant throughput, which reduces the volume of sellable products, while still consuming raw materials. Additionally, these experiments are costly in terms of time and the use of skilled resources for experiment design and results analysis. Consequently, many operators limit experiments and live with product variations to maximize production throughput.
How Insight works
In all solar cell manufacturing plants, at the end of a production line, each finished cell is tested to determine its colour and electrical characteristics. The results of these tests are used to categorize and sort the cells for their use as the electricity-generating elements within solar panels. The power-producing capability of a cell determines its saleable value.
Besides categorization of each finished cell, embedded in the results of these end-of-line tests is a continuous stream of implicit data about the raw material quality and the performance of the various pieces of equipment in the manufacturing plant. With many tens of millions of cells being produced every year in a typical plant, this represents an enormous amount of information – available in real-time for immediate and continuous use in optimizing plant yield.
Up to now, the equipment performance data embedded in the end-of-line cell tests has been hidden due to a lack of computational techniques to uncover and interpret it. With Insight, Aurora has developed those techniques and woven them into a novel portfolio of analytical tools that exploit the patterns and variations seen in the large volumes of end-of-line cell testing data. Insight’s tools improve and automate the following critical actions:
- Identification of the yield of each piece of equipment in their plant, and how this yield changes and evolves over time
- Discovery of the raw material routing paths through equipment that collectively produce the highest and lowest yields
- Isolation of difficult-to-identify causes of poor performance or high variation in process equipment
- Testing and examination of potential yield-increasing changes in material or processes while minimizing the need for laborious and throughput-reducing experiments
- Increasing the speed of ramp-up of new production lines or equipment
All of the above features are designed to allow production engineers to achieve both maximum throughput and the highest possible yield in the plant.
The Company has now completed the following steps toward product release:
- Development of proprietary algorithms to “mine” the end-of-line data. This involved the extension of existing manufacturing data research in the solar cell field, and development of statistical techniques to determine the causal interactions among material and electronic properties that determine the voltage, current and electrical resistance of each finished solar cell.
- Addition of a new end-of-line test that increases the resolution and accuracy of Insight’s analysis.
- Development and testing of wafer path tracking tools to enable allocation of analytical results to specific equipment.
- Extensive testing and refinement of the technology. Recently a second customer trial site has been added for further testing and qualification. Ongoing testing and development continue with the support of these two solar cell manufacturers.
As the product completes testing and final development, the Company is focused on user interface design and testing with customers as well as the development and execution of standard use cases and operation procedures.
The Company’s long-term vision for Insight is to create a new industry standard for quality control and measurement in the solar cell manufacturing market. Insight is targeted for general release to the market in the second half of 2020 with initial introduction to key strategic customers and will be packaged as a server-based product, co-located in the customers’ production facilities. It will be marketed to customers by Aurora on an annual subscription basis.
About Aurora Solar Technologies:
Aurora Solar Technologies is a leader in the development and delivery of inline process measurement, analysis and control systems for solar cell manufacturers. We believe that solar power will dominate the renewable energy field, and our mission is to bring quality and profitability to every customer through superior control of critical processes during solar cell manufacturing.
Aurora’s products are used by some of the world’s most advanced and respected solar cell manufacturers. With headquarters near Vancouver, Canada, Aurora has operations in Shanghai, China and partners in all major solar manufacturing markets. Aurora is a public company, traded on the TSX Venture Exchange (ACU) and is a two-time TSX-V Top 50 winner. Aurora’s website is located at www.aurorasolartech.com.
For further information contact:
Gordon Deans, P.Eng.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Aurora Solar Technologies Inc.
Phone: +1 (778) 241-5000
Neither the TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in the policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release.