Success Story: Equipment Integration for Advanced Process Control and Production Management

Executive Summary

AZUR SPACE Solar Power GmbH is paving the way for its digitalization and Industry 4.0 strategy with the help of SMARTUNIFIER. By incrementally integrating all its production equipment and collecting high amounts of complex process data in real-time means that AZUR SPACE will be able to continue improving its high-end production processes and increase its already high-end quality to new levels.

About the Customer

AZUR SPACE is the European leader and a global player in the development and production of multi-junction solar cells for space PV and terrestrial CPV applications. Based on nearly 50 years’ experience in space solar cell technology, AZUR SPACE brings back from space its latest photovoltaic technology for terrestrial applications. Its state-of-the-art solar cells offer high efficiencies, small temperature coefficients and excellent power-to-mass ratio.

For AZUR SPACE, quality is a commitment reaching every level, starting with the responsibility of every employee up to any action executed by the management board. The objectives of AZUR SPACE are continuous improvement and total customer satisfaction. The quality of the space products of AZUR SPACE is per ESA and NASA specifications and specifications of all European and primary international customers. All CPV products are manufactured following the IEC standards.

Customer Challenge: Full IT Integration to improve production quality and performance

As a significant step for its digitalization strategy, AZUR SPACE strongly drives the 100% IT integration of their complex photovoltaics equipment with its production data base and production management system. Currently, equipment and process data are collected locally at shop floor level using semi-automated data collection processes and manual data inputs. The target is to migrate this legacy procedure into a fully automated data collection approach using modern Industry 4.0 architectures and applications.

From a business perspective, AZUR SPACE strives to even further increase its already high-end product quality by being able to apply real-time process control and analytics. As a precondition for this approach, significant amounts of complex equipment and process data need to be acquired, transformed and transferred from equipment to upper-level production IT systems for them to be analyzed and further processed. Like with many other manufacturers, also at AZUR SPACE the production equipment is purchased from a variety of different specialized vendors. Depending on equipment type and supplier, it is required to cope with various communication protocols and formats.

Why SMARTUNIFIER and Amorph Systems

“Amorph’s SMARTUNIFIER platform was chosen by AZUR SPACE because of its unique capabilities to easily and rapidly provide seamless interconnectivity to the various shop floor equipment installed within AZUR SPACE’s production plant. The possibility to start small by beginning with the integration of only a small number of equipment (or even one single equipment) and then step by step to scale up to 100% equipment integration rate, has been seen as a unique advantage of the SMARTUNIFIER platform.” – Jürgen Heizmann, CEO AZUR SPACE Solar Power GmbH.

The Solution

AZUR SPACE uses SMARTUNIFIER as OT-IT-Gateway to seamlessly integrate their photovoltaic production equipment with northbound business IT systems using different communication protocols and formats. A distributed set of locally deployed SMARTUNIFIER instances are applied to perform the required data collection tasks at shop floor level.

Therefore, southbound various CSV and SEMI SECS communication channels have been configured to acquire the production data from the production equipment. SMARTUNIFIER is taking over the part to collect the raw data locally at the edge, to enrich it with semantics, to transform the data as required for analytics, and to forward it instantly to AZUR SPACE’s process data base and production data management system. In the future, AZUR SPACE is now planning to iteratively expand their shopfloor connectivity by integrating more and more shop floor equipment (e.g. sorters, coaters, lithography, cleaning) and IT-systems. Moreover, AZUR SPACE intends to use SMARTUNIFIER to provide connectivity with the other way around: by using SMARTUNIFIER’s built-in features to push equipment control data (e.g. parameters, recipes, commands) to shop floor equipment in real-time using communication protocols like OPC-UA and others.

Results and Benefits

Using SMARTUNIFIER, AZUR SPACE is able to rapidly implement seamless interconnectivity between their shop floor equipment and the northbound business IT systems. Instead of locally collecting shop floor data and manually entering it into distributed databases, a fully automatic and highly performant data transfer is possible with minimum effort. Due to SMARTUNIFIER’s built-in information model repository, full reusability of created interfaces is provided. At AZUR SPACE, SMARTUNIFIER has proven its capabilities to provide simple, standardized, and fast interconnectivity of different production equipment, to achieve the highest possible product quality at a new level and to boost AZUR SPACE’s competitiveness.