New Way Air Bearings is no stranger to the flat panel display (FPD) sector, as well as the energy production sector as a whole. This is why we see immense potential for the application of our Porous Media™ air bearings in the production of solar glass panels and solar cells. As the world goes green in response to climate change, the increasingly friendly economics of renewable energy sources is making them a clear area for growth. As a result, the demand for the availability of solar panels will only increase in the coming years.
The Potential of Air Bearings in Solar Glass Panel Production
Currently accounting for 3% of US electrical production, solar is expected to account for 20% by 2050. Solar panels are often an economical choice for consumers, as well as businesses looking to turn their real estate and parking lots into a source of power. Of course, we are also seeing utilities companies producing solar energy on the industrial scale.
Solar panels are produced through a complex cleanroom process, not unlike that which produces semiconductors. This necessitates the same levels of precise, controlled conveyance which is expected within the FPD sector. The manufacturing process requires controlled conditions and motion technology resistant to particle infiltration, all of which air bearings naturally deliver.
During the production of the solar cells within the panel, a cylindrical “ingot” is sliced into wafers, similarly to how semiconductor wafers are formed. This process uses a saw to slice the wafers, generating substantial silicon dust called kerf. The bearings used for these wafer saws are often of a sealed and deep-grooved variety, designed to resist infiltration. Innovations to roller bearings can help, but only to a point. Manufacturer NSK claimed to reduce a customer’s yearly bearing replacements from 384 down to “only” 192. What if you can reduce it to zero?
The Benefits of New Way Products for Solar Glass
Here at New Way, we constantly develop new uses for our Porous Media Technology. This past year we were proud to unveil the New-Seal™ for rotary applications in particulate laden environments. The New-Seal makes use of an air bearing inside a flanged housing. This bearing faces a runner with an O-ring and an oversized spacer, which itself backs onto a second air bearing.
The positive pressure exerted against the shaft and the O-ring generates a fluid cushion to enable Frictionless Motion®️ while also generating a positive pressure force strong enough to repel fluid or particle infiltration into the bearing, up to 35 PSI. Semiconductor saws built on New-Seal bearings would automatically resist particle infiltrations by their very nature, and offer an easily maintainable motion technology.
For the cleanroom compliance which solar panel production demands, air bearings are by their very nature cleanroom compliant. As a result of the microperforated porous carbon, air bearings act as a sub micron filter,removing almost all potential particulates which might enter through their air supply. Per internal New Way testing, our bearings handily exceed ISO Class 3, and even meet ISO Class 1 standards, allowing only three (3) 0.1 𝜇m/m3 particles into the test chamber, when normalized for volume.
During the conveyance and transport stage of production, the glass sheets which protect the solar cells are assembled. To provide the optimal level of safety and control, New Way offers our air bars for your consideration. Air bars come in 4 varieties, and have long been prized by the flat panel display and glass sectors as an alternative method to roller conveyors.
Air bars use positive pressure to float the substrate over the bearing surface, while our specialty lines of Transition, High Speed and Precision Zone air bears combine positive pressure with vacuum grooves in order to adjust flatness control, and maintain the fly height you desire.
Air bars are also crash resistant. In the event of power loss during transport of your products, the bearing surface will gradually depressurize, causing your panels to gently settle against the surface. This is superior to the abrupt drop which one might expect from other bearing failures, even orifice air bearings.
Quality assurance and metrology is as important as any step in the manufacturing process, which is why our air bearings and bushings have long been used as the foundation for coordinate measuring machines. During the inspection of solar cells and panels, our bearings offer your metrology stages a hysteresis free motion stage, which can easily be configured for XY gantry motion.
Make the Difference in Your Flat Panel Manufacturing Process
No matter your application or need, Porous Media air bearings offer unique benefits to the solar panel manufacturing sector. Want to learn more or ready to get started? Contact us today to see what New Way can do for you!