Joint interview with Susana Soto, R&D Mechanical Engineer at Mondragon Assembly, and Delphine Petri, R&D Engineer at CSEM

HIPERION Project Newsletter n°4

Delphine Petri (left) and Susana Soto (right) at the HIPERION General Assembly meeting in Mondragon, October 2021.

Question 1 (Q1): Susana and Delphine, could you please introduce yourselves?

Answer 1 (A1) / Susana: I was born in Mondragon, in the Basque Country, 48 years ago. It is a place surrounded by mountains and nature, but there is also a lot of industry, and I was particularly attracted to mechanical and automation technology. I studied Technical Engineering, with a focus on Mechanical Design, at Mondragon Unibertsitatea (Spain). After that, I obtained a Higher Engineering degree at the École centrale de Nantes (France), with a specialisation in Conception, Manufacturing and Production. In 1997, I joined the Mondragon Assembly team as a designer in the technical department and carried out different functions over the following 12 years, such as mechanical designer, project manager, manager of large-scale projects; furthermore, I have been in charge of the drawing-up of technical proposals as well as the financial studies of those proposed solutions. For the last 12 years, I have been a member of the Innovation and Development team at Mondragon Assembly, which is dedicated to the management of innovative projects and/or innovative sectors for the company. I have been simultaneously participating in mechanical design tasks in a variety of innovation projects, including European ones.

A1 / Delphine: I have always been interested in science, so I naturally chose to study at EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, where I read material sciences. I was fascinated by the variety of possibilities and the potential for progress in this field. As I am particularly sensitive to the issues related to environment and climate change, I decided to specialize in energy for my master’s degree. I got hooked on solid-state physics and semiconductor materials, which made me want to go into photovoltaics. During my master’s degree internship, I collaborated with the start-up Insolight on the development of a solar concentrator. After obtaining my diploma, I was hired at CSEM, Switzerland, in 2019 as an R&D Engineer. Currently, I oversee the hybrid solar panels’ development in HIPERION, and in parallel, I am the leader of the work package dedicated to the pilot production line installation, hosting, and operations.


Q2: Mondragon Assembly is an international group in the automated assembly and equipment sector. How was Mondragon Assembly involved in HIPERION? What are the strengths of Mondragon Assembly within the HIPERION consortium?

A2 / Susana: Mondragon Assembly has two business units, one dedicated to developing tailor-made machinery, and the second one devoted to solar manufacturing equipment. Currently, Mondragon Assembly is a benchmark in solar manufacturing technology. We started our solar photovoltaic activities back in 2000 by developing tabber stringers and process automation for BPSolar. Mondragon Assembly has since then supplied equipment for crystalline silicon technology, CPV technology, CIGS technology and organic photovoltaic technology. HIPERION partner Insolight kindly offered us the possibility to develop new equipment concepts, devoted to the production of a new PV module architecture. After a few discussions, we were very excited about the idea and joined the HIPERION consortium. Mondragon Assembly offers an in-depth knowledge about all PV manufacturing processes, as well as solid experience in tailor made machinery business, where all kinds of sectors are served (automotive, medical, electrical, household, etc.). This access to solar background and tailor-made machines makes Mondragon Assembly the right fit for the HIPERION project.


Q3: Susana, you are part of Mondragon Assembly’s team, who leads the work package “Module – assembly method and tests”. What are the objectives of this work package? Why is it key with regard to the project outcomes?

A3 / Susana: In the work package “Module – assembly method and tests”, the main objective is to develop the required equipment for the automated assembly and quality control of the modules. These modules are being developed in another work package, entitled “Design optimization for assembly, costs and norms”, which deals with the design of the module. Mondragon Assembly, in close collaboration with Insolight and UPM, is in charge of the whole process of developing the pre-industrial tools, from their design to commissioning at CSEM. These pre-industrial tools will serve as a blueprint of the future industrial scale-up. This is a key activity with regard to the future impact of the HIPERION, as it enables to develop and validate at pilot scale the required manufacturing process for the HIPERION disruptive modules.


Q4: Delphine, you are the leader of the work package “Pilot production line installation, hosting and operations”. What are the main objectives and challenges of this work?

A4 / Delphine: The objective is to build and operate a pilot production line hosted at CSEM, based on the materials, equipment, and processes developed in the other work packages, to demonstrate the new technology developed by Insolight. On the one hand, I have led the set up the pilot-line which will host the pilot-production equipment, as well as coordinated the supply chain of consumables and products in collaboration with all the partners and external suppliers. On the other hand, I was responsible for operating the pilot-line, such that the first series of assembled modules can be delivered, demonstrating performance and throughput while providing modules for reliability qualification and in-field testing. For this purpose, it was necessary to find a new laboratory, so I managed the renovation work according to the requirements of each machine and the space needed. Furthermore, I coordinated the installation of the various machines with the equipment manufacturers (UPM and Mondragon). Regarding the production of the 100m2 of assembled modules, the prototype modules are currently being built, and the next major challenge is the transfer of processes to the module producer 3S Solar Plus. As we move from manual manufacturing to industrial production of a larger volume of modules, all the logistics, including transport, storage, and characterization of the solar modules are being put in place. Last but not least, another very important challenge has been to cope with the delays caused by the COVID-19 crisis.


Q5: What are CSEM’s key assets to lead the work package “Pilot production line installation, hosting and operations”?

A5: / Delphine: CSEM has global expertise in various PV fabrication processes, from cell to module technology, including thin film, crystalline silicon, perovskite, and heterojunction. The photovoltaic division has it all, from a full infrastructure and expertise in design, manufacturing, and qualifying photovoltaic cells, modules, and systems to accelerated aging facilities for reliability testing. Furthermore, CSEM has long-term experience in leading projects, from small-scale local projects to large-scale international projects with a focus on transfer to industry. CSEM has for instance put in place pilot-lines and full production lines for the manufacturing of PV devices for watches, as well as pilot line manufacturing of special lightweight PV products for applications in transport, mobility and exploration.


Q6: Delphine and Susana, CSEM and Mondragon Assembly teams closely worked on the pilot line design, which is now achieved. How were the tasks split between you? Would you say that the results are in line with the expectations? Have you encountered any specific challenges?

A6 / Delphine: The tasks are very well defined in the Grant Agreement. Mondragon oversees the design, conception, and manufacturing of the machines, whereas CSEM is responsible for the installation and operation of the pilot-line to manufacture the modules. The delays caused by the COVID-19 crisis severely affected Mondragon, and we had to work together to find solutions to meet the project milestones.

A6 / Susana: As Mondragon Assembly is responsible for the execution of the machines, and CSEM is responsible for the location and management of the pilot line, we have had to closely work together to be able to design machines that are compliant with both the HIPERION project requirements and also with CSEM requirements as a final user. The results are expected to be in line with what was planned, i.e., the manufacture of machines with a very low tolerance and high repeatability. Both the definition of the process and its automation have required learning by the Mondragon Assembly team. Indeed, two new control methods have been developed in the characterization bench, whereas in the other two machines it has been necessary to apply processes that are not usual on the standard machines manufactured by Mondragon Assembly, for example plasma treatment.


Q7: Susana and Delphine, what are the main next steps for Mondragon Assembly and CSEM towards the installation and hosting of the pilot line?

A7 / Susana: Especially from now on, Mondragon Assembly and CSEM will need to be regularly communicating, firstly to prepare the space devoted to the machines at CSEM, and secondly to fulfil the machines requirements in terms of electricity, compressed air, etc. Once the machines will be delivered to CSEM, and the commissioning will start, Mondragon Assembly will train CSEM team on how to operate the machines. Even after that step, Mondragon Assembly will remain available to support CSEM in case any issues may arise concerning the pilot line.

A7 / Delphine: To add to what Susana just mentioned, CSEM and Mondragon Assembly will have to coordinate the transfer of the machines with all the administrative tasks that this entails (packing, organizing the transporter, customs, installation, etc.). To support this transition process, Mondragon Assembly will provide CSEM with mentors to train our colleagues on the machines.


 Q8: How does the work within HIPERION correlate to contemporary trends in industry? How does Mondragon Assembly plan to bridge the gap from the lab to the market?

A8 / Susana: Currently, the photovoltaic market is experiencing a kind of “small revolution”. During almost 10 years, the PV industry has evolved quite slow in technology, but very rapidly in cost reduction. Over the last two years, PV cell and PV module technologies are radically changing. The main changes are driven by new cell technologies coming to the market (HJT, TOPCON, ZEBRA, etc.) as well as by new PV module configurations. Half cells are becoming the standard, and module sizes are increasing until ~600W/module. As a matter of fact, very high-power modules are hitting the market and becoming available. The HIPERION project, with its 30% target efficiency, is aligned with these new trends of high-power modules, and I would say, is coming in the right timing. Mondragon Assembly will develop the entire manufacturing processes not existing today for the manufacturing of the HIPERON modules. These will be validated at pilot line level, in close cooperation with Insolight and CSEM. This pilot line will serve as an optimizing platform, which will be used for getting the product and the technology closer to industrial deployment.


Q9: How will CSEM benefit from the innovations developed within HIPERION?

A9 / Delphine: HIPERION allows us to develop our knowledge in emerging fields, like microtracking, print-on-glass, tandem module architecture, etc. These modules raise many new challenges from the metrological point of view due to the separation of direct and diffuse light components but also regarding their fabrication reliability. The hybrid nature of these modules requires specific developments at every level from the cell to the field operations, and this will be useful for other developments in other applications, such as agrivoltaics or BIPV (Building Integrated Photovoltaics).


Q10: It is a matter of fact that women are underrepresented in the field of engineering. Based on your experience and career, what could help to progress towards a more gender-balanced occupation in this field?

A10 / Delphine: In my engineering school, approx. 25% of students were women, which in my opinion explains to a large extent why women are under-represented in technical fields, i.e., because there are not enough women being trained in scientific fields. In my professional life, I am fortunate that CSEM is very attentive to gender equality and supports women and men to help them reconcile their careers with their family life. I think that to move towards a more gender-balanced profession, we need to increase the interest of young girls in technical fields from school onwards so that we can train a larger proportion of women in scientific and engineering fields in the future. I also believe that at the political level, the length of paternity leave should be increased so that the employer is no longer disadvantaged when hiring a woman.

A10 / Susana: Although the number of women is indeed much lower than the number of men in the different work teams in which I have participated, I am optimistic because I have seen this ratio improve. When I was a student, I was the only woman in many classes. During my professional experiences, it happened quite a few times to be mistaken for an assistant; my interlocutors were then surprised to find out that me, a woman, was actually the supervisor. My feeling is that things are changing over the last years, both in society as a whole and in this field of industry more particularly. Nevertheless, I would like to encourage women to be more daring and never give up doing what they are passionate about, despite the difficulties they might encounter on their path.



DISCLAIMER: The information, statements and opinions in the above interview are personal views of the individuals involved in the HIPERION project and do not necessarily reflect the views of the HIPERION consortium as a whole, nor of the European Commission. None of them shall be liable for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.

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