Phoenix Contact Unveils Rooftop Solar System

Seth Godin initiated a project that has enlisted many volunteers from many countries called The Carbon Almanac. You can get yours soon. I thought I could contribute from the point of view of manufacturing and industrial production. I couldn’t get any information in time to contribute. However, I have had a couple of sustainability reports in the past month. Here is one from Phoenix Contact which has installed a nearly 1-megawatt array that will produce 30% of facility’s energy needs.

“We estimate this solar power installation will reduce our electricity costs by approximately $150,000 per year. While a smart business choice for us, reducing our company’s carbon footprint is more important in the long term,” said Jack Nehlig, president of Phoenix Contact USA. “Sustainability and renewable power generation are at the heart of Phoenix Contact’s vision for an All Electric Society. This is one critical step on our journey to becoming a carbon-neutral company by 2030.”

Phoenix Contact partnered with Gatter & Diehl Consulting Engineers and Terrasol Energies, Inc. to design the rooftop solar array. Phoenix Contact designed and installed the monitoring portion of the system, which features numerous Phoenix Contact products. 

Terrasol Energies, Inc. also installed the solar array on the roof of Phoenix Contact’s Logistics Center for the Americas last year. The solar array consists of 2,185 SunPower photovoltaic panels, which can generate up to 961 kilowatts. A $250,000 PEDA restart grant and a $270,000 grant from the PPL ACT 129 fund helped offset the $1.8 million investment into the solar array.  

In 2014, Phoenix Contact installed a 1-megawatt Combined Cooling Heating and Power (CCHP) facility. The system provides 65 percent of the facility’s energy needs and saves the company more than $300,000 annually. With the CCHP and the solar array, Phoenix Contact will generate enough energy to go off the grid on sunny days during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). 

Sustainability and the Circular Economy

That 2,800th post was not supposed to be the last for a while. I had an attack of seasonal allergies that sapped all my energy for several days. Finally about back to normal. I know about wearing masks for Covid and flu prevention. Seasonal allergies (pollen) are another good reason to wear a mask.

Speaking of the environment (OK, this is bad segue) I have a news item that came a couple of weeks ago relative to the circular economy. That is, reusing products we’d otherwise dispose of in a toxic manner. Here is a company called Assurant that just acquired Hyla and its sustainability in manufacturing activities. It has several plants that refurbish mobile phones for trade-ins.

**I’d like to plug a project at this point that I thought I’d get involved in to write from a manufacturing point of view. The Carbon Almanac tells stories and gives tips for saving the planet. Check it out. Spread the word.**

More than ever, the output from our circular economy – a systems framework that addresses global environmental challenges including waste and pollution – continues to have a markedly positive effect on our planet. Within that, businesses who prioritize CSR by mitigating e-waste through responsible recycling of mobile devices have contributed a significant impact to this positive outcome.

Just a couple of years ago, the extent of the relationship consumers had with their carrier or retailer was limited to purchasing add-ons to their current service in the vein of an upsell model. But the consumer needs often ended there in terms of any additional requirements. Fast forward to 2022: now the consumer wants to know just where the phone goes when they’re done with it. 3G sunsetting is now shining a light on new opportunities for CSR when it comes to sustainability and if carriers and retailers do not take note, it is a missed opportunity. By the end of 2022, the majority of wireless carriers will either have already completed the process of shutting down, or sunsetting, of their 3G networks or will have started the process of doing so.

Technology and Processing (TaP) Center is the nucleus of its operations, as it is the place where pre-owned devices are received, graded and resold into the global secondary device market. 

The TaP Center receives and processes over six million devices per year, and this figure is set to rise as continuous innovations and efficiency gains drive increased demand on the facility.

The TaP Center facilitates the end-to-end processing of pre-owned devices efficiently. These steps include: 

  • Device receipt and validation 
  • Device identification
  • Data clearing
  • Functional testing
  • Cosmetic grading
  • Repairs 
  • Parts salvaging  
  • Warehousing/inventory management 
  • Device resale 
  • Sustainability management 

Furthermore, the secondary device market is one that continues to grow and has displayed its resilience even despite the COVID-19 pandemic. While IDC reports that the worldwide market for secondhand devices will be worth $65 million by 2024, with a compound annual growth rate of 11.2% over the next three years, Gartner found a 24% increase in refurbished phone sales during the first quarter of 2020.

The patent pending HYLA Vision Tunnel was developed for cosmetic grading. Unlike other grading and processing technology, it has been designed by those working in industrial and manufacturing environments, which means it has been built with speed and simplicity in mind, and adapted to the needs of this specific industry. Vision Tunnel is also designed with operational efficiency in mind with virtually no training required for in-warehouse personnel.

Vision Tunnel uses AI technology to evaluate and analyze each device. It will take up to seven images of each pre-owned device to determine its grade. This means HYLA has over 1,000,000 high quality 4K images that it uses to continuously train its AI technology, which ensures it grades devices with 99% accuracy.

The beauty of Vision Tunnel is that it simplifies and speeds up device processing. It minimizes manual labor, which means it is less prone to human error, while at the same time delivering consistent and reliable results

Solving Manufacturing Problems Case Study

Working on the factory floor early in my career taught me how much typical manufacturing workers know and care about the company’s products. Consultants came from time to time, studied, rearranged, left. Not much useful happened. But the individual guys (in those days) on the line knew more about what was going on than most of the supervisors and all of management.

Therefore, an opportunity to talk with Paul Vragel, Founder and President of 4aBetterBusiness in Evanston, IL to discuss his experiences as a project engineer and integrator was too good to pass up. After all, the values he learned and still implements include these:

  • Listen to people
  • Engage employees
  • Respect
  • Ask everyone to look for problems with no fault issued
  • Assume employees have needed knowledge

Vragel told me, “My initial education and experience is in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering – that is, ship design and construction. Building a ship involves building a hotel, a restaurant, a huge warehouse and a power plant, putting them all together, putting a propeller on it and sending it out on the ocean where there are no service stations. Ship design and construction is essentially a demanding, large-scale systems engineering project.”

After graduation from Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, he worked at Newport News Shipbuilding. After a year, 2 prior graduates of Webb Institute, working for Amoco Corporation, hired him, at the age of 22, to manage ship construction programs in Spain. “A couple weeks after I was hired, I was on a plane to Spain with my instruction set being, essentially, ‘figure out what you’re supposed to do, and do that’ ”.

After a year, one of the earlier ships built in the series came in to Lisbon for its guarantee drydocking and inspection. When we opened one of the crankshaft bearings of the 30,000 hp main diesel engine, we saw the bearing material, which was supposed to be in the bearing, was lying on the crankshaft journal, in pieces.

Talk about a complex situation—the ship was built by a company controlled by the Spanish Government. They were the holder of the guarantee. The engine was built by a different company, also controlled by the Spanish Government. Amoco had a contract with the shipyard, not the engine builder. And the engine was built under license from a company in Denmark.

Vragel was there as an observer for the new construction department. The ship was under the control of the operations department. I had no authority and no staff reporting to me. “I had no technical knowledge of poured metal bearings in high-powered diesel engines, I didn’t speak Portuguese or Spanish, I was 23 years old, and the instruction from my boss was very simple: ‘Fix It!’ To add to the urgency of the ship being out of service, the shipyard in Lisbon, where the ship was located, was charging $30,000/day (about $250,000 in today’s dollars), just for being there.”

Vragel went to the engine builder in Spain who said, “We don’t think we have a problem – we think the Danes have a problem. They designed the engine, we just built it according to their instructions.”

Figuring that getting the Danish engineers down to Spain for a meeting wouldn’t be productive, he decided the only thing to do was to go into the plant and talk to the people who made the bearings. One problem – they only spoke Spanish, and he only spoke English. But there are lots of ways to communicate if you really want to. “I observed what they were doing, pointed, asked a lot of questions – they learned a little English, I learned a little Spanish – and we sketched out how the bearings were made.”

After a couple of days, he thought he had figured out the cause of the problem, but “I had the good sense to shut up. While our communication had become pretty good, I was sure that there were other parts of the process they knew about that we hadn’t touched on that might be part of the problem or solution. If I just told them what I thought, everything would stop there without awareness of those elements and we wouldn’t get an effective solution. But if I could work with them through the process so they saw the issues, the employees would bring those additional elements to the table. We would have a full understanding of the system, the employees would be part of the solution. In this way, employees would have ownership in the results.”

“And that’s exactly what happened. With a little more effort we found and fixed the causes of the problem (which was causing porosity in the bearing).”

I had no authority, no technical expertise, no staff, I was 23 years old, I didn’t speak Portuguese or Spanish, and in a few days, working cross language and cross culture in an overseas plant I had never seen in a technology in which I had no experience, we together achieved a solution that permanently raised their manufacturing capability – that they owned.

This key formative experience led to the beliefs on which 4aBetter Business was founded:

  • We believe that employees are the world’s experts at knowing what they actually do every day – their local systems
  • We believe that 90% of the issues in a company are embedded in the way these local systems work and work together

This lesson applies to 22-year-olds and 52-year-olds alike. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own ideas that we overlook an obvious source of great expertise.

Solar Power From The Fabric In Your Tent Or Awning

One of this week’s more intriguing conversations centered on solar power from your canopy, awning, or tent with Pvilion CEO Colin Touhey. 

Maybe in these post-Covid days of rediscovered al fresco dining, you may be able to have a fine meal under a tent with lighting and outlets to charge your mobile device powered by solar cells in the fabric of the tent. Or perhaps thinking of work, you need temporary coverage of an area for work or storage. And electrical power is required. Maybe many volts and amps. Same scenario. Pvilion products, er, cover a fascinating range of use cases. I’ve included a general background of Pvilion and its technology plus use cases from the New York Botanical Garden and a Home Depot location.

Pvilion Solar Fabric

What is Pvilion?

(from an essay by Director of Marketing Jill Gettinger) Pvilion integrates solar cells into fabric, producing products that when exposed to the sun, generate electricity. Pvilion can take any surface that receives sunlight, cover it with this fabric and produce electricity, providing flexible structures that can be powered independent from the electricity grid.

The more technical name for Pvilion’s offerings is flexible photovoltaic (PV) solar fabric products and structures and behind the simplicity is a 10-year-old partnership between Colin Touhey, an electrical engineer and CEO of Pvilion, and fabric industry veterans Todd Dalland, a pioneering designer and inventor in the field of lightweight structures, and Robert Lerner, AIA, an architect who has led new technology development programs involving lightweight, deployable structures for NASA, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. The three connected when they were working on integrating photovoltaic cells with fabric for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Pvilion’s roots go back more than 20 years when Dalland and Lerner developed the first photovoltaic tent. That the tent was easy to deploy, flexible and self-powered piqued the attention of the military, which led to research and development funding from the U.S. Army.

Military deployments during this time further increased product demand as forward operating bases needed to be setup quickly in places where there was no grid, and it was difficult to setup up traditional power generators.

At the same time, mobile device usage, cell phones, laptops, handheld computers, was taking off. The mobile purpose of these devices meant they often needed to be powered where access to a traditional grid source was not available. To meet this need, Pvilion developed the Solar Sail, a small solar canopy that resembles a sail, hence the name, which can be easily deployed in public spaces and at outdoor gatherings, e.g., sporting events, concerts, parks, weddings,et cetera. Once deployed and receiving sun light, it generates power that can be tapped into to charge mobile devices.

Concern for the environment also came into play as solar power’s proven advantage over fossil fuels is that its use leaves no carbon footprint. As a result, environmentally conscious corporations and public entities, like schools, began installing Pvilion’s solar power canopy structures to meet both short- and long-term needs while avoiding the costs, environmental damage, and time associated with erecting and running permanent structures tied into the local power grid.

What started out as a solar powered tent has evolved into a product range covering standalone USB charging stations and easy to erect temporary structures, including canopies and awnings, all solar powered.

The easiest way to understand what Pvilion does is to look at one of its signature products: The Solar Sail Canopy, a free-standing canopy that can be erected anywhere that receives sunlight: parks, university campuses, bus stands or in any public setting, and used to recharge mobile devices. The Solar Sail Canopy is available in (3) versions: a Single Pole Solar Sail, a Double Pole Solar Sail that can be used as a solar powered shelter, e.g., over a bus stop or bench, and a portable Four Pole Canopy for seasonal applications that can be customized to suit an individual space requirement.

Sustainability At New York Botanical Garden

NY Botanic Gardens

Aesthetic appeal is very important to The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), which is why the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) chose NYBG as the launch site for Pvilion’s Solar Powered Canopy structures.

Intended to provide NYBG visitors a place where they can seek shade, enjoy a beverage and recharge their mobile devices, the eight (8) solar canopies, designed, engineered and installed by Pvilion, provide ample space to relax while staying safely socially distanced.

Pvilion provides a fabric that incorporates photovoltaic cells, which generate electricity upon exposure to the sun. As part of New York City’s emission reduction efforts, seven (7) of the canopies contribute energy directly to the city’s power grid. One (1) structure powers a bank of batteries used by NYBG and by Botanical Garden visitors to charge their mobile phones and other cellular devices.

The solar canopies are a pilot project operated by Pvilion and the Innovative Demonstrations for Energy Adaptability (IDEA) Program, an initiative of the City of New York’s Division of Energy Management. The program encourages businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs to create transformative opportunities and to foster a culture of innovation. The goal is to find solutions to the challenges facing manufacturers and businesses through partnerships with private sector business entities, with emphasis placed on technology to help the City reduce carbon emissions.

Pvilion’s Solar-Powered Fabric Products are fully turn-key solutions that provide energy in any location where fabric is exposed to the sun. Pvilion integrates its fabric technology into a wide range of applications. The technology eliminates the need of having two (2) separate systems: fabric shade/shelter and solar panels. Instead, Pvilion integrates the solar power into its fabric to achieve one turn-key product that provides charging, lighting, ventilation, climate control all in an easy to install manner. Pvilion has delivered high quality products for customers like Google, Tommy Hilfiger, Carnegie Hall, Tishman, New York City, Yale Univ, the Florida Dept of Transportation, Bloomberg, The City of Miami, FL and more.

Home Depot Pilot Program to Achieve Sustainable Energy

The Home Depot Rental Center in Geismar, Louisiana, a large industrial building and parking area, serves as the rental equipment preparation and distribution center to surrounding Home Depot stores. Here, equipment is prepared before being sent to Home Depot Superstores upon being rented by customers. The first of over one hundred rental centers planned to be opened throughout the country, Geismar is also the initial location for a Home Depot green pilot energy sustainability program in which Pvilion Solar Canopies will be used to recharge rental equipment batteries.

Pvilion developed and installed its signature product, the Portable Solar Sail Tent, at the Geismar, LA Home Depot. Effectively, a relocatable canopy integrated with solar panels; the Solar Sail can provide sustainable power anywhere that receives sunlight. It lets Home Depot charge its electric rental equipment independently from the local electric grid, eliminating the environmental impact associated with traditional sources of energy and the need to create permanent infrastructure.

The implemented 20 ft x 24 ft structure provides two (2) bays under an angled roof for maximum sun exposure. It is designed to withstand extreme weather conditions yet is flexible for speedy assembly/disassembly. It can provide up to 5 kW of energy and storage for up to five (5) full operational days of energy without sun. In addition to charging rental equipment, the energy provided by the Solar Sail can also be used to power other devices such as cell phones, laptops and lighting.

Dana Adopts Additive Manufacturing For Machine Parts

While I’m on an additive manufacturing theme today, here is some news I picked up revealing additive manufacturing applications at a major manufacturer. It involves Dana, a supplier to the “mobility industry”, namely automotive, commercial vehicle, and off-highway markets.

The problem statement—Dana was seeking a way to expand its engineers’ ability to rapidly ideate and prototype more efficiently and effectively. A team was assembled to explore the opportunities that additive manufacturing could bring.

“Additive is a situation where if you’re not engaged, if you’re not learning, if you’re not driving innovation from it, you’re going to miss the boat,” Terry Hammer, Vice President, Light-Vehicle and Global Core Engineering at Dana. “Dana took a very structured approach to additive manufacturing. We wanted to define the value first.”

The team at Dana had heard about Markforged’s 3D printers and software solution and started exploring the technology as an option. The company invested in two Markforged X7 3D printers and two Metal X systems, putting one of each in Maumee, Ohio and Trento, Italy.

“From the beginning, it was about being able to leverage additive manufacturing to provided more cost-effective replacements for specialized tooling,” says Hammer.

The company now has Markforged 3D printers across seven countries — including Italy, the U.S.A., Canada, Brazil, Germany, India, and China.

When the initiative was approved, Kelly Puckett, Senior Manager of Additive Manufacturing, who has been with Dana for twenty years, was asked to lead the additive manufacturing efforts. “I’m tasked to ensure Dana uses additive more frequently or in a better way,” he says.

Markforged VP of Sales Bryan Painter says that bringing the technology in is just the starting point. “Your need to then think about how you’re going to be successful and the values that you’re going to get if you are successful,” Painter says. “The rest of it is just technology. People and process are really what makes the difference.”

From whiteboard sessions about the deployment plan to the creation of Markforged University — the educational program that aims to teach Markforged users about how to best use its technology — the two companies have collaborated with one another to continuously learn how to improve their businesses.

For Markforged, this collaboration has resulted in the creation of new products and services, as well as improved hardware, software, and professional services — thanks to Dana’s candid feedback. Some notable products and services made possible or better with Dana include Enterprise Eiger, Markforged University, Turbo Print, and Blacksmith. 

More than 150 people from Dana have taken part in Markforged University so far, either in-person or online, meaning that more and more engineers and designers have the tools they need to use their Marforged printers effectively. Andrea Aylward, Additive Manufacturing Engineer at Dana in Canada, says that the team gained a lot from completing Marforged University. “We got a handle on best practices and things to keep in mind when trying to design or adapt a design for additive manufacturing.”

With a large network of Markforged 3D printers at their fingertips, the Dana team can quickly iterate and innovate.

Each manufacturing facility has a different need for additive manufacturing. In Ontario, Canada, the Power Technologies division has used its X7 3D printer to create functional forming dies — stamping sheet metal into proof-of-concept designs that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming to create. This allowed the team to rapidly test products and prepare for customer analysis in a more efficient, scalable way. 

In Italy, Dana’s Off-Highway advanced engineering team can often be found using their Markforged printers for internal tooling and fixtures. 

“The good quality of the composite parts of the X7 opens some very good opportunities in terms of tooling and fixtures,” says Fabrizio Zendri, Advanced Engineering Manager at Dana in Rovereto, Italy. An application Zendri is most proud of is workholding gears that hold parts as they are being processed. At the end of 2020, the fixtures had been in use for over a year without failure and have resulted in 70% cost savings and a 90% reduction in lead time per fixture.

In Maumee, Ohio, each tech center’s additive manufacturing lead joins a monthly meeting with other leads to share findings, ideas, and concerns. Some centers even share designs that are printed in other global locations, and they’re finding new and exciting ways to use their printers. This mindset has set them up for success, according to Marforged’s Cady. “Dana as an organization is going to be able to move faster than many because they’re designing with an additive mindset, even for the subtractive process.”

Though many of Dana’s engineers are spread out across different time zones, Eiger’s cloud architecture allows them to work seamlessly as if they were in the same room together. They’re able to share designs, get real-time analytics, and live telemetry in one place for easy global fleet management. “Eiger itself is a very simple software to use. It’s very intuitive,” says Puckett.

Now that Dana has started to adopt and deploy Markforged printers, software, and training, Dana is looking forward to the future and how they’ll continue to be leaders in the mobility industry with the help of additive manufacturing. “We’re expanding our facility to another floor of the building so we will have a better place for the machines, and we’re finalizing the installation of the Metal X,” says Fabrizio Zendri in Italy.

Scaling the speed and efficiency of prototyping operations across their global locations is key to the future success of additive at Dana. “We have begun to produce some of the tools and fixtures that we might have purchased on the outside before,” says Puckett. “Especially as we go to the plants, the plant engineer that needs something printed with a machine—they ned it today. And the faster we can get it to their hands with the least amount of effort for them to get it produced, the better off they are.”

Collaboration and Access to Experts

Yesterday, I sat in on a Webinar from Honeywell about a plant optimization project with Woodside. Here are a few takeaways.

Supplier/Customer Collaboration–from the earliest phase of the project, the customer brought in experts from the supplier to assist planning, specifying, scheduling, and the like.

Planning–not a surprise to any of us who have done any project in manufacturing (or around the house) that success was correlated with good planning.

Access to remote experts–we now have good tools for bringing in experts from wherever they are to consult with the project. Video tools mean they can see and be seen. This saves time, money, headaches.