X-ray Imaging Positions PowerFilm to Quickly Fix Potential Problem

An Ames manufacturer of solar panels avoided scrapping $30,000 of incorrect work after Iowa State University experts helped the company find a way to inspect 750 problem panels for a potential defect.

Dan Stieler, president of PowerFilm, said he turned to CIRAS and Iowa State’s Center for Nondestructive Evaluation (CNDE) after discovering that one of six workers had been assembling the panels incorrectly—a problem that wasn’t caught by the company’s normal inspection process.

Proper assembly requires a solder bridge in a specific position to ensure the electrical connection is stable over the long term, Stieler said.

“The problem is that the testing that we do is an electrical test,” he said. “The panels do still work without the solder connection, but the solder connection itself provides a higher level of reliability.”

Dave Utrata, a project manager with CNDE, quickly helped PowerFilm devise a way to check the suspect panels to see if the solder connection was in the correct place.

“It was not easy to see what I saw visibly,” Utrata said. “But once we used x-ray imaging, it was a no-brainer.”

Stieler then found another Iowa company with an x-ray system and made arrangements to inspect all 750 panels. About one-fourth were found defective and were fixed.

“We were super happy with the result,” Stieler said. “It took a bit of time and effort, but in the grand scheme of things, it was worth it. It keeps our reputation intact and keeps our customers happy without having to remake $30,000 worth of product and without delaying other customer orders to do it.”

For more information, contact Dave Utrata at heydave@iastate.edu or 515-294-6095.