Germany's DB Schenker, TUV Rheinland implement new logistics systems for modules

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The concept of a new logistics system arose when the two companies independently began looking at possible improvements to how modules were transported from manufacture to point-of-use.

Joachim Marxer, global vice president vertical market semicon / solar at DB Schenker, said the need had arisen after several projects had experienced problems with modules. He added, “I am not talking about standard damages but more on the technical side. We even had projects where solar parks had been dismantled after operation and needed to be replenished. A couple of the financing bodies said they needed some more reliability and to get what they paid for. That’s what caused us to think. At the beginning, TUV Rheinland and DB Schenker started looking independently, then identified that it made sense to join forces. The idea was to bring a bit of light into the darkness between manufacturing and point of use for solar modules.”

Development took around a year, Marxer says, “We did some intensive research to find out the root causes of the damages. We simulated the various impacts on the transport side and we did a manufacturers’ check from Shanghai into Europe and back into TUV Rheinland’s labs in Cologne. The whole idea was to bring various components together.”

The monitoring system contains of three stages. Firstly, there is a thorough testing of the transport packaging. This is followed by outgoing inspection at the manufacturer’s plant and monitoring through transport, then further inspections and certification in the receiving warehouse. The aim is to identify potential damage to modules before they are installed and cause a solar power plant or system to have impaired performance. Without offering concrete data, DB Schenker said industry experts estimate that transport can have “an unnecessary and detrimental effect on between 5% and 10% of all modules”.

Monitoring during transport is done through a device attached to the freight container that raises an alarm if an abnormal load is detected. Marxer said, “It’s a smart box with capabilities in different areas that needs to be calibrated to the specific product. In the case of transporting from China to Europe, the port was in Antwerp. In the warehouse, we installed a test line and did the same testing that was done on the production side. We tracked the data and matched them on an identical level so it was really specific module testing on the production. We take the same module, the data, and the pictures, then compare them one on one. That allows a really close look to ensure. We don’t do this with every module but rather a defined number.”

Pricing for the product remains unclear although Marxer implies that it will be determined largely on a case-by-case basis.

He added, “The function needs to be power-controlled on the production side. The first use is to define the right packaging for the specific modules. It is not one standard packaging but an adapted one. What we have identified is not just the shock but the vibrations. They can cause microscopic cracks and we have to make sure the frequency does not reach the breaking point.”