Rolling Large: Roll-forming leader OMCO rolls out its new factory-direct racking

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design incorporates value-added touches that leverage its OEM factory-direct capability.

In this uncertain #TrumpTariffs market, many investors have less appetite for newer, less proven systems, seeing that as another avenue of risk in projects where pennies and seconds count more than ever. This puts the spotlight on companies and products that can deliver the most certainty in terms of upfront costs, bankability and logistics. Given that context, the 2018-’20 market may not be interested in a new ground-mount PV concept, but the new Field-Fast system from OMCO is an exception that checks all of those boxes and more.

OMCO is one of those companies that’s been around for decades, supplying more product in the background than you realize. A roll-former that has cultivated relationships with U.S. steel providers since the 1950s, OMCO has provided nearly 8 GW of solar currently in the ground across the globe, working with industry giants like First Solar and Sunpower as a contract manufacturer. So, the history and bankability is there.

It wasn’t until last year that OMCO decided to jump from more of a supporting actor to leading man with the Field-Fast fixed-tilt system. The design is influenced by its years of experience and incorporates value-added touches that leverage its OEM factory-direct capability, such as pre-assembly and less loose hardware. In large-scale solar projects, small improvements can add up to sizable savings.

Now a year after its launch and after a few revisions (a pre-assembled tilt bracket, for instance), OMCO has launched the Field-Fast system into the market. Let’s take an in-depth look at how it works and why it might benefit your next project.

Inside Field-Fast

The key advantage in ordering direct from the factory is reducing the filler material by preassembling as much as possible. The provided Field-Fast parts are boiled down to only five bill of material items vs. multiple pages of line items. Hardware arrives to the site pre-sorted and counted specific to each block for quick staging and identification.

“On the EPC side, probably the biggest headache, as a customer is the number of moving parts,” says Eric Goodwin, director of business development from OMCO Solar, who spent part of his career leading the EPC supply chain team for First Solar. “Construction teams always lose hardware or lose track of something, and the next thing you know 60 people are waiting around for a bolt to arrive. We’ve tried to address those types of issues.”

The assembly bracket ships as a slim component that unfolds and notches into the tilt bracket. This is secured by an OMCO-designed, preassembled clip that is hammered into place in four locations. Done. That all happens at ground-level with two workers.

After placing a rubber pad over pre-installed threaded fasteners, the modules are slipped into preassembled clips and laid on top. The clips already have a bolt retained inside, and the table module rails already contain the threads for the clip, which means only one worker is needed to secure the panel, working from standing-level and never above the glass. Two clips are needed for completing the assembly of two modules.

Further smoothing out any logistics kinks: OMCO has four manufacturing sites spread across the country — Phoenix; Wickliffe, Ohio; Talladega, Ala.; and Pierceton, Ind. — compressing freight times and keeping costs low for the entire system.

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design

Saving studies

The company recently conducted assembly time trials of the new Field-Fast racking, and, with just two installers, here were the results for structural assembly (each set consisting of 10 panels and 300 Watts between two posts):

  • Man hours per set: 0.304
  • Burdened labor rate:$40
  • Labor efficiency:85%
  • Cycle time per set: 465 seconds
  • Sets per hour: 7
  • Sets per shift: 49
  • Labor cost per watt: $0.0041

Next comes the module installation for the same two installers on the same labor rate and efficiency:

  • Man hours per set: 0.200
  • Cycle time per set: 306 seconds
  • Modules per hour: 100
  • Watts per hour: 30,000
  • Labor costs per watt: $0.0027
  • Module + BOS costs per watt: $0.0068

Stacked against installation of conventional systems, the Field-Fast racking can reduce costs per watt from 35 to 50 percent.

“With fewer parts and installation steps, we basically can cut the install time in half in some cases,” Goodwin says. “On the mechanical BoS part of an install, which is the racking itself, we’re able to show about 40 percent labor efficiency on a cost per watt, so our actual labor cost per watt for mechanical is about .4 cents per watt, and that’s about 20 percent less than we’re seeing in the market for racking. On the panel installation, those have taken labor costs down to .2 cents per watt.”

OMCO can also handle the purlins and turnkey construction services, but this isn’t just another tale of faster turn times and reduced costs. Ordering factory-direct snips out other possibilities for delays, such as last second module changes.

“We can adjust our roll-form program for any size framed module [including the new First Solar Series 6] for Field-Fast,” Goodwin says. “We know of projects where modules change last second because of prices, and we’re able to make those changes and adjust to that. That can be difficult if you’re having it fabricated elsewhere.”

OMCO’s Field-Fast racking design

First Solar ecosystem

As mentioned, OMCO is part of the First Solar ecosystem and has a slick module interface bracket (MIB) for First Solar tracker projects as well as an OEM fixed-tilt solution for Series 4 modules with nearly 5 GW of the baseline design installed. The MIB arrives to the jobsite fully assembled — the structural components, module clips, threaded hardware, rubber inserts. It slips on over the torque tube with a single carriage bolt fixing it in place.

“The unexpected increase and extension of Series 4 module life was a nice surprise. We have designed a product for almost 6 GW of First Solar projects, and the Field-Fast series is even more tailored to Series 6 when it comes out.”

Being a First Solar ecosystem partner is just another notch in its bankable, tariff-free value proposition. As First Solar scales and increases production into 2019 and 2020, OMCO is looking to capitalize, no matter what the new steel tariff brings.

This feature was in the May/June 2018 issue of Solar Builder magazine. Sign up for your free print or digital subscription here.

— Solar Builder magazine

NEXTracker, First Solar team on 600 MW of Series 6 projects, to feature new ‘error-proof’ panel clamp

NEXTracker First Solar

The NEXTracker mounting solution for the First Solar Series 6 panel features patent-pending panel clamps that company says provides error-proof rail alignment and rapid module installation.

NEXTracker will begin collaborating with First Solar to provide its racking technology for the upcoming Series 6 panel rollout this year. The First Solar engineering procurement construction (EPC) group also selected NEXTracker’s NX Horizon for multiple utility-scale projects in the southwestern United States, totaling 634 MW using the Series 6 module: Rosamond, Calif. (193 MW), Willow, Calif. (129 MW) and Phoebe, Texas (312 MW).

What’s new?

The NEXTracker mounting solution for the First Solar Series 6 panel features patent-pending panel clamps that company says provides error-proof rail alignment and rapid module installation. NEXTracker’s mounting solution can be configured to accommodate a wide range of site conditions that may see wind speeds up to 130 mph, up to a 15% north-south slope, and also high corrosion environments. NEXTracker has further enhanced NX Horizon for future First Solar Series 4 projects, with optimized logistics and cost saving features.

RELATED: How NEXTracker ‘decapitated the duck’ with its new solar-plus-storage tracker design

“With First Solar’s Series 6, they have created an elegant, superior thin film technology, with high efficiency and a beneficial temperature coefficient,” said Dan Shugar, founder and CEO of NEXTracker. “The excellent diffuse light response of First Solar’s photovoltaic cells pairs perfectly with TrueCapture, NEXTracker’s proprietary smart control system, to increase yields in PV power plants.”

“For the past year we’ve invested in partnering with the right suppliers who could complement our Series 6 technology in terms of innovation in system performance,” said Georges Antoun, Chief Commercial Officer of First Solar. “As part of our core ecosystem, NEXTracker is not only the global market share leader in solar tracking technology, but also delivers unparalleled design and customer service. We look forward to more successes together.”

— Solar Builder magazine

SolarRoofHook now an approved vendor of BOS hardware for Sunnova

Sunnova, one of the top residential solar providers in the United States, has recently partnered with SolarRoofHook, a leading supplier of solar mounting hardware, to become one of the company’s approved vendors for balance of system components. The timing syncs up with the release of SRH’s new 4-in. Microflashing and patented Stainless-Steel QuickBOLT mounting system for Asphalt Shingle Roofs. Orders can be placed now for stock arriving this month. You can also learn all about its benefits in this year’s Residential Rooftop Report, available for free download below.

All Sunnova installer partners can now use SRH products to install their solar systems. Contact SRH by going to their website to purchase products directly online or give them a call at 844-671-6045.

SolarRoofHook is a Division of Quickscrews International Corp, the leading supplier of fasteners for the woodworking industry in the U.S., founded by Greg Wiener in 1987 in his garage. Using their knowledge of wood fasteners, the team at Quickscrews launched SRH in 2010 as a supplier of mounting solutions for the residential solar industry. Wiener received the patent for the QuickBOLT in 2012 and has been educating the industry for the past 7 years on the value of downsizing the products installers use on our roofs.

— Solar Builder magazine

PV Pointer: How tile hooks factor into safety, noise prevention, long-term leak protection

Quick_Hook

The two most common approaches to mounting PV arrays on tile roofs are “standoff” posts and tile hooks. Standoff posts tend to be stronger due to their simple column loading design, while tile hooks use a cantilevered loading configuration (think diving board), which deflects under wind and snow loading. A strong tile hook can be a great solution, and tile hooks have become the most common tile mounting method due to their lower cost, simpler installation process and attractive appearance since most do not need a visible tile level flashing.

However, not all tile hooks are created equally. Tile hooks come in two varieties: 1) structurally robust hooks, which cost a bit more, and 2) inexpensive bent metal steel hooks.

Structurally robust tile hooks are an excellent option for securing a PV array to a tile roof. These hooks typically feature a stiff aluminum cross-sectional design that minimizes cantilever deflection during heavy wind or snow events in an effort to protect against hook-to-tile impact damage. These structurally robust hooks are dimensionally sized to ensure sufficient “serviceability clearance” under the hook.

Inexpensive bent steel hooks have limited upward/downward load capacity. They often sit close to or right on the tile underneath. Even if the hook is adjusted to sit above the tile, these thin bent steel hooks are often too weak to deflect more than 10 to 20 lbs of downforce from causing contact with the tile. When winds reach critical speed, the entire array can chatter on the roof. This chattering noise is alarming and disconcerting to the homeowner, but bigger problems can arise over time as the impact of the weak hooks break tile, allowing excessive rainwater to flow underneath the tile. Since the underlayment is the ultimate waterproofing for a tile roof, this exposure to excessive water can accelerate degradation, ultimately leading to roof leaks.

RELATED: Residential Rooftop Report: How Microflashing leads to solar install savings

Wind driven rain will always find its way uphill between the tile and drip onto the deck, so the official tile flashing requirements found in the Tile Roofing Institute (TRI) Installation manual requires that all penetrations through the roof deck be flashed at the underlayment level. For example, the Quick Hook from Quick Mount PV includes a hooded underlayment flashing which protects the lag screw penetrations from rain water when sealed to the deck using underlayment bibbing or three coursing with asphaltic roofing cement and a reinforcing fabric. Some inexpensive bent metal hooks with vertical height adjustment have sharp corners that rest on the underlayment when adjusted to the fully downward position. These sharp corners dig into the underlayment at the point where the wind driven rain drips down onto the underlayment, and a flashing cannot fix this vulnerability.

Trimming the tile’s weather guard lug is a mandatory step to ensure the tile sits back down in its proper position. Some installers skip the tile trimming process, believing that the thin bent metal hooks are so thin that trimming is not required. However, when the lugs are not trimmed, the tile sits up on top of the tile hook, creating a ½-in. to ¾-in. gap between the tiles. This gap allows even more wind driven rain to reach the underlayment. Trimming the tile lug usually only takes 30-60 seconds using a “tuckpointing” diamond blade on a grinder.

A word of caution: OSHA has recently started enforcing a ban on dry cutting of tile due to silicosis risks. These new regulations regarding silica exposure require wet cutting of tile. To avoid dry cutting, installers are turning to metal Tile Replacement Flashing (TRF), which is a replacement for tile trimming altogether and an easy solution for OSHA compliance. Another benefit of using the TRF is that with every flashing installed, you have a matching tile left over to replace any of the tiles broken during the installation process.

Cutting corners with thin hooks and non-compliant deck waterproofing is a recipe for future leaks. Choosing a strong tile hook and flashing the deck-level penetrations using TRI-compliant flashing methods protects you and your customer’s roof. Your customers will thank you for years of leak-free performance.

Jeff Spies is senior policy director for Quick Mount PV.

— Solar Builder magazine

U.S.-based Schletter subsidiary files for bankruptcy after premature product launch

Schletter

The Schletter Group sent word that it’s reorganizing its business in the United States. The U.S. subsidiary Schletter Inc, based in Shelby, N.C., has filed for Chapter 11 proceedings in order to sort out its current financial situation. Business activities are to be continued in close cooperation with clients and creditors.

“Filing for Chapter 11 proceedings at our U.S. subsidiary does not mean that we as a group are withdrawing from the U.S. market”, the group’s CEO Tom Graf commented. “North America remains an important and growing market for our brand and we will continue to have a strong presence there.”

The current financial situation in the U.S. is primarily the result of launching a new product before it was ready for high volume production, combined with the effect of the solar tariffs. The U.S. subsidiary, Schletter Inc, under its previous management overextended itself by acquiring a number of large scale projects involving a new product (G-Max), which it had solely developed in and for the U.S. The cost of carrying through these projects was significantly higher than planned due to the premature launch of the new product. It is this considerable financial burden which ultimately made this step necessary.

Although the product launch was challenging and there were significant operational issues, there was a significant volume of product deployed and the customers were pleased with the results. Some of these systems, in fact, stood up very well during the hurricanes in 2017. “With that success, and with the manufacturing issues resolved, our G-Max mounting system will continue to be the flagship offering for utility scale installations in North America”, Schletter Inc.’s CEO Russell Schmit commented.

RELATED: Bill to undo Trump Tariffs introduced in Congress

“The Chapter 11 proceedings now enable us to reorganize the U.S. company’s finances as we move forward”, Graf said. In parallel with Chapter 11, the German group is also filing for Chapter 15 in the U.S. regarding Schletter Inc. This relatively new amendment to the U.S. Bankruptcy code was introduced to coordinate cross-border cases. It provides the necessary legal framework to closely tie the U.S. proceedings to those at its German mother company, Schletter GmbH. Since March Schletter GmbH has been using the German equivalent of Chapter 11 proceedings in order to restructure its finances as debtor in possession. Other companies of the group are not affected by the proceedings.

In the meantime, the proceedings in Germany are making good progress. A few weeks ago a structured investor process was started and more than a dozen interested parties from Germany and abroad are currently reviewing the company’s accounts. “Investor interest is pleasingly high, which shows the strength of the Schletter brand”, emphasised Graf. Production, sales and services of Schletter Germany, and in fact all other companies of the group that are not affected by the proceedings, continue as normal. The goal is to complete the proceedings by this summer.

Even under the ongoing restructuring, the Group has been able to conclude in recent weeks a number of interesting new orders with a volume of over 20 MW. Those include projects in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, Senegal and Jordan. Preparations for Intersolar, the largest solar trade fair in Europe, which is being held in June, are also under way. There, Schletter will present for the first time a tracker system, developed specifically for the U.S. and the Australian markets. A number of other product innovations will also be on display such as the FixGrid 2018, which has again been improved in terms of capacity and ease of installation.

— Solar Builder magazine