Up to mid-1990s, with factory capacity of a few tenths of MW, all the operations in the module manufacturing were performed manually. Even more, most of the equipment used, such as laminators or sun simulators, was in most cases developed in-house by the manufacturers.
In a second step, with factories capacity in the range of several tens of MW, sophisticated equipment that performs most of the operations automatically was used. Both throughput and yield benefit from automation since the connected cells are very fragile and difficult to handle, leading to a dramatic cost reduction. Equipment manufacturers from other sectors with less growing potential (for example, automotive industry) developed specific equipment for the PV industry. Nevertheless, most of the processes (stringing, lamination, framing, etc.) remain in island configuration, with intermediate buffers to facilitate the management of the production routine.
Current manufacturing plants have a capacity in the range of hundreds of MW, with expectations of reaching the GW level in very near future. At this scale, full automation and integration of the whole module manufacturing chain is essential. In such a way, operation processing is improved by minimizing the work in progress and handling, thus reducing costs. On the other hand, standardization of both materials and models is required in order to get all the benefits for this integrated concept. Finally, production management should be supported by automatic process control.