Digital Prototyping and Factory Planning

We start developing new PV module concepts and associated components on the computer, or more precisely on our high-performance computing cluster, even before the first prototype is built. In doing so, we draw on the wide range of possibilities in the field of digital product development and factory planning at Fraunhofer ISE.

With the help of our simulations, we can precisely evaluate module concepts and materials even before the first prototype is produced. We consider aspects such as power and efficiency, mechanical stability, sustainability and module costs. Software-supported development thus saves time and costs and enables detailed analyses and holistic optimization. Our simulation tools are constantly validated and improved based on our experience at Module-TEC.

The factory simulations complement our cost accounting methods and thus contribute to the creation of an overall picture from which the total direct and indirect production costs of the module concepts can be derived.

Performance Simulation and Loss Analysis

Die Software SmartCalc.Module hilft die Leistungsverluste zwischen Solarzelle und Modul bei der Herstellung von PV-Modulen zu reduzieren.
© Fraunhofer ISE
The SmartCalc.Module software helps to reduce power losses between the solar cell and module during the production of PV modules.

The performance of solar modules can be predicted using precise computer models. Our models depict both new module technologies and existing designs and allow the module structure to be optimized. The calculations can be carried out for standardized laboratory conditions (STC) or any operating points deviating from STC conditions. In this way, module concepts can also be evaluated with regard to their performance in real operation.

Losses occur when solar cells are integrated into modules. Optical, geometrical and electrical effects interact and result in a cell-to-module (CTM) ratio in terms of performance and efficiency. The losses include the full range of effects of various influencing factors down to the material level.

In addition to optimizing the module structure in terms of performance and efficiency, the energy yield during operation can also be modelled by creating a virtual representation of the module. This allows the module behavior to be digitally simulated for any operating conditions and enables modules to be compared with statements on their performance during operation.

With the help of our simulations, we can precisely evaluate module concepts or materials even before the first prototype is produced. Software-supported development thus saves time and costs and enables detailed analyses and holistic optimization.



Multiphysical FEM Simulation of PV Modules and their Components

Finite element method (FEM) simulations of the physical product behaviour of PV modules and their components can be used to quickly identify optimization potential regarding design and the interaction of materials. This greatly reduces prototype construction with its associated costs and time. In addition, the root causes of failures occurring during operation can be analyzed.

We use FEM simulations to examine a wide range of physical influences on the module and its components, such as the module frame or the mounting structure. For example, we simulate the thermomechanical stresses during production, in tests according to the IEC 61215 standard or under real loads in order to identify and thus avoid potential failures already during development.

With FEM, PV modules can be developed and optimized largely computer based. Thanks to the interface with CAD programs and the use of a high-performance computing cluster (HPC cluster), we are able to model very complex and therefore computationally intensive geometries and issues in the solar sector.

FEM-Simulation eines handelsüblichen Solarmoduls
© Fraunhofer ISE

FEM simulation of a commercially available solar module during mechanical load tests from 2400 Pa tensile load to 5400 Pa compressive load. The tensile stress in the solar cells is shown to evaluate the probability of breakage.

Factory and Module Line Planning

Dynamische Modellierung einer Modullinie.
© Fraunhofer ISE
Dynamic modeling of a module line.

We support various German and European plant and module manufacturers in the development, selection, installation and commissioning of production facilities and in optimizing the overall performance of production lines for PV modules as part of factory and module line planning.

Questions about flexibility in the products, but also about the number of systems required to achieve a certain total throughput or various other factors can be answered excellently with simulations, especially in the early phases of factory planning. With the help of our own simulation methods or commercial tools, important aspects such as plant and machine utilization, throughput, etc. can be mapped and potential for improvement derived.

The simulation results are an important basis and planning aid for the actual factory planning phase. The models enable a complete material flow analysis of the internal material flows (production units, process media, supply and disposal flows, logistics, etc.). With the help of this engineering analysis, dynamic production processes are simulated in advance of the actual realization and thus the operating costs of the plant are estimated under various operating scenarios.

As a result, we draw up a catalog of requirements for the individual production facilities and the technical building infrastructure, within the framework of which further site detailing can be determined with a module line and factory planner. 

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and Assessment of the Ecological Footprint

CO<sub>2</sub>-Emissionen von Glas-Folie- und Glas-Glas-Modulen bei einer Herstellung in China, Deutschland und Europa.
© Fraunhofer ISE
CO2 emissions of glass-foil and glass-glass modules manufactured in China, Germany and Europe.

Like any economic activity, the manufacture and operation of solar modules leave an ecological footprint and have an impact on the environment and resource consumption. We evaluate the environmental impact of solar modules over their entire life cycle from production to recycling in various categories (climate, resource consumption, human health, environmental pollution).

For this purpose, we virtually map current manufacturing environments from raw silicon to PV power plants and analyzeCO2 emissions, waste, energy consumption and other factors. Our models allow scenario analyses and the variation of technologies, whereby a wide range of environmentally relevant issues are considered. We not only look at the materials or manufacturing and recycling processes, but also compare, for example, module production at different locations in Asia, Europe and America with production in Germany.

Our life cycle analyses make it possible to calculate the specific ecological footprint of individual module production or products. This can be used, for example, to derive advantages in terms of market access, marketing or the cost structure of production (CO2 pricing).

We use detailed models of PV module production and extensive databases and can thus create a virtual twin of production environments and products. 

Business Plans and Profitability Assessment

Diagramm Kostenstruktur PV-Modulproduktion.
© Fraunhofer ISE
Diagram cost structure PV module production.

For new applications for solar modules, the focus is on the question of a robust business model in which topics such as product design, module production, target market and sales play a central role.

Using detailed cost models, we evaluate module technologies, module manufacturing processes, system technology and production processes and can thus provide reliable statements for the preparation of business plans and amortization calculations.

With the help of a holistic techno-economic analysis, we determine optimization potentials and help to reduce specific costs (€/Wp; or €/kWh). To do this, we use SmartCalc.Module to determine the output and a specially developed calculation tool SCost.Module to determine the manufacturing costs of a new product. We not only map the technical details of the solar modules in our models, but also the economic aspects of a production environment such as cycle times, personnel deployment, breakage rates, material consumption, plant utilization and other important parameters.

Root Cause Analysis of Module Defects

Bewertung der real auftretenden Windlast in einem PV-Kraftwerk mittels numerischer Strömungsmechanik (CFD). Gezeigt ist die Windlast eines repräsentativen Symmetrie-Ausschnitts.
© Fraunhofer ISE
Evaluation of the real wind load occurring in a PV power plant using computational fluid dynamics (CFD). The wind load of a representative symmetry section is shown.

Cost pressure throughout the photovoltaic industry is increasingly leading to PV module or component failures in the field. The test standards attempt to address this during development and approval, but often only take individual components into account and not the entire system. In addition, only individual loads are tested. It is precisely this gap that we close with our multiphysical numerical simulations. For example, a PV module that is actually very stable can easily break if the mounting is poorly chosen in combination with unusually high wind speeds or snow loads. We use our FEM models to incorporate real operating conditions into the development process and to analyze the causes of damage that has already occurred. As part of our research, we work closely with our colleagues at TestLab PV Modules.


Holger Neuhaus

Contact Press / Media

Prof. Dr. Holger Neuhaus

Digital Prototyping and Factory Planning

Fraunhofer ISE
Heidenhofstr. 2
79110 Freiburg

Phone +49 761 4588-5825

Christian Reichel

Contact Press / Media

Dr. Christian Reichel

Digital Product Development and Factory Planning

Fraunhofer ISE
Heidenhofstr. 2
79110 Freiburg

Phone +49 761 4588-2388

Andreas Beinert

Contact Press / Media

Dr.-Ing. Andreas Beinert

FEM Simulations

Fraunhofer ISE
Heidenhofstr. 2
79110 Freiburg

Phone +49 761 4588-5630

More Information on this Research Topic


Photovoltaic Modules


Production and Process Technology and Extensive Analysis Options for Module Technology



TestLab PV Modules

Measurements and tests for the design qualification and type approval of PV modules


Research Topic

Module Analysis and Reliability

Long-term Stability and performance of PV modules 



Fraunhofer ISE offers a diverse simulation environment to support R&D and fault analysis.