Electronic Products & Technology

Feature

Aurora Solar Technologies grows via solar cell partnerships


Founded in 2009, Aurora Solar Technologies Inc. is a Vancouver-based company that assists solar cell manufacturers improve in-line processes. By measuring, visualizing and controlling critical processes, Aurora Solar decreases the variability of cell power in the individual cells produced and reduces the amount of scrap and rework in the production process. With environmental concerns driving governments towards clean energy solutions, such as solar, Aurora has seen significant growth in recent years and is poised for continued growth.

Aurora Solar Technologies Inc. provides an extensive suite of services from measurement and control planning to system installation and post-installation support and optimization.

West Tech Report recently had the opportunity to speak with Steve McDonald, Aurora’s VP of business development and one of Aurora’s first employees, about the firm’s technologies and what has helped it grow.

Q: As a green energy firm on the West Coast– what was the impetus for starting Aurora Solar Tech and what has aided its growth since inception?

“Aurora Solar Technologies was started because we saw a significant opportunity for inline process control in the photovoltaic (PV) space.  The PV industry was expanding rapidly, and production capacities were steadily increasing, but the production procedures were not being optimized for high volume manufacturing. There was a wide quality variance at the end-of-lines, and a significant amount of manual labour was required during production. As the PV industry matures, quality control and efficiency become more important. We saw early on that automation and process control would represent a substantial opportunity for Aurora’s customers to reduce operating costs while improving quality.  Since deploying our first inline process control solutions, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in the industry.  Manufacturers now see the value of inline process control, and this has supported our growth significantly.”

Q: Vancouver’s tech community is growing, has it helped to be located there?

“Being located in Vancouver has been very helpful.  From a staffing standpoint, we have exceptional access to local talent with clean-tech experience. From a geography standpoint, we have easy access to Asia where the vast majority of our customers are located.”

Q: Can you share a challenge that Aurora has had to overcome, and how other tech companies can avoid similar pitfalls in the future?

“Ramping up production volumes. Aurora saw sales rise from a few to dozens of systems per year, which strained our supply chain and production team. To avoid this pitfall, Aurora had to set-up detailed production processes and procedures very early in the ramp-up process. Formalizing the production process takes time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it.”

Q: Production ramp-up sounds like a good problem to have – was this a result of being surprised by your success or were you not as prepared as you would have wanted to have been?

“We weren’t surprised by our growth, but the increase did force us to work more closely with supply chains to ensure we get the volume of parts required.”

Q: Any advice for budding entrepreneurs?

“Listen to your customers.  They have a far better understanding of their operational needs, and thus they are invaluable when launching new products.  [The PV industry] is super secretive. Some are concerned with trade secrets. It was a process of developing relationships, leveraging the expertise of our team so that we became a trusted supplier. Once Aurora gained the trust of their customers, customers could share roadmaps and technological challenges with Aurora, and from there, products could be designed to address specific pain points. By measuring the critical process variables and relating those to end-of-line quality metrics, Aurora has helped these partners increase profitability. We are not just selling a measurement tool, and then saying ‘good luck in using it’. We see ourselves as a partner. We want them to make use of the data and to get value out of the data because that is how we garner repeat customers.”

Aurora’s five-year plan is to continue to look for opportunities and build their product portfolio in the PV space. For more information, go to aurorasolartech.com.