Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar module maker, took some heat in November when it decided to close a factory, lay off workers and delay expansion of a new manufacturing plant that was built with a half-billion-dollar federal loan guarantee.
In making the move seven weeks after opening the new factory, called Fab 2, the company cited the need to rein in capital expenditures in the face of aggressive competition from low-cost Chinese manufacturers.
Still, the $733 million plant is up and running and Solyndra this week released a video of the automated factory. It’s obviously a commercial for the company but the video also shows how in the long run U.S. companies may be able to compete against China in the global market.
Fab 2’s robots outnumber workers of the flesh-and-blood variety. Driverless carts and automated cranes shuffle photovoltaic parts across the 300,000 square-foot factory, handing them off to large orange robots that look like the machines in the Terminator movies.
The robots feed long glass cylinders into large devices that coat them with advanced thin-film photovoltaic materials. Other robots assemble the tubes into solar panels before they’re loaded onto trucks to be shipped to customers who will install them on large commercial rooftops.