Solar energy continues to boom in the United States.
The solar industry has seen a more than 40% average annual growth rate in the last decade. Continued growth is projected over the next few years.
Roll forming is a major reason why solar power has reached its ever-present status in society and is now a viable source of energy. Solar installers use roll formed parts to hold vast arrays of solar panels at specific angles for decades into the future.
Keeping production costs low is important to the growth of the solar industry. Part of that solution is creating solar racking systems that don’t break the bank, yet provide years of support for green energy-producing panels.
The most important factors in a successful solar racking system include:
- Raw material control and availability
- Ability to scale from small to large projects quickly
- Variable fastener punching patterns to accommodate different solar panel designs
- Component design in anticipation of new solar panel types and sizes
- Pre-kitting fasteners and components to consolidate the number of different parts on-site
- Packaging that allows easy handling and component access on-site
Why Roll Forming for Solar Panel Mounting Racking Systems?
A roll forming company can maintain standard or customized systems, by producing a variety of solar panel mounting hardware, like:
- Robust hat channels
- Z-purlins for utility-scale solar farms
- Lightweight ballast trays
- Mounting structures for commercial roofs
Roll forming gives you:
- Proprietary designs
- Large volumes
- Specialized materials
- Critical hole placements for field assembly
Solar products are typically made from stainless steel, galvanized steel, aluminized (hot-dipped) steel, or just about any other type of metal.
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1. Raw Material Control and Availability
Solar is a project-based industry and requires a replenishment system that can handle variations in customer demand. A customer sometimes may need a lot of metal in just days’ notice, then not need any further orders for months.
Suppose you request 500,000 pounds of steel and the roll form company purchases and holds this in stock. You use and pay for 50,000 pounds at once, and the roll former stores the rest of the steel. Who’s on the hook for the 450,000 pounds left over? To avoid disputes, it’s best to employ:
- Supply agreements
- Regular communication
Don’t wait until vendor or supply problems arise to try to find solutions. There are parameters you and your roll forming company should anticipate and agree to ahead of time. A supply agreement can save you both a lot of headaches in the long run. The agreement should cover:
- All operating steps
- Responsibilities for both parties
- Purchasing and inventory agreements
- Payment terms
- Freight terms
- Actions on quality problems
- Necessary legal protections
Project-based supply systems require constant communication between the customer and the roll forming company. Combined with a well-crafted supply agreement, regular communication will help both parties handle the ebbs and flows of solar panel mounting rack manufacturing.
It can be difficult to project how many pieces you may need your roll former to produce due to the unpredictability of the solar market. Companies wishing to cash in on solar tax credits may demand more at certain times than others. You may go from needing 5,000 pieces to 300,000 pieces.
Constant communication allows you and your roll former to adapt more quickly and smoothly. Create an agreed-upon communication schedule and be prepared with well-thought-out questions.
2. Ability to Scale From Small to Large Projects Quickly
The unpredictability of the solar industry means that installation companies and roll formers need to be able to adjust. This may require:
- Roll formers adding shifts
- Customers buying an extra set of tools
- Working with one vendor vs. multiple
Roll Formers Adding Extra Shifts
Shift work is the best way for roll formers to scale from small to large projects quickly. This allows for a sped-up production process. Adding a second shift means production doubles. A third shift would have production running round the clock.
Make sure your roll forming supplier has the capacity to take on your work, even during demand spikes.
Customer Buys an Extra Set of Tools
Buying an extra set of tooling means you’d be able to run two production sets concurrently. Combined with added shifts on the roll forming side, this drastically decreases production time.
It can be expensive to buy an extra set of tooling, but the long-term savings may outweigh up-front costs. It may be worth your investment if you regularly deal with high volume and a single roll forming vendor.
Working With One Vendor vs. Multiple
There are disadvantages and advantages to working with multiple roll formers. Working with multiple vendors can allow for more creative thinking and more storage and production capacity.
However, using more vendors means more oversight on your part. This can get especially tricky when production needs are high and time is short. Communication tends to get twisted as you approach “too many cooks” status.
3. Variable Fastener Punching Patterns to Accommodate Different Solar Panels
As the solar industry continues to evolve, so do the types of fasteners needed for solar panel frames. The design of solar panels will determine the type of fastener needed. Choosing the right fastener made from the right metal will uphold the structural integrity of your mounting rack system for years to come.
The production method of solar panel mounting brackets may change per job as your vendor needs to account for different types and sizes of fasteners. Your roll former should build its process to support that.
Using roll forming to punch patterns into metal is an efficient and cost-effective way to create variable patterns your job requires. Other metal-forming processes require multiple steps at different machines.
If the metal is going through the roll forming line anyway, you might as well realize the time and money savings of adding features in-line!
4. Component Design in Anticipation of New Solar Panel Types and Sizes
It’s important to anticipate industry trends. New solar panel sizes and types continue to come into the market. These changes will require differently sized components for solar-power mounting systems.
Communicate with your roll former and ask what changes can be made to parts. This will allow you to stay on top of any tooling changes you may need to make.
Perhaps your solar panel mounting brackets need to be wider or narrower. Maybe you need different punch patterns. Talking with your roll forming company will help both sides respond to changing needs in your solar power mounting systems as they happen, ensuring there’s no lag in production.
5. Pre-Kitting Fasteners and Components
The solar industry seeks not only to be profitable but also to provide as much or more power as conventional energy sources.
Solar panel mounting kits come designed with all the parts you need to install rooftop or ground-mount solar panel systems for both residential and commercial projects.
Pre-kitting fasteners and components compress both cost and time, allowing solar installation to be more efficient and affordable. This happens through:
- Eliminating the number of pieces needed for installation, making the process easier to control and erect
- Creating easy-to-assemble kits that involve few to no tools
Preassembling components at the factory prior to shipment
6. Packaging That Allows Easy Handling and Component Access On-Site
Packaging may not be at the forefront of your mind, but it’s vital to efficiency. Improper packaging leads to tedious unpackaging and broken components, which drives up time and cost for projects.
The best packaging provides safety for components and allows the installer to open the box to easily find the first item they need. No one wants to open a package and dig around to find the first piece they need. Simplifying installation steps saves solar installers time and money.
Roll Forming Suppliers Can Keep Production Costs Low
The demand for green energy continues to grow, and so does innovation in the design of both solar panels and mounting systems. Work closely with your roll forming partner to produce solar panel racking systems that keep up with industry trends and will last for years to come.
Your roll forming supplier can keep production costs low by working with you on inventory management, scaling up on projects, creating custom designs, and more.
Would you like to learn more about how roll forming can help you? Let's talk:
(Editor's note: This article was originally published in December 2021 and was recently updated.)
6 Common Metal Forming Processes
The type of metal forming process you choose will depend on many factors: What metal are you using? What's your budget? What do you need to create, and how will it be used?
Some of the most common types of metal forming techniques are:
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution to metal parts manufacturing. What works for producing one metal component may not work for another.
Understanding the applications for different types of metal manufacturing will help you choose the best one for your metal components.