Monday, October 27, 2014

Overcome Solar Component Commoditization

In years past, roll formers enjoyed a boom of business thanks to the solar industry. As a new and emerging industry, solar panel manufacturers looked to metal fabricators for expertise in producing solar mounting and racking components.

But the once-blank slate now is filled up with standard hot-rolled shapes, cold-rolled basic angles and channels, and tube. The racking and ground pilings space has become commoditized. Combine this with a massive consolidation of players, and the solar market is feeling a bit crowded with little room for future growth.

In spite of a seemingly glass ceiling, now is the time for custom roll formers to make their play.
 Photo Credit: USDA via Flickr

What Custom Roll Forming Can Bring to the Table

Historically, custom roll formed shapes were a difficult sell in the solar market, due to their perception as high-cost components.  The word “custom” was seen as a euphemism for costly and unnecessary. As a result, shapes reliant on standard tooling  or hot-rolled processing were heavily favored.

Now, thanks to roll forming’s sturdy footing in solar, these businesses have an opportunity to sell both the flexibility and cost efficiencies of custom shapes.

When done well, a custom shape can be used in a handful of applications in a solar installation and represent real value.  Broader utilization furthers the economies of scale achieved through roll forming. Custom shapes contribute to product differentiation and improve ease of installation, increasing value to the market and allowing project owners to realize lower total cost of installation. 

This information, paired with roll forming’s natural benefits of in-line processing and automation, makes a compelling case for custom roll formed shapes. That said, roll formers must be able to supply in-house design capabilities and roll forming engineering expertise in order to sell this approach effectively.

The Future of Solar is in Value Added

As solar panel prices decrease, solar panel and mounting manufacturers must find new ways to stay competitive. One of the key challenges of the solar industry is reaching parity with nonrenewable energy technologies.  Lowering the true cost per kilowatt-hour for an installation by any and all means is required to achieve the desired cost levels.  Roll formers looking to continue their success in the solar market must adopt value-added services—namely, creative custom shape design expertise—to reclaim dollars lost to commoditization. 

Guest blog post authored by Randy Myers, Sr. Technical Director of Product Development at American Roll Form Products.