Thales Alenia Space (TAS) has announced plans to build a new facility in Hasselt, Belgium, dedicated to the automated manufacturing of photovoltaic assemblies (PVA), the electricity generating cells on satellite solar panels. The €20m facility — claimed to be the first of its kind in Europe — is intended to become the showcase of the company’s “Industry 4.0” approach.
The new plant complements the activities of Leonardo’s centre of excellence in Nerviano (Italy) for PVA manufacturing where photovoltaic assemblies for all the major European Space Agency (ESA) and Italian Space Agency (ASI) programmes are designed and produced.
New techniques in the Hasselt factory will include robotized assembly of panels, digital data management and traceability, online tests and inspections, as well as augmented reality. Photovoltaic assemblies manufactured in Belgium will be integrated into solar arrays at the company’s site in Cannes, France.
TAS explains that the Industry 4.0 approach comes in response to demands from telecom operators for flexible and agile solutions, innovative and reliable products, real-time tracking of the production process, a high degree of traceability and shorter cycles. Large-scale projects such as mega-constellations, the company adds, call for disruptive technologies and entail unprecedented challenges in terms of both technology and production rates.