CASE STUDY: Supply Chain Services for the Solar Industry

Over the last decade the solar industry has matured to the point of becoming a viable alternative to conventional energy. This meteoric growth has placed increased pressure on supply chains with the demand for shorter lead-times and lower costs.

In 2012 and 2013, BCI formed a partnership with a high-growth solar systems provider. BCI’s mission was to develop a robust, reliable supply chain that could support weekly shipments of over 500 containers.

BCI’s Scope of Activity included:

Supplier Selection

  • Finding the right partners in China.
  • Establishing a joint venture with a large metal fabricator located in eastern China, and co-investing to build up capacity.
  • Opening a logistics, project management, and quality supervision office dedicated to solar in Suzhou, China.

Supplier Qualification

  • Production and quality audits of sub-suppliers.
  • Cost negotiation with sub-suppliers.
  • Enforcement of Non-Disclosure Agreements to assure confidentiality.
  • Project planning and forecasting between customer, JV and sub-suppliers.

Manufacturing Engineering and Tool Development

  • Tooling plan—including investment in tooling—to ensure capacity goals.
  • Engineering review of new product designs and new tooling issuances, conducted from BCI’s Pittsburgh office.
  • Oversight of structural and mechanical testing of new parts.
  • Catalogue and inventory of samples.

Demand Planning and Customer Service

  • Production plans, from sub-suppliers through to shipping logistics.
  • Order fulfillment reports to the customer on a routine basis.
  • Project tracking reports, all the way to field installation, to the customer on a routine basis.
  • As the total number of projects steadily increased, BCI’s demand planning team become integrated with the customer’s supply chain team.

Quality Control

  • Issuance of detailed quality plans.
  • Quality audits of all facilities, including sub-suppliers.
  • Statistical data captured and analyzed on a regular basis to keep track of process reliability.
  • Designing form, fit & function tests into the production line.

Packaging and Containerizing

  • Developed a plan for packaging, container loading and shipment of ocean containers.
  • Packaging needed to prevent damage during loading, transit and unloading.
  • Packaging needed to support field installation by shipping field-friendly pre-assemblies.
  • Packaging needed to minimize dunnage to reduce job site waste.
  • Part and package identification, including bar coding, was critical to facilitate receiving, staging and shake-out at the job sites.

Field Support

  • BCI routinely sent representatives to the job site to inspect, investigate and evaluate solutions for improvement.
  • BCI frequently provided onsite deployment and management of field crews for sorting, retrofit and repair of components and assemblies.