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Woodbine taps into solar power


April 7, 2010
by Noelle Stapinsky, Features Editor

Menova solar panels maintain a 90-degree angle facing the sun.

Photo: Woodbine

The sun is shining on Woodbine Tool and Die Mfg. The tier two supplier to the automotive industry was approached by Menova Energy Inc.—an Ottawa-based solar energy solution provider—to enter into a solar panel manufacturing partnership.

Established in 1979 as a three person, 5,000-square-foot tool and die shop, the Markham, Ont.-based company has since grown into two facilities employing 195 people—50,000 square-feet for tooling and a 150,000 square-feet manufacturing.

Woodbine supplies a variety of dies, stampings and assemblies to tier one companies such as Magna International Inc., Van-Rob Stampings Inc., Martinrea International Inc. and the ABC Group Inc. But its competitive advantage is building and running tooling that performs extrusion and in-die tapping.

If someone wants a multi-dimensional bracket with three to five different fasteners on it to attach bolts or other parts, the treading would normally have been done in a secondary process. Woodbine adds the threading during the progressive stamping process, cutting costs and improving quality.

Woodbine has perfected a die built process that uses original part material and extrudes it out to the necessary fastener diameter and height. “After extruding, we roll tap the actual threads to it at the speed of up to 30 strokes per minute. This saves an extra cost of separate fasteners and their installation for our customers,” says Max Popov, the company’s head of business development.

Developing novel processes—and the staff to make them work—has positioned Woodbine as a preferred outfitter for solar panel manufacturing.

“Menova was looking for an automotive company that could bring automotive expertise to manufacture its solar systems to tight engineering standards,” says Gunter Riegel, co-owner of Woodbine.

Menova’s Rack’n Track product line consists of all-aluminum rooftop or ground-mount solar tracking systems mounted on a circular structure that follow the sun’s movement throughout the day for optimal energy absorption. Unlike conventional solar panel setups, these systems maintain a 90-degree angle facing the sun, increasing efficiency by 25 per cent.

Transition to solar
“The systems use a GPS locator to connect to a smart system, which knows what time of the year it is and what position the solar panels need to be in at each point in time,” says Popov.

The manufacturing and assembly of these units will be done at Woodbine’s manufacturing facility. Some new machinery was needed to process the structured aluminum, but Riegel says the transition to solar manufacturing was quiet easy. It was mostly about the mindset of the employees and making sure the solar part of the business was built to the same high standard as the automotive production.