Measurement to better gather the power of the sun

The ground-breaking direct scanning capability of the Absolute Tracker ATS600 has made onsite inspection of super-sized heliostat panels and matter of simplicity in the deserts of south-eastern Spain

ATS600: Solar panel alignment with direct scanning

Tewer is a relatively young company formed by engineers with multidisciplinary experience across various engineering sectors such as automotive, railway, industrial, defence and energy. The company is focused on developing products and processes in a holistic way, from design stages and assembly processes through manufacturing, commissioning and operation. 

The business’ main clients today are mainly concentrated in three sectors: energy, general industry and defence. Their relationship with Hexagon began at the time of their founding in 2014, when a project generated the need for the accurate measurements of large-volume parts. They contacted Hexagon asking for a service for that measurement and received very good results.

The ATH146 heliostat at the CIEMAT Research and Development Centre at the Plataforma Solar de Almeria in south-eastern Spain’s Tabernas Desert.The business soon recognised the need to add an advanced measurement system to their in-house toolbox. They purchased a 3D laser tracker, with the intention of putting it to use throughout their entire project process.

“We use the systems not only for final quality control,” explains Ignacio Roces, Technical Project Manager at Tewer since its foundation. “But we also use them from the conceptualisation phases or prototyping of different components through to manufacturing and assembly setup and verification.”

With help from the team from Hexagon’s organisation in Spain, Tewer soon expanded on their experience of laser tracker measurement with reflectors to encompass the possibilities of high precision scanning systems. New technological developments have since allowed them to tackle many types of measurement, particularly those demanded by large outdoor applications where non-contact measurement becomes extremely useful. 

The ATH146 heliostat at the CIEMAT Research and Development Centre at the Plataforma Solar de Almeria in south-eastern Spain’s Tabernas Desert.At the moment Tewer is using two laser tracker systems from Hexagon: a Leica Absolute Tracker AT403, which was the first device they acquired; and a Leica Absolute Tracker ATS600, which was added to their collection in 2020.

Since its acquisition, the ATS600 has been used for a wide variety of projects. For example, in the quality control of parts before and after the galvanising step of a welding process. The system is also often used outdoors, for example, for levelling of a tooling during assembly. They also use the direct-scanning tracker for aligning mobile equipment systems that have relative movements through hydraulic components, and in electromechanical systems that demand incredibly accurate movements. It is also used for applications in the field of general system positioning, such as in the alignment of solar panels. The team has been able to improve their measurement of solar systems by developing specific procedures for scanning highly reflective surfaces.

The direct scanning functionality of the Absolute Tracker ATS600 is ideal for measurement on this scale, allowing each of the 32 individual mirrors to be quickly and safely inspected and correctly aligned onsite.An interesting recent application is demonstrated at the CIEMAT Research and Development Centre at the Plataforma Solar de Almería, Spain. A large heliostat for concentrating solar power – measuring 13 by 11.5 metres – is aligned using a combination of reflector and direct scanning measurement by the ATS600.

This project has been carried out jointly with Spanish infrastructure and renewable energy giant Acciona, with the goal of further developing heliostat technology in a direction that delivers cost reductions. The project aims to optimise the design processes, both in terms of the cost and in terms of process and assembly efficiency.

The ATS600 is being used to carry out the tooling levelling process to finalise the assembly of the panel. This needs to happen outdoors onsite, in the harsh environment of the Tabernas Desert. The tracker was already involved before this stage of the process, having also been used to control components during manufacturing at the factory, allowing the Tewer team to ensure the correctness of the parts before they were brought into the field and assembly environment.
“Measurements are performed accurately, without contact and with a high measurement capacity.”
Ignacio Roces 
Technical Project Manager 

The system was first used to make alignments for and assemble peripherals such as inclinometers. It was then applied during assembly for the adjustment of parts that have levelling requirements that must be carried out before the rest of the assembly can be completed. The main advantage of the ATS600 in this application is the high-precision direct scanning measurement mode, which allows for measurement directly to the surface from up to 60 metres away with no need for a reflector or probe.

The heliostat is made up of 32 mirrors or solar facets. The direct scanning functionality of the ATS600 allows Tewer to position these individual panels in space, relative with the overall structure of those facets – this is known as the canting process in the field of concentrating solar power. 

“Measurements are performed accurately, without contact and with a high measurement capacity”, explains Ignacio. “Measurement is carried out with a speed that the equipment that we had before didn’t give us without having to get really close to the part. We can now measure remotely easily and accurately.”