A place in the sun

Paul Boughton
Digital prototyping solutions enable users to design, visualise and simulate products both rapidly and cost-effectively through digital models and prototypes.

Founded in 2004 and based in the UK, Cleaner Air Solutions is a leader in the specification, design, supply and installation of photovoltaic (PV) systems. These are systems which use one or more solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity.

Faced with growing competition and the need to develop custom made installations to meet rising demand, the company recently joined the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program.

The programme supports early-stage clean technology companies by providing design and engineering software that accelerates their development of solutions to the world's most urgent environmental challenges. Joining the programme allowed Cleaner Air Solutions to access digital prototyping design solutions for a nominal fee.

Digital prototyping solutions enable users to design, visualise and simulate products rapidly and cost-effectively through digital models and prototypes. Autodesk software enables them to streamline documentation, data management and collaboration while developing compelling, realistic visualisations to provide their customers or investors with near photo-realistic images/renderings or a digital model of their product.[Page Break]

Crowded marketplace

Cleaner Air Solutions' decision to sign up for the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program was driven by the recent rapid increase, both in the number of solar PV systems installed in the UK and in new market entrants, hungry to compete with the established players. This growth is accelerating thanks to the UK Government's Feed-in Tariff (FIT) programme, introduced in April 2010. Under the scheme, energy suppliers have to make regular payments to householders and communities who generate their own electricity from renewable or low carbon sources such as solar electricity panels or wind turbines. As a result, demand is growing rapidly within these groups.

In light of this growth in demand, it is perhaps unsurprising that Government forecasts predict the UK annual photovoltaic (PV) market will grow from 5 photovoltaic peak power capacity (MWp) installed capacity in 2009 to 140 MWp installed capacity in 2012. This dramatic growth, making the UK one of the fastest growing solar markets in the world, demonstrates that the country is an increasingly important market for solar technology.

One key factor behind this is the high degree of home ownership. The other main growth driver is the introduction of FIT, which has resulted in a huge increase in the number of UK companies offering solar PV installations, with estimates suggesting that around 60 new businesses enter the market every week.

The programme has driven a parallel rise in bespoke customised installations. Customers are increasingly trying to 'shoe-horn' PV installations in places that they would previously have discounted due to high inception costs - unusual roof types and back garden sites, for example.[Page Break]

Quality is key

Escalating competition levels, coupled with the growing need to design and develop customised solutions tailored to the precise needs of customers, makes it critical for organisations across the sector to use high-quality 3D design and engineering software to carry out their work efficiently and cost-effectively and to deliver competitive edge.

It was therefore a straightforward decision for Cleaner Air Solutions to join the Clean Tech Partner Program.

According to Andy Craddock, Technical Executive at Cleaner Air Solutions: "Having access to 3D software like Autodesk Inventor and Autodesk Showcase, through the Clean Tech Partner Program allows us to develop innovative products, dramatically reduce project risk and overall project lifecycles, and drive rapid but well-informed decisions on design projects by developing high-quality visualisations.

"In short, being part of the programme has given us access to high-quality 3D design tools, in turn enabling us to achieve efficiencies and drive business growth," he adds.

The use of Autodesk Inventor, a 3D mechanical design software solution, has been of particular benefit to Cleaner Air Solutions in digitally modelling and rolling out larger solar PV installations. The company's previous CAD system proved adequate in managing smaller installations but struggled to deal with larger implementations. As Mr Craddock explains, "once the installation in question grew above a certain level, it became difficult to count modules, clamps and mounting systems and any changes made to a design could take a considerable time to re-quote.

Using the Autodesk digital prototyping solutions has also helped to shorten the project lifecycle for Cleaner Air Solutions by improving the planning process for new designs.

As Mr Craddock commented: "on some of the larger installations, planning is key to the project's critical path. Given this, a 3D representation of an installation on a building can help get systems passed through planning a lot quicker than without."

Another great benefit of the solutions is that they provide a migration path to 3D technology. "Over time, the need to work in 3D has become increasingly important," said Mr Craddock.[Page Break]

Scoping out the Work

Cleaner Air Solutions is currently using Autodesk software solutions including Autodesk Inventor, to produce customised designs of its own mounting systems: to layout installations and to create bills of materials.

It carries out 3D renderings of the designs using Inventor alone. "By enabling us to quickly visualise what the final design will look like, we can save huge amounts of time across the design process," says Mr Craddock.

Cleaner Air Solutions has not yet implemented Autodesk Vault data management software but is planning to do so and to use it for full document control. Once implemented, the Autodesk Vault software should help Cleaner Air Solutions to manage design, simulation and documentation data and achieve full document control.

The company now has all five software licenses issued as part of the Clean Tech Partner Program up and running. With plans in place to recruit up to 50 new staff before the end of 2011, it anticipates the need to take out further Autodesk software licences soon.[Page Break]

Benefits

Summarising the benefits of joining the programme, Mr Craddock commented, "being part of the Clean Tech Program and having access to the Autodesk solutions allows us to develop innovative products, dramatically reduce project risk and overall lifecycles, and drive rapid but well-informed decisions on design projects by developing high-quality visualisations.

"Over time, the need to work in 3D has become increasingly important to us," he adds. "Joining the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program has given us access to high-quality 3D design tools, in turn enabling us to achieve efficiencies; drive business growth and build competitive edge in an ever more crowded marketplace."

Cleaner Air Solutions is based in Meadowfield, Durham, UK. www.cleanerairsolutions.co.uk

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