In this featured project, MT Solar, a mounting solutions specialist for solar arrays, took advantage of the quick and easy modeling, analysis, and design tools offered in the SkyCiv suite to build a prototype that would be universally used throughout the United States – more on this later. The design was time sensitive and had to be flexible throughout the duration. To learn more about their innovative solutions or read about their own successes and case studies, head over to MT Solar’s website.

Project: Solar Array Cantilevered TOP-6 Mount

Type: Renewable Energy

Engineer: Lydia Fahrenkrug, MT Solar

MT Solar was founded in 2014 in Charlo, Montana and specializes in mounting solutions for solar arrays. Their founders were tired of long lead times and lack of innovation in the solar industry. They offer traditional ground and pole mounting solutions used for residential and commercial solar panel installs, with focus on end user satisfaction and easy installation . What makes them different are features including tilt adjusting to maximize solar production and ‘Hoisting’ of the array for final installation so most of the physical labor of installation (assembly, wiring, etc.,) can be completed at a safe and comfortable waist level.

About the Project

Although the solar industry is quickly expanding, not all solar array mounting needs are being met, so MT Solar tackles custom projects for customers in different industries, specifically telecommunication. Telecommunication is utilizing the power of solar to electrify their systems in addition to providing shade and protection of expensive equipment. These types of projects can have remote site locations, extreme weather conditions, exposed essential equipment, and limited access to power. The goal of this project was to create an efficient prototype for a solar array mounting system that would be used across the United States.

MT Solar used SkyCiv throughout the project process for initial project design and pricing through the final installation. For this specific project, the design was actually universal, as it needed to be installed in multiple areas in the United States to as mentioned, collect solar power and shade equipment; The scope of application of this project was very high.

Figure 1: Final construction of custom prototype

The Challenge

The initial part the project was a proof of concept leading to a prototype installation that was required before they are able to expand the mount to over 4,000 sites. The challenge with this, as with most custom projects, is generating an initial project cost and design so the project can continue through the design process to final procurement without too much of an initial investment.

“SkyCiv has been a great tool to help efficiently and clearly document and update design results for a member of a small company with multiple responsibilities.”

Throughout the design process MT Solar needed to constantly tweak and check their prototype design with the required loads as the project marched towards approval. For the installation of this custom solution, it needed to be quite different from MT Solar’s traditional product line in that it would be optimized for manufacturing, installation, and meet the custom needs of the end user.

Figure 2: Real 3D Model of the prototype in Onshape

How it Was Designed

This project was designed and analyzed on cloud based software, namely SkyCiv and Onshape. SkyCiv was used throughout the project as a stepping stone in achieving the project’s design requirements for the product. Onshape’s role was to initially provide the customer a model of what the mount design could like at their site. MT Solar used SkyCiv to assist in properly sizing members to develop an accurate and competitive price for the product, which was completed with a nodal design in the Structural 3D (S3D). This summarizes the product conception and initial design phase.
“The easy modelling in SkyCiv allows me to develop prototype designs that are easy to update and share months after initially starting when the product is ready to be designed for full production.”
Months later when the large project was sold and ready for the prototype installation, Lydia was able to quickly access and reference the SkyCiv model to pick-up where she left off. She really liked being able to see the previous revisions of the project, especially since there had been such a gap in time between work. Similar in process to the initial product conception, but with significantly more detail, Lydia leveraged SkyCiv to optimize the design and develop the appropriate reports as deliverables.
Using the section database in SkyCiv made it easy to change members and analyze their performance to prove a valid design while reducing project costs. Since this cantilevered array is a different than many of the other MT Solar mounts, it required the modification of node locations to maximize the cantilever while working to reduce member sizes, but with Structural 3D, it was smooth and easy.
Figure 3: Section Builder in use, putting real members in the project (W6x9 shown)
Figure 4: SkyCiv Structural 3D model of the protoype

How SkyCiv Helped

SkyCiv assisted in completing this project with its cloud based solutions that allow for easy project organization from the project start (Oct. 2019) to finish (Sept. 2020). With the reports easily generated by SkyCiv, MT Solar had a professional-level deliverable that was used to back the product design, allowing the engineers to spend more time optimizing the design rather than formatting documents. Overall, the structural analysis and design model needed to be malleable enough to iterated on. SkyCiv was able to provide this need with its theme of easy to use, yet powerful software.

“The chat function in SkyCiv provides a useful tool that is readily available to answer any questions I may have.”

When asked about the one thing that helped MT Solar with their project and design, their lead engineer states:

“The best tool that SkyCiv offers is their material and section library [Section Builder], which allows users to easily optimize different components in a design.”