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Building a faster, more efficient organization in pursuit of a sustainable energy future

With Nintex K2 Five, First Solar is streamlining development times to deliver solutions faster for greater business value.

U.S.-headquartered First Solar produces high-performance thin film photovoltaic (PV) modules, designed and developed at its R&D centers in California and Ohio, that deliver the lowest carbon solar available today. With a manufacturing footprint that spans the United States, Malaysia, and Vietnam, it is the only U.S.-headquartered company among the world’s largest solar manufacturers.

Efficiency is important to First Solar in more ways than one. The company is using Nintex K2 Five to innovate solutions across the organization, improving employee efficiency while simplifying its technology landscape. With around 30 production applications launched, Nintex K2 Five is recognized company wide as a tool that is delivering business solutions.

First Solar
Capabilities Used
Automation On-Prem

Who they are

First Solar is a leading global provider of comprehensive photovoltaic (PV) solar systems.

What they need

The company needed process automation software to help automate and modernize work across its business.

How they did it

Using Nintex K2 Five, First Solar has implemented over 30 applications to streamline processes, eliminate manual work, and support continuous improvement.

Eliminating manual work

Challenge: Email and Excel-based processes

Before First Solar implemented Nintex K2 Five, the company was still functioning in startup mode, with a large portion of work being conducted in email or via Excel spreadsheets. As it started to grow its IT infrastructure, the company realized it needed to automate processes to save employees the headache of all that manual work and to create operational efficiency.

Initially, the company looked into using SharePoint’s built-in workflow tools. However, this provided no single way to manage all the different workflows in one place.

Solution: Centralized support for automated processes

The company brought in the Nintex K2 Five process automation platform in order to centralize support while gaining the flexibility to build workflows in the way management needed. Today, with about 30 applications deployed—from an intricate change management system to the company’s document control center—Nintex K2 Five is known by name across the organization as a solutions provider.

“[Nintex] K2 Five gives us the ability to get solutions out the door a lot faster,” says Charles Carr, Manager of IT at First Solar. “We’ve been able to get the same amount of work done in less time but with better quality.”

As it seeks to ensure that its internal rate of change keeps pace with external dynamics, the company has undertaken a significant internal transformation. After assessing which tools were most important to the company, the group determined that Nintex K2 Five delivers an immense amount of value, supporting many of its major applications.

In fact, First Solar’s Nintex K2 Five capability management tool helps the Continuous Improvement Group to gain insight into those applications, including capabilities and cost figures, automatically translating that data to Tableau reports. According to Carr, “We use [Nintex] K2 Five to manage the forms and inputs to create the relationship between the business capability, which is then tied to spend to applications, which is also then tied to spend usage—two metrics that we’re trying to track. And Nintex K2 Five is what ties it all together for us.” This saved the company around $50,000 on an enterprise architecture (EA) tool, which would have to have been purchased to do the same thing. “So we’re using Nintex K2 Five to both deliver business results,” says Carr, “and to manage those results.”

Nintex K2 Five gives us the ability to get solutions out the door a lot faster. We’ve been able to get the same amount of work done in less time but with better quality. You don’t have to be a developer to build things, which has expanded the number of people who can work on things internally and reduced our reliance on third parties and offshore developers.
Charles Carr, Manager, IT, First Solar
Rules-based change management

Challenge: A 21-tab Excel spreadsheet

First Solar’s change management process involves all the company’s change initiatives across its products, the manufacturing process, and packaging suppliers. This process is managed by the development engineering department and the quality department and requires the input of the company’s Change Management Board, comprising all the different engineering departments.

Due to the complexity of change management, this manual process was originally managed by a 21-tab Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. This time-consuming process needed an upgrade as the company moved towards driving operational excellence company-wide.

Solution: Automating change management

Today, the Nintex K2 Five change management system has replaced this complex Excel spreadsheet. According to Carr, “That’s one of our most complex applications, with seven different workflows and tons of forms that are dynamically built depending on the type of change and the complexity of a change.”

Essentially, Nintex K2 Five orchestrates a gating process that evaluates the risk and complexity of any given change. It goes through an initial rule-based workflow that scores a form based on how it was filled out. Once the form has been signed off on by management, it triggers a stage to determine how many different workflow approvals will be needed along the way. A simple change goes right into the implementation phase. More complex changes go into a solution development phase that requires evaluating the change from a product standpoint.

One of the biggest workflows within this system is the Engineering Test Authorization (ETA) workflow. “This is used to get approvals to run tests on manufacturing production lines, all of which run 24/7. They never stop,” says Carr. “To be able to run a test requires a lot of detailed information about what the company is doing, so Nintex K2 Five is used to get the approvals and track the results.”

Saving money on document management

Challenge: Costly document management systems

Centralizing and streamlining document management has always been important to the company. As a manufacturing company with operations in the United States, Malaysia, and Vietnam, First Solar follows the different ISO certifications and guidelines, which require the company to have control over product and process documents. Purchasing enterprise document management systems for every department could have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

Solution: Enterprise document management

First Solar developed an enterprise document management system, leveraging SharePoint for document storage and Nintex K2 Five to manage approvals. “We’ve set it up in such a way that we have multiple document libraries, depending upon the types of documents and based on how the user fills out the form and classifies the document,” Carr says. “The system has the intelligence to figure out which library it belongs in and who needs to sign off and approve the document.”

From there, it tracks the approvals and launches reminders when they are late. If there is a change request on the document later, it handles the additional approvals as well.

Says Carr, “So rather than each department going out and buying their own system, we decided to leverage what we have and make it more flexible to meet everybody’s needs. We liked the flexibility of being able to control the process ourselves rather than buying an application to do it—for much cheaper.”

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