Lectrosonics Tour · Dragonsdawn Main Page

A Tour of MidNite Solar

I met boB Gudgel at an IEEE meeting. My general goal was to get out, meet people, learn interesting stuff, and network as part of my 2018 job hunt. Bob is an interesting guy, as seen by his business card listing him as boB Gudgel. He is an engineer at MidNite Solar.

In short, MidNite Solar designs, manufactures, and sells Balance of Systems (BOS) components for residential scale renewable energy systems. These systems, are necessary for NEC complaint solar systems, include parts such as PV combiner boxes, switch/breaker boxes, battery boxes, and rapid shutdown systems. For any laymen that wondered in, these devices tie together various combinations of renewable energy sources (solar, wind, pico-hydro), the power gird, battery banks, backup generators, and your house. These devices have to automatically balance the various loads to optimize the use of renewable energy, recharge the batteries, sell power back to the grid, and keep the power on in the home. This is not a simple task.

Meeting Bob by his office in MidNite Solar, Building 3, was a simple task.

Bob outside of MidNite Solar building #3

CAUTION: Before you read further be warned that this tour contains what some engineers attempt to pass off as humor. Don't take it too seriously - doing so may result in wasted time, confusion, mild irritation, and scurvy. At least MidNite Solar's customers are buying products from a company where many employees actually enjoy their job.

The circuit board shown here is a prototype for something that MidNite Solar is developing. I don't know if the lawyer joke will be on the final version, or if they will replace it with a knock-knock joke.

Some of the jokes they stuck on a circuit board.

Bob shares an office with a couple other engineers (or minions, I am not quite sure). There is an endless assortment of junk, errr, um, useful and valuable electronics.

Bobs office

When we went from the office into one of the assembly areas the first thing we saw was a nice collection of classic cars. All electronics companies must have these to succeed, and the more with manual transmissions the better.

Several antique cars inside building 3.

Unlike Lectrosonics, MidNite solar does not currently do much in-house machining & metalworking. Like Lectrosonics, they do a huge amount of electrical assembly in-house. Seen here is an empty circuit board for the kid charge controller. Solder paste has been screened on, and the board is ready to be populated with electrical components.

Board waiting for silk screen & soldering.

This machine uses a stencil to place solder paste on the empty circuit board, precisely located for installation of surface-mount electrical components.

Silk screen machine putting on solder paste.

Pick and place machines are used to place electrical components onto the board after applying the solder. They are then run through a reflow oven, melting the solder.

Pick and place machines in building 3

Reels of components being fed into a pick and place machine.

Close up of a pick and place machine in building 3

A large number of technicians complete the installation of electrical components, final assembly, and testing.

Workers in the assembly area

Boards for shut off boxes. The surface mount parts have been installed, but the technicians still need to install other components.

A tray of circuit boards

Graphics panel board, before the display is installed. Note how the boards are cleverly mounted in an easy-to-carry holder with a handle on top.

A tower of circuit boards.

Boards for a MidNite Classic 250 charge controller, ready for installation or testing.

A shelf of parts.

An 8-059-1 Rev C board for a BRAT charge controller. I am sure that it does something important.

Comparing it with the completed product, you can see that each one of these is two boards that will be later broken apart, and that the green screw terminals have not yet been installed.

A MidNite Solar 8-059-1 Rev C board.

The technicians seem to enjoy working here.

A repair and assembly tech

The Birdhouse is a remote shutdown assembly that allows the solar panels to be remotely disconnected. A shutoff switch is installed at the panels themselves, which are often in hard to access locations such as on the roof. The remote shutoff is placed in an easy to access location, and connects to a switch at the panels. That way the power can be shut off without having to climb up on the roof. Depending on your jurisdiction, this may be required by code.

A birdhouse assembly.

At MidNite Solar, you get paid to build birdhouses.

Assembling the bird house style power switch.

A pre-wired inverter system for off grid use, being wired. MidNite sells an assortment of pre-wired systems to speed the installation of their products. This system combines a Schneider Electric Conext SW, a MidNite Classic 150 controller, and various other parts to into a single ready to install package. They have several different voltage & current ratings available, and I don't know which one is shown in the picture.

Assembling the finished product.

A resistor bank used as a test load. Which makes me wonder: do they also have inductor and/or capacitor banks they can add in to simulate the electrical reactance found in some loads, or is that a non-issue? Most reactance is caused by inductive loads, such as large industrial motors, so households don't have much. Another concern may be that modern switching power supplies are increasingly common, and they only draw power during part of each cycle.

A bank of large resistors for testing.

All products go through a burn in test prior to shipping, to reduce the chance of sending a defective unit.

Burn-in testing.

They are using one of their own systems as part of their power system. Which is good to see; in general, companies need to eat their own dog food.

A power converter in use.

An unknown employee brought a small gas engine into this renewable energy factory. Sacrilege!

A small gas engine.

They have a large bank of solar panels for testing. While solar panels are not so effective in western Washington State, the point here is to test the product, not make money off of selling power. These panels were assembled on the ground, presumably for easy access.

A set of solar panels for testing their systems.

An office for testing was built underneath. The result is sometimes called the homeless shelter.

The solar testing facility, AKA the homeless shelter

Inside the homeless shelter is one of the best offices I have visited. I would much much rather work in here than in a cube farm. At least, assuming that I had enough of the space to myself. Chattering coworkers help prevent you from actually focusing your job, which is why many companies put you in cube farms, or, worse, open offices. The electronics hanging from the ceiling in this place is a nice bonus; all I would add is a wood burning stove...

Inside the solar test facility.

They also make small wind generators. The MNChinook200 comes in marine and non-marine version, and is probably a better choice over solar power in many areas.

The wind assembly area.

Like windmills, these small generators use a vane to point the turbine into the wind. Larger systems often use a motor and gear drive system to point it.

Wind generators under construction.

A close-up of the generator coils. The wind turns a disc covered in magnets which is mounted in front of the coils.

The coils on a wind generator.

Once the products are constructed they have to be boxed and shipped.

Boxes ready to be sealed.

They also stock and sell circuit breakers. AC and DC breakers are generally not interchangeable. The common 120V / 15A breaker from your local hardware store is for AC power and can not be counted on to work correctly in a DC circuit.

Bob by a shelf of circuit breakers.

Boxes being loaded up, and almost ready to ship.

Pallets of stuff ready to ship.

The black cat is named Midnite. I assume he (she?) must be the CEO. It has got to be stressful having the CEO watching your every move while shedding on your keyboard.

MidNite the cat.

Lectrosonics Tour · Dragonsdawn Main Page

Last Updated: Oct 2018; Original Posting.

© David C. Hunter, 2018

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