AP-Alternatives (APA) was created in 2008 as a spin-off of Alex Products, Inc. in an effort to dedicate resources for the development of diversified products. At the time, Alex Products was a 100% automotive seating manufacturer. Alex Products was incorporated in 1973, initially supplying parts to the housing industry. In 1985, new engineering-based ownership started a one-man machine shop and built automation equipment, primarily for the automotive seating industry. This led into API becoming a world-class supplier of automotive seating components recognized by their largest customer, Johnson Controls, as the best of the best of 3,000 worldwide suppliers each of the last fourteen years. The one-man shop grew to over 1,000 employees and $120,000,000 in revenue, in three NW Ohio production plants and a Tooling Technology Center. The keys to success for API have been the in-house tooling capabilities to build automation capable of zero-defect quality, 100% on-time delivery, and world-class price competitiveness; this was all achieved while performing to meet or exceed customer expectations on 100% of projects they committed to or, in some cases, were forced to do, due to other failing suppliers. With the downturn in the economy crushing automotive volumes, AP-Alternatives began developing ideas to use the same world-class performance and automation in the surging solar market. APA has the support of the in-house tooling and automation capabilities, but uses dedicated resources to change the price structure of the solar industry. The relationship between the companies is as follows: Alex Products manufactures the tooling, equipment, and the racking components, whereas AP-Alternatives engineers, markets, deploys, and/or technically supports the system in the construction of solar arrays, or racking products.
When the company was in its infancy, APA looked at the cost drivers and show-stoppers with the end product in mind. It was discovered that the key cost driver, beyond the modules and inverters, was the field labor and work environment to construct massive arrays with quality assurance. The solution seemed simple because it is what we do every day; building automation that runs with minimal manpower, takes the human element out of the quality equation, and self-monitors each operation for defect-free production. We then built our assembly lines to be torn down and transported anywhere, so they can be mobilized and assembled at the installation site. By mobilizing our assembly line, we are able to minimize transportation and packaging, while maintaining minimal labor costs to ensure a controlled, factory environment. These are general labor jobs that we can bring to the job site or, if desired, APA can utilize local labor sources that result in positive local PR and help to stimulate the regional economy.
The manufacturing and installation includes producing all racking components in our NW Ohio metal plants and shipping them to the site or assembly facility. For our Modular series, the components are assembled into cartridges (racking); this includes attaching the modules, adding grounding components, plugging the series wiring and permanent cable management in place, palletizing for transport to the point of placement, installing anchors, mounting racking on the driven anchors, and permanently securing to the anchors with a locking cap. A follow-up crew then places the cross bracing on, at which point the mechanical array construction is complete. An electrical wiring crew will follow by connecting the field wiring with the pre-assembled string wiring located in the integrated cable trays. All of this is held in place by APA supplied clips and EPDM conduit.
Along with our Modular Product line, in 2014, APA launched its new Ready Rack line of hardware in order to reach a more diverse market. Ready Rack was designed with simplicity, cost, and speed-of-installation in mind. The product was an instant success and in 2015 accounted for over 40% of product sales.
AP-Alternatives attributes its rapid success to; the best customer service that we can offer, in house manufacturing capabilities, 8 years of advanced racking engineering, proved success in the field, and the most robust quality assurance program in both the factory and field. AP-Alternatives’ goal is not only to be the most cost effective racking solution in the industry, but also to bring a “team” mentality to every project. It is the commitment of AP-Alternatives to work with developers, contractors, and EPC’s in order to maximize efficiency, drive costs down, and complete successful projects.