RBI goes more vertical with Solar BOS

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One of the latest examples of verticalization within the solar industry merger and acquisition melee is that of racking maker RBI Solar’s three-week old acquisition of custom manufacturer Solar BOS. The melding of the two companies, for which the paperwork is still settling, should make the whole better than the two parts, since customers will now be able to source everything but panels and inverters from a single source. At the same time customers can reduce the number of engineering sessions normally needed to take delivery from two separate entities.

“This should help enable us to serve customers more holistically. And we have hopes that the acquisition will result in lower costs,” ventures Kevin Ward, the marketing manager of the Cincinnati-based company. From their booth at the Solar Power International show held here in Anaheim this week, he pointed out several significant design changes to the company’s fixed-tilt offerings, including a C-shaped post and corresponding top component that reduces the amount of steel in their latest generation of structural design.

Solar BOS folks, also at the show, seem optimistic about the new venture. “We should complement one another in a streamlined way, since there is no overlap,” says Zuzana Piras, a product manager for Solar BOS. “Customers should save more time in the ordering-to-delivery process now, which can take weeks or months, depending on variables,” she says.

RBI, initially an outgrowth of the aluminum greenhouse business of Rough Brothers — the largest conservatory, garden center and greenhouse manufacturer in North America — provides solar customers with design, engineering, manufacturing and installation of ground mount, canopy, roof mount and ballasted racking systems. With engineers certified in all 50 states, the company offers nationwide installation and technical support. The company manufactures in Ohio, North Carolina, California, and Shanghai, with a capacity of 800 MW of solar mounting structures per year.

Solar BOS, with manufacturing in both Livermore and Grand Rapids, provides custom solutions for disconnect combiners and recombiners, arc fault circuit Interruption (AFCI) combiners, rapid shutdown solutions, AC combiners, wire harnesses and overmolds.

This latest RBI acquisition comes a few years after the company acquired ProtekPark Solar, a manufacturer and installer of solar carport structures. The acquisition covered brand, technology, intellectual property, manufacturing, and employees. “This acquisition will allow RBI Solar to bring their single source value chain approach to develop and implement a robust and cost effective canopy solution,” the company said at the time of the deal.

The verticalization doesn’t stop there in this story. RBI itself was acquired in 2015 for $130 million by Gibraltar Industries, a Buffalo-based manufacturer of construction materials with projected 2018 sales of $1 billion. Gibraltar’s Renewable Energy and Conservation segment, including RBI, has seven manufacturing facilities and two distribution centers in the United States. The parent as a whole has 13 manufacturing facilities and four distribution centers in the United States and Canada, and also operates in China and Japan.

Sound vaguely familiar? Compare Valmont Industries’ acquisition of tracker maker Convert Italia earlier this year or Flex’s acquisition of NEXTracker in 2015. This rogue wave is far from cresting…