Company spotlight: RBI Solar wants to make installation easier for EPCs

Known mostly for its racking product delivery and engineering assistance on large ground-mounts, RBI Solar has established itself as a standout in solar construction. But with the recent acquisition of balance-of-system product provider SolarBOS, RBI shows it wants to be bigger than just racking.

Established a decade ago, RBI Solar is a sister company of Rough Brothers Inc., a specialty design-build greenhouse firm with over 80 years of experience. Rough Brothers manufactures and installs steel and aluminum greenhouse structures for schools, commercial growers and retail garden centers throughout the country.

“Up until about 2008, we were a greenhouse engineering, manufacturing and construction company,” said Pat Long, general manager of RBI Solar and a long-time VP with Rough Brothers. “We started to look at new businesses to get in, and aluminum/steel fabrication was a comfort zone for us. We looked at solar racking right at the time the industry started to grow. Fabricating metal, doing designs, structural engineering and installation have been things we’ve been comfortable with for decades so it was an easy move for us into the solar world.”

Because of Rough Brothers’ design-build experience, RBI Solar naturally gravitated toward that role in solar. RBI assists EPCs with project development and does design, structural engineering and stamping, all in-house. The company manufactures its racks out of its Cincinnati, Ohio, facility (and other U.S. and international locations) and will install the mounting systems and panels at the site. And its not just ground-mounts; RBI Solar is also involved with roof-mounts, carports and other specialty structures.

“We call ourselves a single-source provider,” said Kevin Ward, account manager. “We eliminate a lot of the other vendors that EPCs have to be involved with. We take on a lot of that responsibility. That makes the process go a lot easier and smoother for them since they know RBI is taking on a larger chunk of it.”

This is what RBI Solar believes is the major differentiator between itself and other mounting companies–handling more than just racking manufacturing.

“We see ourselves as a very service-orientated company,” Long said. “When you put that whole package together of the different parts and pieces we bring to a solar project and have quality, experienced, capable, professional construction and project managers overseeing that, we think that differentiates us.”

RBI Solar president Bill Vietas said that core company value of being a single-source provider led to the logical acquisition of a balance-of-system product company.

“[EPCs] buy racking from us and they buy combiner boxes and wires from a variety of people,” he said. “It’s an engineered product that goes on a project-specific design. If we can integrate the racking, wires and combiner box together and provide some of that engineering and product from our side, it helps our customers and helps us to be more relevant from a design and engineering product solution.”

SolarBOS manufactures combiner boxes, wire solutions, rapid shutdown products and more in California and Michigan. RBI Solar’s parent company Gibraltar Industries (which bought RBI in 2015) announced the SolarBOS acquisition in August. RBI has already begun incorporating SolarBOS products in its system designs and wants to continue to find ways to make everything easier on the EPC.

“Our mantra is ‘Take care of customers,'” Ward said. “This [SolarBOS acquisition] is another part of that so we can better serve our customers.”

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