German chancellor Angela Merkel visits Accumotive’s plant in Kamenz, Germany.
Tesla gets the headlines, but big battery factories are being built all over the world, driving down prices.
Battery production is booming, and Tesla is far from the only game in town.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global battery production is forecast to more than double between now and 2021. The expansion is in turn driving prices down, good news both for the budding electric-car industry and for energy companies looking to build out grid-scale storage to back up renewable forms of energy.
While Tesla gets tons of attention for its “gigafactories”—one in Nevada that will produce batteries, and another in New York that will produce solar panels—the fact is, the company has a lot of battery-building competition.
Exhibit A is a new battery plant in Kamenz, Germany, run by Accumotive. The half-billion-euro facility broke ground on Monday with a visit from German chancellor Angela Merkel and will supply batteries to its parent company, Daimler, which is betting heavily on the burgeoning electric-vehicle market.
But the lion’s share of growth is expected to be in Asia. BYD, Samsung, LG, and Panasonic (which has partnered with Tesla) are all among the world’s top battery producers, and nine of the world’s largest new battery factories are under construction in China (paywall), according to Benchmark Minerals.
That competition means the steady downward trend in battery prices is going to continue. On a per-kilowatt-hour basis, costs have fallen from $542 in 2012 to around $139 today, according to analysis by Benchmark.
That makes for a huge difference in the cost of an electric car, of which 40 percent is usually down to the battery itself.
Bloomberg’s analysts have already said that the 2020s could be the decade in which electric cars take off—and one even went so far as to say that by 2030, electric cars could be cheaper than those powered by internal combustion.
Those watching the industry might worry that a flood of cheap batteries could end up hurting profitability for producers, as happened in the solar-panel business.
That could happen, but India and China, two huge rising automotive markets, are bullish about using electric cars to help solve problems like traffic congestion and air pollution. So even as supply ramps up, there is likely to be plenty of demand to go around.
When automobiles first debuted in the United States, they faced a classic “chicken and egg” problem. On one hand, autos were custom-made luxury items, affordable only to a niche market of affluent individuals.
On the other hand, there was little incentive for most people to buy automobiles in the first place, as the system of roads in America was woefully underdeveloped.
Henry Ford managed to solve the “chicken and egg” problem with the Model T, the first product of its kind to reach the mass market. But today, there’s also another auto industry visionary facing a similar challenge in the 21st century: Elon Musk and his company, Tesla.
Ford’s assembly line and uncomplicated design allowed for cheaper pricing, which helped Ford sales to take off. With many new Model Ts hitting the road, the United States government was able to generate enough revenue from gasoline taxes to enable the sustainable development of roads in the United States.
More roads meant a renewed desire for more Model Ts to populate those roads, and so on. This was the start of a trend that sees 253 million cars on American roads a century later.
COST AND INFRASTRUCTURE: DUELING PRIORITIES
Fast-forward to today, and vehicle buyers have concerns not unlike those of early automobile adopters at the turn of the 20th century. Aside from the price of purchasing a new vehicle, most prospective buyers of electric vehicles cite charging availability and maximum travelling range as their biggestchallenges.
Fortunately, EV prices are already falling due to advancements in the production of one of their key components: the lithium-ion battery packs that power them.
At one point, battery packs made up one-third of the costs for a new vehicle, but battery costs have dropped precipitously since 2010. That said, automakers like Tesla will need to continue to make progress here if they hope to match the growth and saturation of their forebears at the turn of the 20th century.
CHARGING AHEAD OF DEMAND
A study by the National Science Foundation’s INSPIRE Project found that the current amount of money disbursed as tax credits to new electric vehicle buyers (currently up to $7,500 per vehicle) would have been sufficient to build 60,000 new charging points nationwide.
The growth of charging station infrastructure is already astonishing. New public outlets have been added at a 65.3% CAGR between 2011 and 2016, and further growth will open even more roads to long-distance EV travel and network effects.
According to the math of the study, new charge stations would have a bigger effect on the EV market than the tax credits, and could have increased EV sales by five times the amount.
In short, charging stations will be to Tesla what roads were to Ford: the means by which they can reach lofty new heights of market dominance. Infrastructure development may be the “push” that electric vehicles need to get them over the early adoption barrier and into the mainstream. Combined with falling costs and improved efficiency, electric vehicles could create a Ford-like transformation within the automotive industry in a very short time.
A medium-sized commercial weed grow with around 50 lights stands to save about $13,500 in electricity costs a year with the use of two Tesla Batteries. Those will also protect the plants in case of power outages while making the operation less visible to law enforcement. Elon Musk just made growing weed easier.
Unveiled last night, the Tesla Battery gives home owners and businesses an easy, slick, affordable way to store electricity at home. The 10kWh battery costs just $3,500 and can be “stacked” in sets of up to nine units. Larger capacity batteries of infinitely-scaleable capacity will be available to large businesses and governments. There’s three general use cases for the battery:
Storing electricity purchased during cheaper, Off-peak hours for use during high-demand periods;
Storing electricity generated by solar power or other renewable sources for use around the clock; and
As a backup power source for when the grid goes down.
Know who uses an awful lot of electricity? Weed growers. We just called one and put him on the phone with a commercial energy use management expert to figure out how the Tesla Battery will benefit his home operation and others like it.
Our friend’s operation is small, but profitable. With eight to ten grow lights running 16-20 hours a day in his garage, as well as air-conditioning during hotter parts of the year, his monthly electricity bill is around $2,100, including his home use.
As a domestic consumer of electricity, he’s currently purchasing flat-rate power. In that current arrangement, the Tesla Battery would not save him money day-to-day. Where it would help would be during a power outage, where it would enable him to keep at least some of his lights on, part of the time. In total, those lights alone are using up to 250kWh of power a day, so even two 10kWh batteries could only keep some of the lights on part time.
But, that could be enough to prevent a large financial loss. “The plants start to get angry after about 72 hours without power,” the grower explains. “They won’t die, but the plants in veg will think it’s time to flower and switch over.”
In the lifecycle of a marijuana plant, the vegetative state is where the plants are growing. Depending on the individual plants and the method with which they’re being grown, this stage can last from two weeks to two months. Premature flowering would lead to smaller plants producing fewer, smaller buds and therefore a smaller crop.
The point in the plant lifecycle at which a power outage occurs, its duration and the amount of marijuana being grown will combine to determine the financial loss, but it’s safe to say that the Tesla Battery could throw growers a lifeline during extreme weather or natural disasters.
We’ve all heard stories about growers being outed by the energy intensive nature of their work. Roofs over grow rooms free of snow during winters or insanely high electricity bills have all, in those stories at least, tipped off the cops.
“It doesn’t work that way,” the grower explains. “The cops have to present a warrant to the electricity company to get your bill and, for that, they need probable cause. No, the electricity companies don’t always demand that warrant, but generally, this isn’t how it works. They’re not going through every power bill, looking for suspiciously high ones.”
One of the other touted benefits of the Battery is its ability to facilitate off-grid living. By hooking it up to solar panels, the Battery can store energy during the day, then keep your house powered throughout the night. Or your off-grid grow, maybe?
“I haven’t seen any solar-powered indoor grows yet,” says our guy. “I suspect the costs of the panels are still way too high.”
He’s right. The most powerful solar panel kit currently available at Home Depot costs $12,388 and produces only 3,800 to 8,900kWh a year. Best case scenario, that yearly total is only enough to power our buddy’s 8-10 lights for a little over a month. Look at it from a cost perspective and 10 times the price of his monthly electricity bill (lights only) nets him about 1/10th the power. And that’s before buying any batteries, Tesla or otherwise.
At this point, the real savings possible with the Tesla Battery come with scale. But not that much more.
Our commercial energy consumption management expert sat down and ran the numbers assuming a medium-sized, 50-light commercial operation running its A/C during the day. These numbers are based on commercial electricity rates here in California, where the company is paying a premium during high-demand hours.
With two 10kWh Tesla Batteries giving this commercial grow the ability to shift some of its load to off-peak hours, savings in demand charges alone would total $8,000 a year, while use charges would lower by $5,500, for a total savings of $13,500.
Of course, even just at 50 lights, we’re talking about a multi-million dollar operation, making this sound like relative chump change. Worthwhile — the batteries would be paid for in just over 6 months of savings — but hardly revolutionary.
“Where these batteries might start to make sense for small growers is when LEDs are optimized for herb,” says our grower. He’s skeptical of the light quality produced by current LED grow lights, but sees that technology being optimized for marijuana in the near future. When it is, it could drastically lower the energy consumption of growing, reducing electricity used by the lights alone by 60 percent or more. Lower outright energy consumption will reduce the cost of growing, of course, but it also shifts the amount of consumption into a range that could be more easily handled by Tesla Batteries.
Given the current pace of marijuana legalization, the need for clandestine home grows may largely be eliminated by the time dipping energy consumption and increasing battery capacity meet in a home solar power sweet zone, but as a massive electricity consumer, it does look like the marjiuana industry is going to profit from the same Tesla Battery benefits everyone else will — reduced peak demand and increased stability during outages.
Are there ‘soon to be coming to market – more energy dense batteries’ available?
After nice stretch of sunny weather, the last few months have clouded over for big solar. Declining prices for photovoltaic cells are hurting panel manufacturers and stressing solar installation businesses.
This situation was in sharp relief this week in Tesla’s (TSLA Tesla Motors Inc TSLA 307.19 -0.38%) earnings, as its solar installation business, SolarCity, disclosed a big slowdown in builds. SolarCity commands 41 percent of the residential solar installation market, according to GTM. In its latest earnings, the firm revealed that it had installed 150 MW of panels in the first quarter, down nearly 39 percent y/y.
“Rather than prioritizing the growth of MW of solar deployed at any cost, we are selectively deploying projects that have higher margin and generate cash up front. Consequently, solar energy generation deployments in Q1 2017 declined year-over-year, but had better financial results,” said the earnings release.
The Curious Logic of the Solar Market
Industry body Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reports that installations for the past year actually went up. In 2016, the U.S. saw 14.8GW solar capacity installed with a new installation taking place every 84 seconds.
There are companies that are doing well. First Solar (FSLR First Solar In FSLR 35.15 +1.77%) just reported strong earnings while Vivint Solar (VSLR Vivint Solar Inc VSLR 3.00+1.70%) announced is expansion into Rhode Island and is expected to announce financial results next week. However, the list of struggling companies in the sector is longer.
SunPower Corp. (SPWR) reported its sixth consecutive quarter of losses and laid off 25 percent of its workforce. Verengo Solar filed for bankruptcy last year, while Sungevity and Suninva did the same earlier this year.
But if solar energy is seeing such high demand, why are the companies feeling the heat?
The Price Is Not Right
The cost of the production and installation of solar panels has dropped dramatically and that is driving demand. According to SEIA, the cost to install solar capacity dropped 29 percent in the final quarter of 2016, compared to the same period last year. Over the past 10 years, installation costs have come down by nearly 60 percent.
There is more than one reason for price suppression in the solar industry.
“Driving the cost reductions were lower module and inverter prices, increased competition, lower installer and developer overheads, improved labor productivity, and optimized system configurations,” a National Renewable Energy Laboratory report states.
At home, the government tried to promote solar energy to consumers by making it affordable. One such initiative was the Solar Investment Tax Credit for residential and business solar installations, adopted in 2006 and extended in 2015.
In the international arena, U.S. solar companies blame declining panel prices on foreign imports, especially from countries like China, Mexico and Canada. Suniva recently implored President Trump for protectionist policies for the sector.
However, as the big ones struggled, someone made hay as the sun shone. According to GTM research’s U.S. Residential Solar Update 2017, many of the larger firms struggled to do well while smaller, local companies thrived.
Tesla will double the number of its Superchargers and Destination Charging connectors in urban centers and on long distance routes in 2017. This is part of the company’s ongoing commitment to clean energy.
DOUBLING TESLA’S CHARGING NETWORK
On the heels of announcements about a more affordable Model 3 and a Tesla pickup truck, Tesla has begun to prepare for the mass-market in earnest for the first time by making more charging stations for available for their vehicles. To that end, Tesla’s blog announced on Monday, April 24, that the company would be doubling the Tesla charging network in 2017. This includes expanding existing sites in city centers and along highways so drivers need never wait to charge before getting back on the road.
Since the charging network began in 2012, Tesla has constructed more than 5,400 Superchargers to make long distance travel possible and even convenient for Tesla owners. They’ve also built more than 9,000 Destination Charging connectors equipped with Wall Connectors at restaurants, hotels, and other locations.
By the end of 2017 Tesla plans to have more than 10,000 Superchargers and 15,000 Destination Chargers in place around the world. Superchargers will increase by 150 percent in North America, and 1,000 additional Superchargers will be built in California alone. Site selection is underway now so many will open before summer travel season begins. Tesla will place charging sites in urban centers for quicker charging. Larger sites, which will accommodate simultaneous charging for several dozen drivers, will be constructed along the most-used travel routes for Tesla drivers.
NEW AGE IN ENERGY
Tesla’s investment in infrastructure represents a vote of confidence in the success of its newest products as well as the potential for the auto industry to continue shifting toward electric vehicles. Tesla’s overall plan is to change the way we think about power and energy. Experts are already acknowledging that Tesla will be disrupting the auto industry, and the energy industry is next.
Tesla’s newest solar panels integrate seamlessly with the Tesla Powerwall battery system and will be available this summer. By 2018, the Tesla Gigafactory will reach full capacity; when it does, it will be producing more lithium ion batteries than the rest of the world combined. These tools will allow Tesla owners to power their homes — and their vehicles — with solar power, greatly reducing their carbon footprints.
With the ability to harness and store enough renewable energy, we could end our reliance on fossil fuels once and for all — and Musk thinks that’s something Earth urgently needs.
*** Note To Readers: Please practice patience over the first 7:32 of this Video – as we believe the intent of NOVA was to provide “entertainment value.”
We live in an age when technological indocumentarytion seems to be limitlessly soaring. But for all the satisfying speed with which our gadgets have improved, many of them share a frustrating weakness: the batteries. Even though there have been some improvements in last century, batteries remain finicky, bulky, expensive, toxic and maddeningly short-lived.
The quest is on for a “super battery,” and the stakes in this hunt are much higher than the phone in your pocket. With climate change looming, electric cars and renewable energy sources like wind and solar power could hold keys to a greener future… if we can engineer the perfect battery.
In Search for the Super Battery, renowned gadget geek and host David Pogue explores the hidden world of energy storage, from the power–and danger–of the lithium-ion batteries we use today, to the bold indocumentarytions that could one day charge our world. He wants to uncover what the future of batteries has in store for our gadgets, our lives – and even our planet. Might the lowly battery be the breakthrough technology that changes everything?
Lithium-ion batteries represent a landmark technology that has made the current generation of electric vehicles possible. However, the day of their demise, while it still lies years in the future, is within view. Lithium-ion chemistries have a certain maximum energy density, dictated by those pesky laws of physics, and today’s batteries are not so far from that theoretical maximum. If drivers keep demanding longer ranges and faster charging times, then a better technology will have to be found.
Above: Panasonic’s 18650 lithium-ion battery cell used in the Tesla Model S and X (Image: Daily Sabah)
Safety is also an issue. The spectacular explosions and fireballs that some documentary-makers revel in are not the norm (when was the last time your phone or computer caught fire?), but Li-ion batteries do have to be handled carefully, and necessary safety features add complexity and cost to battery packs. A new chemistry that is safer could also prove to be cheaper.
Researchers around the world are working on “beyond lithium” projects, and the past year has seen several significant breakthroughs. Of course, advances in the lab take years to make their way to the marketplace, but if and when one of these promising technologies can be commercialized, we could see game-changing improvements in the performance and cost of EVs.
One technology that’s been getting a tremendous amount of attention from researchers is the solid-state battery, which uses a solid electrolyte instead of the liquid electrolyte used today. Solid-state batteries could theoretically have double the energy density of current batteries, and last several times longer. They also use a non-flammable electrolyte – usually glass, polymer, or a combination – so they would eliminate the safety issues that plague Li-ion cells.
Above: Lithium-ion battery vs. solid state battery (Image: Toyota)
Lithium-air batteries likewise could offer far greater energy density – maybe as much as 10 times more – but they suffer from poor cycle life. In 2015, Cambridge scientists wowed the battery world with an announcement that they had demonstrated a highly efficient and long-lasting lithium-oxygen battery. Alas, researchers from several universities and national labs have since been unable to duplicate the original results.
Other promising battery chemistries use other elements in place of lithium. Sodium batteries powered Jules Verne’s futuristic submarine in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” More recently, in 2015, researchers created a prototype sodium-ion battery in the industry-standard 18650 cylindrical format.
According to a recent article in the Nikkei Asian Review, battery research has seen a big shift in recent years. At one time, nearly half of the presentations at the Battery Symposium in Japan were about fuel cells and Li-ion battery cathode materials. But since 2012, these topics have been supplanted by presentations about solid-state, lithium-air and non-lithium batteries.
Above: How a lithium-air battery works (Image: Money Inc)
Toyota has been focusing on solid-state and Li-air batteries. At the latest Battery Symposium, battery researcher Shinji Nakanishi discussed a scenario for transitioning from Li-ion batteries to solid-state and then Li-air batteries. “We want our electric cars to go 500 km” on a single charge, he said. “And for this, we want rechargeable batteries that can generate 800 to 1,000 watt-hours per liter.” That would be two to three times the energy density of today’s best Li-ion batteries.
Panasonic, Tesla’s battery supplier, is also taking a hard look at solid-state technology. “We think the existing technology can still extend the energy density of Li-ion batteries by 20% to 30%,” President Kazuhiro Tsuga told Nikkei. “But there is a trade-off between energy density and safety. So if you look for even more density, you have to think about additional safety technology as well. Solid-state batteries are one answer.”
Engineers have been pushing the limits of Li-ion technology for decades. Today’s best Li-ion cells can reach an energy density of about 300 watts per kilogram, *** which is getting close to the theoretical maximum. “Existing Li-ion batteries still have room to improve their energy density because you can raise the density by introducing a nickel-based cathode material, so you can expect the batteries will still be used in the next few years,” said battery expert Naoaki Yabuuchi of Tokyo Denki University. He expects lithium-ion technology to reach its limits around 2020.
Above: Tesla Model X on display at Panasonic’s booth at CES (Image: Business Wire)
Is Tesla working on any of these post-lithium chemistries? It would be strange if they were not. We know that the company is constantly evaluating new battery technologies. “Tesla has one of the largest cell characterization laboratories in the world – we have just about every cell you can imagine on test,” Tesla Product Planner Ted Merendino told me back in 2013. However, both Elon Musk and JB Straubel have said that so far, they’ve seen no viable replacement for lithium-ion, and believe me, they’ve been asked the question many times.
“We have yet to see even a single example… of a cell working at the laboratory level that is better than the one that we have, or the ones that we expect to come out with,” said Elon Musk in 2014. Now, the way I parse this statement, he isn’t saying that there’s no improved battery technology in the offing – on the contrary, he’s saying that Tesla will be the one to develop it.
When Model 3 was announced, some EV-watchers opined that, in order to deliver the new vehicle at the desired price point, Tesla would need to make a major battery breakthrough. In the event, Tesla has developed a new battery for Model 3, but it looks more like an incremental improvement than a paradigm shift. The new 2170 cell, which is now being produced at the Gigafactory, is slightly larger than the trusty 18650, and can store more energy. According to Elon Musk, it’s “the highest energy density cell in the world, and also the cheapest.” Advances in the way the cells are assembled into modules and packs are also expected to yield a significant reduction in battery costs.
Above: Tesla’s battery pack in the floorpan of the Model S (Image: First Reporter)
So, it appears that lithium will continue its reign for a few more years at least. However, the post-lithium Holy Grail is still out there, and as likely as not, the knights of Tesla’s round table will be the ones to bring it home. Battery superstar Jeff Dahn and his colleagues aren’t working for Tesla just to make speeches at conferences. It’s entirely possible that, at some super-secret facility in California or Nevada, test mules are being powered by solid-state or lithium-air batteries even as we speak.
*** New Li-Io Technology Reports 400-500 Wh/kg with a $200/ kWh Cost
As it turns out, Tesla, and its battery partner Panasonic, started production of cells for qualification at the plant in December, but today, it confirmed the start of “mass production” of the new battery cell, which will enable several of Tesla’s new products, including the Model 3.
The new cell is called ‘2170’ because it’s 21mm by 70mm. It’s thicker and taller than the previous cell that Tesla developed with Panasonic, which was in an ‘18650’ cell format.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been boasting about the new cell over the past few month. He said that it’s the “highest energy density cell in the world and also the cheapest”.
International experts in the field of battery research recognized Tesla’s contributions and cutting-edge innovations in battery technology. Tesla exec and battery expert says it’s all about implementation. ( Tesla )
March 24, 2017
Tesla is always looking for ways to produce better energy storage not only to extend the range of its electric vehicles but also to power up homes using clean energy, and experts on battery technology have recognized the company’s efforts.
In a surprise addition to the 34th International Battery Seminar’s program, the organizers presented Kurt Kelty, Tesla’s senior director of Battery Technology with the “Battery Innovator of the Year” award, which he received on behalf of Tesla.
Tesla On Battery Technology
Kelty was scheduled to give the Plenary Keynote Address in front of 800 battery experts — including specialists from other EV manufacturers — at the International Battery Seminar, which was held from March 20 to 23 at Fort Lauderdale in Florida. However, before he was even able to utter his first sentence, the prestigious award was bestowed.
Kelty was quick to express his gratitude on behalf of Tesla and say how much of an honor the prize is for the company.
“Everyone recognizes we’re not a battery chemistry company. That’s not why we got the award. It’s more [about] the implementation of the technology,” Kelty said.
Tesla’s Battery Innovations
Tesla is not new to receiving awards when it comes to its battery technology. In 2016, Tesla’s top researcher on battery technology, Jeff Dahn, received the same award and the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering for his research on lithium-ion batteries. And with the company’s smart energy storage solutions in response to energy crises and dedication to producing Li-ion batteries in its Gigafactory in Nevada in 2016 and early 2017, it’s not really that much of a surprise that Elon Musk’s company was honored this time around.
Tesla Will Continue To Innovate Batteries
In his keynote address, Kelty revealed that the company receives battery usage data from its electric vehicle and stationary unit customers in real-time and the company has been learning a lot from the collected data.
He also added that Telsa envisions a well-integrated clean energy system for homes, especially when users combine the company’s products together.
“Where we see the future [is] in houses [and] we want to be your EV provider. Put your EV in your garage and you charge it up with one of our chargers, you have a powerwall … [and] a solar product [solar roof] that we’ll be introducing this summer […] This is the kind of future we see for [your] house,” he reveals.
Musk is probably thrilled with the award but there’s no reaction yet from Tesla’s co-founder and Chief Executive Officer as of writing.
A battery that can be charged in seconds, has a large capacity and lasts ten to twelve years? Certainly, many have wanted such a thing. Now the FastStorageBW II project – which includes Fraunhofer – is working on making it a reality. Fraunhofer researchers are using pre-production to optimize large-scale production and ensure it follows the principles of Industrie 4.0 from the outset.
Imagine you’ve had a hectic day and then, to cap it all, you find that the battery of your electric vehicle is virtually empty. This means you’ll have to take a long break while it charges fully. It’s a completely different story with capacitors, which charge in seconds. However, they have a different drawback: they store very little energy.
In the FastStorageBW II project, funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart, together with colleagues from the battery manufacturer VARTA AG and other partners, are developing a powerful hybrid storage system that combines the advantages of lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors.
“The PowerCaps have a specific capacity as high as lead batteries, a long life of ten to twelve years, and charge in a matter of seconds like a supercapacitor,” explains Joachim Montnacher, Head of the Energy business unit at Fraunhofer IPA. What’s more, PowerCaps can operate at temperatures of up to 85 degree Celsius. They withstand a hundred times more charge cycles than conventional battery systems and retain their charge over several weeks without any significant losses due to self-discharge.
“Supercapacitors may be providing an alternative to electric-car batteries sooner than expected, according to a new research study. Currently, supercapacitors can charge and discharge rapidly over very large numbers of cycles, but their poor energy density per kilogram —- at just one twentieth of existing battery technology — means that they can’t compete with batteries in most applications. That’s about to change, say researchers from the University of Surrey and University of Bristol in conjunction with Augmented Optics.
Large-scale production with minimum risk
The Fraunhofer IPA researchers’ main concern is with manufacturing: to set up new battery production, it is essential to implement the relevant process knowledge in the best possible way.
After all, it costs millions of euros to build a complete manufacturing unit. “We make it possible for battery manufacturers to install an intermediate step – a small-scale production of sorts – between laboratory production and large-scale production,” says Montnacher. “This way, we can create ideal conditions for large-scale production, optimize processes and ensure production follows the principles of Industrie 4.0 from the outset. Because in the end, that will give companies a competitive advantage.” Another benefit is that this cuts the time it takes to ramp up production by more than 50 percent.
For this innovative small-scale production setup, researchers cleverly combine certain production sequences. However, not all systems are connected to each other – at least, as far as the hardware is concerned. More often, it is an employee that carries the batches from one machine to the next. Ultimately, it is about developing a comprehensive understanding of the process, not about producing the greatest number of products in the shortest amount of time. For example, this means clarifying questions such as if the desired quality can be reproduced. The systems are designed as flexibly as possible so that they can be used for different production variations.
Making large-scale production compatible with Industrie 4.0
As far as software is concerned, the systems are thoroughly connected. Like process clusters, they are also equipped with numerous sensors, which show the clusters what data to capture for each of the process steps. They communicate with one another and store the results in a cloud. Researchers and entrepreneurs can then use this data to quickly analyze which factors influence the quality of the product – Does it have Industrie 4.0 capability? Were the right sensors selected? Do they deliver the desired data? Where are adjustments required?
Fraunhofer IPA is also applying its expertise beyond the area of production technology: The scientists are developing business models for the marketing of battery cells, they are analyzing resource availability, and they are optimizing the subsequent recycling of PowerCaps.