Enabling Ambitious Battery Production at Scale

Businesses seeking to rapidly scale battery production must embrace smart manufacturing practices.

Large-scale production of Li-ion cells. (Image: Siemens)

The battery industry is forecasted to grow tenfold by the end of the decade. This growth is driven by increasing demand for lithium-ion (Li-ion) cell batteries, predominantly for electrified transportation and energy storage. The high market demand and increasingly supportive governmental policies from many countries make for fierce competition between start-ups, joint ventures, and incumbents to determine the market leaders. New entrants and established suppliers face many of the same challenges of how to shrink scale-up time, reduce scrap rates, and maximize throughput while still meeting cost, quality, and sustainability targets. Traditional manufacturing practices cannot deliver on these ambitions.

Rather, businesses seeking to scale up their battery production cost-effectively, and take a leading market position, need a digital enterprise framework for manufacturing where the digital twin of production is connected to real factory operations through automation technologies and industrial IoT (IIoT) enabled devices. This enables virtual design and optimization of production line and validation of production processes before implementation on the factory floor, thereby de-risking investment and shortening the time to scale.

Connecting the digital framework with automation hardware and software, and Industrial IoT, facilitates an end-to-end integration of production. This delivers executional insights to large-scale production and a data-driven framework to continuously improve production throughput while balancing process sustainability and profitability in the long-term.

Scaling Faster with Virtual Development

Examples from the last few years have shown that it can take seven years or more for companies to go from gigafactory announcements to achieving stable production at scale. This long time to scale up production is a significant challenge in this rapidly changing battery market. The goal of virtual development of manufacturing is to accelerate the design, construction, and layout of your plant with connected, multi-disciplinary engineering. From there, businesses can create a reliable virtual version of their processes, lines, and plants to commission production processes iteratively without the cost and risk of doing so in the real world. Additionally, leveraging simulations, cell engineering and optimization can be accelerated tremendously.

With simulations, engineers can accurately evaluate the impact of various chemistries on cell performance, cell safety, and aging as well as optimize cell design to maximize energy density and fast charging. They can virtually validate cell designs and behaviors against pack requirements and end system requirements leveraging digital twins. This unshackles companies from a costly and time-consuming testing only approach. We are seeing 2X to 3X acceleration in battery design and engineering, as companies are adopting our digital twin framework. With a robust PLM backbone, the digital twins of product, production, and factory remain connected, thus allowing companies to account for interdependencies and effects of change across the full lifecycle.

Characterizing the product inside and out in the digital environment helps in planning the manufacturing process and factory environment earlier. (Image: Siemens)

A digital twin of battery product and production is becoming a key need for the battery industry given the rapid evolution of material chemistries, cell designs, and manufacturing techniques. Capturing a leadership position in a shifting industry necessitates agility, and those changes need to be verified rapidly to retain optimal energy and raw material usage.

One of our customers is leveraging the Siemens digital twin framework to accelerate cell engineering and optimization and virtually commission production lines for full-scale manufacturing scaling from laboratory production processes. Adopting this framework has allowed them to shorten the time it takes for battery cells to go from laboratory to production at scale while also meeting sustainability goals and their own unique requirements.

Integrated Solutions

One of the biggest challenges for large-scale production is very high scrap rate. We have seen scrap rate being 40 percent or higher at the start of cell production while in most cases staying just below 10 percent when the full-speed production capacity is achieved a few years after the start of production. These levels are key bottlenecks in getting production costs reduced.

To reduce scrap rate while meeting quality targets for Li-ion cell manufacturing, you need executional insights on the factory floor. Integrated hardware and software for an end-to-end production process is key to improving cell production. It enables digital continuity from virtually validated process plans to paperless production execution. Manufacturing execution software, connected with automation hardware through a SCADA layer, allows manufacturing teams to easily orchestrate large-scale production and enforce desired production practices. This is possible through the integration of IT and OT which enables tracing, tracking, and machine integration to rapidly identify and mitigate issues.

Understanding the impact on production lets businesses further optimize production over the life of the product and facility. (Image: Siemens)

The ease of data sharing within a plant and the supplier network also enables efficient scheduling at a much greater scale than previously possible. Businesses can create more effective intra-plant logistics and secure supply chains to ensure the provenance of materials or the associated environmental impacts of each stage in manufacturing. A more connected manufacturing process reduces complexity while increasing flexibility by standardizing vertically and horizontally. This has been invaluable to another one of our customers with the ambition to become a European leader of EV battery cells and modules.

Intelligent Production Excellence

Li-ion cell production consists of various manufacturing steps, each one of them having a varying degree of associated time, energy, and associated capital attached to them. Some of these steps, for instance cell formation and aging steps, can take 10 or more days. This creates significant bottlenecks, affecting production throughput. Manufacturing steps such as electrode drying, or ink mixing, needs to be optimized to reduce energy consumption without affecting quality.

Additionally, cell production is a very energy-intensive process that can consume up to 40 units of energy to produce one unit of battery energy. This puts pressure on companies to optimize energy consumption in their plants to minimize their carbon footprint. To address such issues, battery manufacturers can improve usage of data from machines and factory, which in traditional battery production setup isn’t utilized well, to bring needed intelligence to battery production and factory operation.

Connecting Industrial IoT and automation technologies with the manufacturing execution system and digital twin of production holds the key to data-driven manufacturing. Li-ion cell manufacturing is a highly complex process that involves approximately 600 process characteristics, such as various machine parameters.

Given the amount of data and the complicated interdependence of various manufacturing steps in a typical cell production process, AI is needed to understand the intercorrelation between the different steps and learn from the product/process partners. Typical use cases involve but are not only limited to inline quality control, computer vision to measure the slurry viscosity, and coating defects but also prediction of cell behavior during the aging process. Data platforms with standardized data models are critical to bringing IT and OT together and enable data harvesting from machines and factory seamlessly.

Additionally, Industrial IoT and data-driven operation allow companies to track energy consumption and optimize factory operation to reduce their carbon footprint. Downtime during factory operation can also be reduced through predictive maintenance of the machinery, hence improving overall production throughput.

Winning the Race

Finding the market-leading positions in the rapidly scaling battery industry means embracing smart manufacturing practices. It means shifting left to simulate and validate before operations begin, reducing the time to propagate engineering changes, and enabling a resilient supply chain. With integrated hardware and software solutions bringing executional insights for end-to-end production enables reduction in scrap rate and improving quality.

Since manufacturing cost amounts to approximately 25 percent of cell cost, faster scrap rate reduction while improving quality and production throughput is central for the battery industry’s ambition to scale production capacity 10X cost-effectively in the coming years. And doing all of this sustainably and profitably in the long-term requires businesses to minimize energy consumption, limit the holistic carbon footprint, maintain visibility across all of production, and predict problems before they happen.

Digitalization can be a daunting endeavor, but Siemens’ expertise in manufacturing along with our rapidly growing investment in batteries is available to any customer looking to leap into the future of production.

This article was written by Puneet Sinha, Senior Director of the Battery Industry for Siemens Digital Industries Software (Plano, TX). For more information, visit here .