Since the market for electric vehicles (EV) has been rising steadily for several years, demand for EV batteries has seen subsequent consistent growth. Figures from McKinsey show that in 2017, global EV-battery manufacturers produced an estimated 30 gigawatt-hours of storage capacity. That’s almost 60 percent more than in the previous year—a trend that looks set to continue.
The source of this trend is a mixture of changing consumer priorities and a push for more sustainable policies with regards to petrol- and diesel-powered cars.
Some countries, most notably Denmark and Iceland, have already announced plans to ban the selling of new fossil-fuel vehicles by 2030. And while others may have deadlines further in the future, for the time being, we can expect demand for the source of zero-emission vehicles – on-board batteries – to grow substantially.
On Your Marks
Up until recently, battery manufacturers have managed to meet low-volume demand using limited automation and a disconnected information system. But this approach won’t be enough to supply the billions of watts of energy that electric vehicles will require in the future. Not only will demand for EVs skyrocket, the shelf life of a battery, albeit improving every year, is still finite, and so a need for replacements will likely continue.
However, the EV-battery market is dominated by Asian manufacturers, even though European car manufacturers have actively struggled to secure sufficient battery supply. So there is a substantial opportunity here for European battery makers to step in and satisfy market demand.
Given the nature of these batteries themselves, and how challenging they are to ship, it would make far more sense for battery makers to set up factories closer to home than transporting the goods.
This has recently started to occur with the most successful operations being smart, highly automated and efficiently connected. On this note, not all manufacturers have yet made the necessary investments.
Indeed, the challenge isn’t just about keeping up with battery demand; it is also about keeping up with the rapid evolution of battery technology. As battery technology quickly changes, you need to be able to adjust and efficiently produce multiple battery types. It is vital that you’re able to change your production lines rapidly, while still managing yield and quality control. That’s where automation becomes key.
Recent research from Rockwell Automation shows that senior leaders around the world said increasing operational efficiency is the highest priority for their digital initiatives – except in automotive.
In this industry, the top priority was driving innovation. In fact, as one automotive business leader put it: “You'll need to implement new technology in order to keep up with changing tastes of the consumer.”
As well as forming powerful battery partnerships in production regions, which could prove time-consuming and costly in the long run, embracing new technology is the most expedient path forward. The good news is that keeping up with the rapid evolution of battery technology is not impossible.
In most cases, it doesn’t even need to be difficult. Manufacturers will need to invest in higher-performance systems, but they don’t have to do everything at once. Moving to automated operations can happen in phases, at a pace and scale that is both sustainable and practical.
Could a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) be the answer? For battery manufacturers, an MES could provide a solid foundation to build high-performance automated operation. Manufacturers can integrate control and business systems to better generate and track valuable production data, which can then be analysed and turned into actionable insights.
Battery manufacturers face a myriad of challenges, and a good MES can address these. Quality and machine performance can be standardised by integrating process work instructions into machines.
Moreover, a good MES application can also inform you when a machines process is going outside its prescribed boundaries. So even as the technology for battery manufacture becomes increasingly complex, manufacturers can respond to potential issues in real time, before they become a problem for the business.
MES applications can also be scaled up or down depending on need, allowing businesses flexibility and optimisation during critical periods of growth. The key to a successful battery manufacturing processes is through embracing intelligence, while also having the ability to respond to the continual beat of technological advances.
In conclusion, battery manufacturers must consider the following points to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in battery manufacturing:
- Scale production over time: you can move to automated operations in phases, and scale up gradually as you prove ROI.
- Use a Manufacturing Execution System: this will act as your foundation to build a high-performance automation operation and grow your business.
- Prepare for the long-term: Partner with experts such as Rockwell Automation, who can help you at each step in the process.
While building a connected enterprise is beneficial to any manufacturer, today’s sharp rise (and predicted future uptake) of electric vehicle sales is creating even greater urgency and incentive.
By investing the time to create a smart manufacturing strategy and bring in the right technologies and partners, you will be in the best position to reap the rewards as the market grows.
If you would like to learn more about high performance manufacturing for the battery industry and are attending the Battery Show Europe 15-17 October 2020 in Messe Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany, you are welcome to come see my presentation at the event.