EV battery production: Are you ready for the surge?

Sponsored by Rockwell Automation

Meeting annual demand for tens of millions of batteries will require a long-term connected production strategy

By: Bill Sarver, senior industry consultant for global automotive and tire, Rockwell Automation

Plenty of factors are driving electric-vehicle sales – gas prices, new laws, eco-minded consumers.

But the biggest influence on sales might be right under the hood of the vehicle itself: the battery.

It’s simple cause and effect. Batteries make up one-third of the cost of an electric vehicle. As their price goes down, so does overall vehicle cost. In fact, falling battery prices could make electric vehicles cheaper than conventional vehicles in just three years.

This will soon create demand for tens of millions of new electric-vehicle batteries annually. And if you want to be able to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity, you need a long-term strategy to create highly efficient connected operations.

The Goal: Flexible, Nimble Production

Many manufacturers have gotten by with disconnected information systems in the enterprise and in their facilities. This approach may have worked up to now, but it won’t for much longer.

What has been a low-volume industry to date is now poised to explode. In the massive, digitalized gigafactory of the future, you will need to be able to produce multiple battery types efficiently and in large volumes. And you will need to adjust quickly as industry needs and battery technologies change.

It will be crucial that you be able to change your production lines rapidly, while still meeting yield and quality requirements. That’s why highly connected and automated operations are essential.

However, even if you know the value of such operations, the ROI may be difficult to draw up to help justify the effort. Or, you may not know how to implement the new technology required within your current system. Fortunately, there are multiple ways that you can address these challenges.

Build Your Foundation

Moving to high-performance operations can happen in phases rather than all at once.

Start by implementing at a pace and scale that’s right for today. Then, you can scale up your operations as you prove ROI and your production needs change.

A manufacturing execution system (MES) creates the foundation on which you can build modern battery operations. It allows you to integrate your plant-level control systems and enterprise-level business systems so you can execute and track orders across your enterprise. It also gives you additional context to turn production data into actionable information.

MES is relatively new to battery production, but it can deliver the same productivity and efficiency results that automotive operations have been realizing for years.

For example, a leading tier-one automotive supplier needed to boost productivity and improve flexibility in one of its facilities to meet customer demand – the same challenges that battery makers face. The company turned to an MES and other software to better leverage its production data and help workers make more informed decisions.

Using the new technology, the facility was able to execute more than 11.5 million data collection transactions daily to monitor production, inventory and more. This helped the facility increase OEE and productivity by 50 percent. The facility also reduced project development time from six to three months, a big advantage in a competitive market.

Hone in on Production Challenges

You can start with a full-scale MES solution that deploys across your enterprise. But fit-for-purpose MES applications might be a better option, because they can be deployed individually and scaled up as part of a phased implementation approach.

MES applications help you address specific challenges in your operations. This could include quality, machine performance and genealogy.

For example, an MES application can alert you when a machine’s processes go outside its prescribed limits when performing quality checks. This can help you respond to issues in real time, before they turn into quality issues.

An MES application can also give you full battery traceability throughout your production process, generating its genealogy quickly and easily. This kind of transparency can help you deliver batteries with a consistent level of quality and give customers greater peace of mind that batteries are safe for use.

You can implement MES applications at the machine or work-area level. And over time, you can scale them up to a larger MES system that gives you a single version of truth across all your processes. This can give you a clear picture of production to help you optimize your processes, improve throughput, and create more standardized and repeatable processes.

Get Connected

A facility that can reliably produce batteries in high volumes and keep up with technology changes must be digitized using Industry 4.0 concepts. For example, being able to connect your operations back to material sources – like mines – can help you improve your cost efficiency and quality of battery production.

But connectivity is only the start. The true value of a digitalized operation is in your data. And you should be thinking about the role of data and analytics in your future operations now.

Start by identifying the data that your employees will need to manage production. Next, design those requirements into your facility. Then you can create strategies to turn your data into actionable information that can drive better decisions all the way from the plant floor to the boardroom.

An industry partner with the right mix of industry experience and technical know-how can help you through this critical process.

They can help you create connected operations that support both your short-term needs and long-term vision. They can help you understand what data you have today and what you’ll need in the future to meet your business goals. And they can work with you to architect information systems and develop standards for your connected equipment.

Operate With Intent

A structured plan is paramount to your long-term production strategy. It can help you connect and build your systems with intention and clear strategy, rather than adding systems as you go. And it can help make sure you have the scalability and flexibility that you need in your operations to grow and evolve in tandem with the industry. Learn more from Rockwell Automation: rok.auto/electricvehicle.

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