Digitalize battery manufacturing for a greener future with electric vehicles

This article was written by Vincent Guo, Business Development – Manufacturing Engineering at Siemens.

Digitalize battery manufacturing for a greener future with electric vehicles

The electrification of automobiles is gaining momentum globally as many countries have laid out plans to prohibit the sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. The closing deadline is 2025 for the Netherlands and Norway, with Germany and India to be the next down the line in 2030, followed by UK and France in 2040. Other major economies in the world provide aggressive initiatives to push the electric vehicle (EV) to the market. For example, USA, China, Norway, Demark, and South Korea have been implementing cash subsidiaries to EV buyers over $10,000 per vehicle, with Demark and South Korea paying the consumer almost 20,000 Euro for each car purchased.

These incentive plans, however, also indicate that the price of EV is still high comparing to traditional cars. Independent research shows that the cost of the electrical powertrain is roughly 50% of the EV while, while the cost of the powertrain for ICE cars is only 16%. While it is largely true that the components of a car, whether it is an EV or ICE car, are largely similar except for the powertrain, the source of the difference in total cost is obviously the powertrain. The most expensive component is the battery pack, which accounts for roughly half of the powertrain and a quarter of the entire car.

Fortunately, the cost of the battery is going down steadily in the past 10 years. It is about to hit the point that the total cost of an EV is competitive to an ICE car and the point is about 125-150 USD/kWh.

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As a result, battery manufacturing capacity has been ramping up quickly. Tesla is leading the way by its Gigafacotry in Nevada with target annual capacity of 35 GWh. Yet the race is tight as the battery manufacturing in Asia is catching up. CATL of China had recently announced a plan to boost its capacity in Germany to 100 GWh.

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Certainly, there are many challenges for both battery makers and EV manufacturing in this new and dynamic market. Occasionally we see it in the news that an EV is burning for unknown reasons, or we are told an EV maker is recalling its product to fix a battery pack harness design issue. Recently, all the countries started to lower or stop incentive plans for EV buyers. How can battery manufacturers as well as their EV customers stay competitive in this dynamic market with fast global expansion?

For the battery makers, they need to focus on the research of chemistry and material science to maximize the power density in the battery cells to provide the mileage the EVs need. In addition, both battery makers and EV manufacturers (they usually build the battery pack in house) should adopt the digital enterprise concept to make sure the design and production of battery cells, modules, and packs can address the needs from the market in speed, quality, flexibility, and cost.

Siemens’ digital enterprise suite is the ideal tool to cover the entire product life cycle for battery manufacturing, connecting the digital world with the real world.

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In product design, battery makers can leverage Battery Design Studio of SimCenter portfolio to simulate the electrochemical and thermal performances of lithium ion battery cells. Traditional mechanical and structural simulation is also possible in the CAE suite to ensure the quality and safety of the casing. One easily overlooked aspect is the need for not only manual assembly but also disassembly, as the environmental policies may require the battery module in each car to be separately maintained and recycled. One can use Jack for NX in the mechanical design phase to validate whether the parts can support easy plugging in and out for operators.

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In production planning phase, Tecnomatix Plant Simulation can support validation and optimization of a battery factory. The tool will enable the user to understand the expected throughput, equipment utilization, power consumption, material flow, and even production cost for the designed resource allocation. For already implemented factories, Plant Simulation can be used to further optimize factory operation. For example, some assets on the battery cell manufacturing line have predefined speed and cannot be changed. These assets are usually bottlenecks in the line and limits utilization of other equipment. By careful design of buffer and work schedule, we can save unnecessary run time for machinery at low utility therefore increase the overall equipment efficiency and reduce energy consumption.

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The assembly of battery module and pack is highly automatic with lots of robots for welding, adhesive application, pick-and-place, surface treatment, etc. Robotics process simulation, off line programming, and automation commissioning now can be done in the digital world before they are carried out in the shop floor thanks to the combination of Tecnomatix Process Simulate and TIA portal. The revolutionary process of “virtual commissioning” would allow the engineering to start working before any hardware is delivered or while manufacturing for the former product is still going to save previous time. The digital simulation and validation tools can help robotics engineers and automation engineers to identify mechanical interference and control logic issues without any risk to damage the part or production machine. Moreover, with integration to Teamcenter and Teamcenter Manufacturing software, the battery maker can enjoy the power of digital data thread to ensure consistent and timely data across the entire value chain with potential to build its own library for reuse.

Humans are essential for assembly and disassembly jobs of flexible parts, for example, the connector joining and breaking we discussed earlier. Tecnomatix Process Simulate Human can help manufacturing engineers to design a human-friendly work environment that poses no risk of labor injury as well as making sure the work cycle time suits the delivery needs. We can also use the tool to generate work instructions from the first-person view of the operator to accelerate the delivery of work instructions to the field. We expect the shop floor ramp-up of production to have a much lower risk of running into troubles during implementation phase.

In the battery production shop floor, Siemens PLCs, servo motors, drives, circuit breakers provide the best in class automation system for high quality industrial machines. The field device can be connected to Siemens’ manufacturing operation management (MOM) system SIMATIC IT to make the shop floor transparent and well under control. MindSphere industrial IoT platform will support data collection in the factory or during the product usage to feedback to product design and manufacturing engineering for continuous improvement.

By implementing the factory of the future concept with Siemens digital enterprise portfolio, battery producers can counteract the risk of lower prices that results from potential overcapacity, accelerate time to market, and help the automotive industry to fully realize the potential of electric vehicle. Producers can not only rely on superior battery cell chemistry to save their economics, but rather by reducing manufacturing cost to maintain profitability. We expect the industry to go through consolidation and only the leading ones who master the art can survive and lead the global market.


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