ABB Measurement & Analytics
The author positions digital measuring devices as an enabler for the lithium-ion battery industry.

Solving the Challenges of Battery Production Growth Through Smart Measurement

Oct. 10, 2023
How smart instrumentation is helping battery producers increase manufacturing capacity while staying aligned with the environmental agenda.

As demand for batteries continues to grow thanks to the proliferation of electric vehicles, the increase in renewable energy storage and the march of consumer electronics, the challenges of battery production are correspondingly mounting up.

These include quality control issues, limited availability of raw materials, the maintenance of consistent production levels and the bottleneck in the production process. The latter is caused when demand outstrips manufacturing capacity, leading to spikes in production costs and longer lead times. Smart measurement techniques are emerging as a promising solution to help address these challenges. 

Why Smart Measurement Matters in Battery Production 

Smart measurement is critical to battery production. By using data analytics, automation and statistical techniques, smart measurement can provide real-time insights that identify process inefficiencies, track quality metrics and provide timely feedback to production teams. This allows companies to optimize manufacturing processes, cut waste and lower costs while meeting customer expectations.

Battery Production Hot Spots

Lithium-ion battery production is a globally significant industry. Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea account for the majority of production, with China alone responsible for more than 50% of global output. Various factors have led to this concentration of production in Asia, including government support and investment, access to key raw materials like lithium and cobalt, and an established manufacturing infrastructure.

Meanwhile, North America and Europe have been investing heavily in research and development. And there are signs that the imbalance towards Asia is being redressed as European nations look to decrease their dependence on China through investment into local manufacturers like Tesla’s Gigafactory or Swedish start-up Northvolt AB.

Among European nations prioritizing development of battery-cell production, Germany is leading the field due to increasing demand for clean and renewable energy in response to a major shift towards electric vehicles in the transportation sector, which requires high-performing batteries. Germany is expected to increase production 15-fold over the next four years. By investing in domestic battery production, it aims to cut dependence on foreign suppliers and strengthen its own economy.

Additionally, improving battery technology has the potential to create new jobs within the energy sector and drive innovation in other industries. However, developing a competitive battery industry requires significant resources and investment, including research and development, infrastructure improvements and supply chain management. It remains to be seen if Germany can establish itself as a major player.

The U.S. meanwhile has increased funding for domestic R&D via investments in companies such as Solid Power, which specializes in developing all solid-state batteries that have the potential to significantly improve performance while cutting costs associated with conventional models.

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Complex Production Processes

Production of lithium-ion batteries involves complex chemical and electrochemical processes that can result in variable product quality. Ensuring consistency is critical, as faulty batteries can lead to safety issues and damaged company reputations. Specialized equipment and highly trained personnel are required.

The first step in the production process involves the preparation of electrode materials, whereby metal oxides such as lithium cobalt oxide are mixed with polymeric binders and conductive carbon additives to form a homogeneous slurry. The slurry is coated onto metallic foils in a process called calendaring, whose purpose is to reduce the porosity of the electrode, thereby improving the particle contact and enhancing the energy density of the battery.

The coated foils are then cut into small pieces, stacked together with separator materials and rolled tightly into a cylindrical shape before being subjected to a series of chemical reactions and purification steps. Finally, the completed cells undergo rigorous testing to ensure safety, performance and durability. Despite being technically challenging and resource-intensive, production of lithium-ion batteries has become more efficient due to advances in automation, quality control systems and sustainable manufacturing practices.

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How Smart Instrumentation Helps

Smart instrumentation has a positive impact on this process by enabling manufacturers to measure key parameters in real-time: Variables such as weight, temperature and pressure are critical when handling rare and costly source materials. 

For example, using sensors to measure the thickness of the electrode coating during battery manufacturing allows manufacturers to adjust production parameters in real-time to ensure consistent quality.  Automated material handling systems, robotic assembly lines and software-controlled testing protocols have led to mass reduction in human error while improving speed, consistency and standardization of production outcomes. The adoption of smart technologies such as machine learning algorithms also ensures optimization of battery design parameters at various stages—from energy density improvements to thermal resistance measures—which significantly improve overall performance efficiency. When manufacturers add smart instrumentation to this process, they ensure faster, more efficient processes that can scale up output without compromising quality, all of which contributes toward sustainable production practices for today’s environment-sensitive future.

The future of smart measurement technology offers new opportunities for battery manufacturers to increase the accuracy, efficiency and quality of the battery production process. Advanced sensors, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms can enable real-time monitoring of critical production parameters. This real-time data can be analyzed and used to identify bottlenecks, improve quality control and optimize production.

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Future-Proofing Battery Production

The latest generation of digital measuring devices promises to revolutionize the lithium-ion battery industry, helping to future-proof it against potential technological advancements. These devices offer improved accuracy and precision in measuring critical parameters, capacity, voltage, cycle life and internal resistance. Sophisticated algorithms and advanced sensors provide real-time monitoring, enabling rapid fault detection and predicting battery performance more reliably than traditional methods.

This innovation enhances the production process by reducing costs associated with prolonged testing times; increases safety by providing early detection of potential issues before they escalate into hazardous situations; and results in improved product quality. It aids the growth of the lithium-ion battery industry in producing more sustainable batteries for our environmentally conscious times.

Diana Garcia is industry segment initiative leader with ABB Measurement & Analytics.

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