Photo by Keith Larson
“We’ve got a greenfield. They’re literally just grass right now. Don’t build a new old factory. Fast-start toward autonomous from Day 1.” Honeywell’s Fredrik Westerberg cited the potential of EV-battery gigafactories at the 2023 Honeywell Users Group in Orlando, Fla.

The grass is always greener where you make EV batteries

June 20, 2023
Honeywell’s Fredrik Westerberg cited the potential of EV-battery gigafactories at the 2023 Honeywell Users Group in Orlando, Fla.

Manufacturers have been charged with making electric-vehicle (EV) batteries better, safer, cheaper and faster to increase acceptance and adoption of the technology. While the industry has many hurdles to clear, it’s barely into the second leg of a relay that will stretch the concept of energy storage.

“I’ve seen the growth of this industry from the beginnings in Korea,” said Fredrik Westerberg, director of strategic planning, gigafactory, Honeywell Process Solutions. “We intend to take the technology and apply it to the gigafactories.”

The biggest challenge seen by Westerberg is moving from 10% mainstream adoption to an acceptable level of adoption. He identified four barriers that the battery industry will need to overcome. The first, of course, is the limited range.

“Range matters,” stressed Westerberg. “If you compare a diesel car to an EV, the ranges aren’t there.” Low range is a barrier to adoption that he believes will be resolved.

“There’s also obviously the safety factor,” added Westerberg. “This is a gate point in the industry. This will prevent mainstream adoption. We can put sensors into cars or into the packs themselves.”

Cost is the third barrier. “This is a fundamental problem, but there are ways to overcome it with technology,” said Westerberg. “The fourth aspect is the short life span of the battery. You expect to run your car for 10 years. You probably won’t get that with an EV today, especially if you’re doing fast-charging.”

Westerberg emphasized the need for cheaper, better, faster and safer batteries. “It’s how you design and produce them, and it’s the lifecycle,” said Westerberg. “We can industrialize battery production. If we were to produce gasoline the same way we produce batteries, you’d be paying $30-40/gallon at the pump. If we take the industrial approach to battery manufacturing, we can solve this problem.”

One advantage the EV battery has is the absence of a large legacy infrastructure. “We’re almost starting with a blank piece of paper,” said Westerberg. “We’ve got a greenfield. They’re literally just grass right now. Don’t build a new old factory. Fast-start toward autonomous from Day 1.”

For other industries, achieving a higher level of autonomous operation can be a complex process. “For battery production, we’re starting with a clean slate,” said Westerberg, who identified five steps toward autonomy:

• Level 1 includes integrated systems, including manufacturing execution systems (MES), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and connected quality management systems (QMS).

• Level 2 makes the operation intelligent with condition-based maintenance, integrated planning, competency management and data analytics.

• In Level 3, centralized operations are enabled by remote monitoring and connected machinery from multiple original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

• Level 4 comprises resilient systems, which are fault-tolerant and self-healing; they have multi-site capability with backup operations, as well as enterprise collaboration.

• Autonomy is reached at Level 5 with real-time performance management, limit optimization and feedforward predictive operations.

“As you move toward autonomous, you solve for cheaper, better and faster,” said Westerberg, who cited eight priority elements orbiting Honeywell’s Battery Manufacturing Excellence Platform (MXP), which was developed for the pharmaceutical industry, but it’s now being applied to battery production. “We’re not programming anything from scratch,” he assured.

1. Closed-loop controls and optimization: Process control is table stakes, but reducing the load of manpower is one of the great advantages that comes with closed-loop control.

2. Workforce development and competency: “There are some things that are difficult to automate,” cautioned Westerberg. Taking a standard operating procedure and putting it into the MXP makes it available to the operator because it’s online and part of the document management system.

3. Integrated process safety: In the past, safety has always been treated as a sort of add-on, warned Westerberg. “In the designs and projects we’ve been looking at, safety was considered part of the building, rather than part of the process,” he said. “You need to put industrial safety first. The two are very tightly linked.”

4. Integrated logistics systems: When loading or unloading material on a truck in the plant, that information needs to be integrated with the enterprise resource planning system, making it important for plant autonomy.

5. Asset performance management: For maintenance and reliability, pick plant equipment that is critical, such as chillers and compressors or water treatment, and put these in an asset management program.

6. Connected proactive quality management system: “Often quality management is considered just being ISO-compliant,” said Westerberg. “Let the MES do the work. It will detect deviations. Then the quality management will investigate the process.”

7. Central and distributed operations center: “We’re big on control rooms,” noted Westerberg. “With gigafactories, one guy might be analyzing data in his station, and another guy in his. There is no centralized center. You need an operations center that supports all of those personnel.”

8. Production intelligence and predictive analysis: “A lot of data is being generated and stored,” noted Westerberg. “You have laboratory data, operator data and manufacturing data.”

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