Adobe Srock

Get ready for an influx of electric vehicles (EVs) – on the road, on the manufacturing floor, and maybe in your driveway. Demand is growing at an unprecedented rate with sales of EVs projected to represent more than half of all global, light-duty vehicle sales by 2040.

Why? Lower battery prices play a significant role. Batteries make up a third of the cost of an EV, so as the cost of batteries decreases, the overall vehicle cost does as well, stimulating increased demand.

This growth represents a tremendous opportunity for battery manufacturers – but only if you’re in position to take advantage of it.

Many manufacturers have been getting by with disparate and disconnected information systems running in the enterprise and across their facilities, but that won’t last much longer. What has been a low-volume industry to date is poised to explode, with an exponential demand curve. In addition, as battery manufacturers build greenfield, giga-scale production plants to meet demand, they are challenged to build for growth from the start.

Connected enterprise

You need to automate your systems now to keep up with demand, grow your business, and achieve a key part of your Industry 4.0 strategy.

The inherent challenge of meeting demand in battery production for EVs isn’t simply about the volume of vehicles. It’s also about the volume of batteries needed to power each vehicle and the rapid evolution of battery technology. Both factors create a diverse set of production needs.

Battery manufacturers must be able to manufacture multiple types of batteries efficiently and adjust quickly as needs and technology change. It’s vital to be able to change production lines rapidly in response – while managing yield and quality control. That’s where automation becomes key.

Companies know the value of automating systems, but the return on investment (ROI) might not seem to justify the effort at present. Or, producers may be unsure how to implement within their current systems. Fortunately, there’s some flexibility in how people can address these challenges – but the time to start is now.

Implement over time

The move to automation can roll out in phases. The key is to develop a long-term, smart manufacturing strategy tailored to operations that will guide the process throughout time. Manufacturers can start implementing at the pace and scale that make sense today, then scale up as ROI and production needs change.

A manufacturing execution system (MES) will provide a foundation from which to build. MES has already been implemented in general automotive operations, generating proven results. The application of MES technology in battery manufacturing is relatively new but should be used more broadly.

An MES allows integration of control and business systems to execute and track orders across an enterprise and can provide the additional context that turns production data into actionable information. A full-scale MES solution can be deployed across an enterprise, but companies looking to start more granular and scale up can select specific, fit-for-purpose MES applications that address needs of the machine or work-area level.

These applications address specific manufacturing challenges by fully integrating process work instructions into machines, reducing the time to value by minimizing configuration efforts. They can also help confirm complete traceability throughout the manufacturing process, from mixing through formation. The MES tracks and traces products through the production cycle, generating the genealogy quickly and easily.

Quality assurance

It’s a level of transparency vital to delivering a consistent level of quality required for each battery and essential to assuring that the battery is safe. With an MES quality application, producers could understand when a machine’s processes exceed their prescribed limits when performing quality checks. As processes for each variety of battery become more complex, this capability helps users respond to issues in real-time before they turn into quality issues.

Throughout time, these applications can be scaled up to the larger enterprise system. A fully implemented MES delivers a single version of truth across all processes – the key to understanding and managing production. Users can pull data for analysis, providing a more accurate picture of entire operations. Combined with actionable information from across the floor, manufacturers can begin to optimize processes, improve throughput, and drive quality improvements, standardization, and repeatability.

Demand is growing at an unprecedented rate.

Long-term strategy

While an enterprise MES should be part of the long-term strategy for any battery manufacturer, each organization will have an individual approach. It’s important to plan to connect and build systems with intention and clear strategy, rather than adding systems as needs develop.

This is the right time to evaluate operations through the lens of Industry 4.0, ensuring movement toward seamless connectivity and data sharing across the organization. However, it’s not just about connecting operations. That’s the first step, but creating the real value comes from how producers use the data gathered to make business decisions. Think through how to use analytics and design them from the start.

An experienced industry partner can support companies through this critical process, using external insights and perspectives to articulate business objectives and production goals. The right partner can help examine current industry trends and forecasts to make sure companies lay a foundation that will support short-term needs and long-term vision.

A partner can also help dive deep into corporate data to identify what exists today as well as what will be needed – and when – to meet goals and objectives. Ultimately, this means combining internal expertise with that of a partner. Together, they can architect information systems and develop standards for connected equipment as well as design a more efficient control and information system with built-in scalability. Users will be positioned to gather and use actionable insights that optimize the plant floor and drive smart business decisions.

Rockwell Automation