By Stevan Dobrasevic, Director of Product Marketing
Batteries are big business. So is battery-module assembly, the process by which batteries are built and which feeds the fast-growing global demand for a wide range of new electrified products. Ranging from hybrid and electric vehicle (H/EVs), renewable-energy storage solutions, and electric forklifts, bikes, scooters, lawnmowers, power tools, and more, these products are issuing in an age where the battery is ubiquitous.
While the products these batteries power often are considered cutting edge, the manufacturing process behind them often is not, with many companies relying on human labor to do the tedious task of assembling their battery packs. This choice is not without merit. First, a manual production line can be set up – and workers trained – quite quickly, speeding time to market. Such a process is also highly flexible. Need 80 cells now in a module instead of 60? Humans can make that change pretty easily.
That said, manual labor has its limits. First, people make mistakes. Considering it takes an average of 24 minutes for one worker to assemble 80 individual cells into a battery module, one error along the way, or one dropped finished assembly, can wipe out nearly half an hour of work. Humans also get sick, get injured, and can leave a job for good, all of which lead to disruptions in production output.
And just as demand for batteries is surging, a global employment shortage is making it difficult to scale an operation dependent on manual labor.
The Case for Automation
Automation offers a compelling solution to these problems.
Assembling a battery module is comprised of seven discrete steps, each of which is ripe for automation, as is the entire process:
- Unpack – remove individual cells from their packaging
- Test and sort – ensure each cell works and organize different cells accordingly
- Align polarity – ready cells for placement according to positive/negative terminals
- Insert – put cells into the module housing
- Place – affix current collector over cells
- Spot weld – weld assembly
- Inspect – conduct final inspection of completed module
As companies look to automate this end-to-end process, some have considered various first-generation tools to do so. This search often yields solutions that require expensive integration engineers. Hardware and software integration can turn into an assembly process of its own, one that can take a year or more to put into production, and which many discover too late is neither scalable nor configurable. The reason is simple: most of these tools are custom. And once you buy into custom, you’re locked in.
A new generation of manufacturing automation systems holds the key to freeing battery-module assemblers and other discrete manufacturers to build more products faster, at less expense, and more safely.
Bright Machines Microfactories are an ideal solution for a battery-module manufacturer making the leap from manual labor to automated assembly. Our microfactories are comprised of integrated robotic cells, accessories and Brightware, our intelligent software layer, that, together, provide a modern approach to automating product assembly and inspection within the production line. These pre-configured, tested and production ready building blocks will get you up and running 50% faster and can be reconfigured with a quick changeover from one product version to another, extending the life of your machines. Because microfactories combine hardware and intelligent software that configure and manages the machines, you won’t need an army of expensive engineers to deploy automation, greatly cutting down your operational costs.
The combined benefits of our microfactories are attracting battery makers to Bright Machines, allowing them to easily move from manual to automated assembly. The results so far have been compelling. With microfactories, battery-module assemblers have been able to dramatically increase throughput, cut production costs in half, and boost workplace safety. And when they added more robotic cells, the benefits increased exponentially.
Want to learn more? Check out a webinar I recently hosted about the topic.