Lithium-ion batteries are an enabling technology for a variety of industries, mainly for the automotive and stationery energy storage sectors. As the demand of Lithium-ion batteries for the transport and energy storage sectors is entering into an unprecedented era, Roskill forecasts around 150-200 Lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing gigafactories to be built globally reaching few thousand GWh of capacity by 2030.
A Lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing ‘Gigafactory’ is a complex and large-scale factory where the establishment of the overall production process from start to full automation has several key challenges in terms of product quality, precision, reproducibility, throughput, yield and so on.
Typically, a Lithium-ion cell manufacturing process consist of three key processing steps:
- Electrode fabrication/manufacturing
- Cell assembly
- Cell finishing
Each of these main steps comprised of several intermediate sub-steps:
- Mixing of materials/Slurry preparation
- Coating and drying
- Electrode slitting/stamping
- Tab welding
- Electrolyte filling
Everyone using lithium-ion batteries in their electric cars or home battery storage or mobile phones or power tools etc. would prefer high quality, high performance and longer lasting battery products.
Therefore, it is critical for the lithium-ion cell manufacturer to ensure a systematic approach is implemented throughout their scaling-up process retaining consistent high-quality, optimum efficiency (cost and energy) and manufacturing yield.
Imperium3 New York (iM3NY) has adopted a phased approach with three main development phases: Manual phase, Semi-Automated phase and the Fully Automated phase during the process of the establishment of its Lithium-ion cell manufacturing gigafactory.
Let’s look at what each phase means:
The initial manual phase is crucial in design and development of the product (production Lithium-ion cell), supply chain qualification including the cell component and raw material qualification from supply chain partners. Initially, the production line machinery is rolled out and further process design, development and planning is commenced during the manual phase.
Manual phase is a complex phase that involves the integration of various processes, supply chain, components and design objects, resulting in different prototype designs.
Manual phase ends in the completion of the product (Lithium ion cell) development.
Semi-automated phase is an important phase for the product and process validation. This phase involves the manufacturing of full-sized production cells in predetermined quantities for marketing and due-diligence purposes.
The first batches of full production cells undergo extensive testing to evaluate the performance of these production cells. As the process parameters, process steps and product are tested optimised and validated in this phase, the overall yield is expected to increase.
The product validation involves a range of testing and unbiased assessment of technical specifications (capacity, voltage etc.), certification requirements and safety requirements of the product from an accredited third-party body. This validation process confirms the product requirements are in compliance with international standards and ensures warranty performance.
Fully Automated phase
Transition from the semi-automated to fully automated phase commences once the predetermined production capacity is attained, ensuring all Lithium-ion cell manufacturing process steps are optimised and validated and the product has been thoroughly tested, validated, certified and qualified internally and by accredited third parties, offtake partners and potential clients.
As the name indicates, most of the process steps in this phase are performed using advanced automated equipment, the scrap-rate reduces and therefore, the overall yield is expected to improve further minimising overall losses. The overall process reaches an optimal level of quality control and efficiency in this phase.
There might be some material handling between processes that might have manual intervention during the fully automated phase. Furthermore, the maintenance of these equipment also require human resources.
Once the fully automated phase is up and running smoothly and the necessary risks at serial production are assessed, the production ramp-up kicks in.
iM3NY has been working around the clock from early 2021, progressing from manual and semi-automated phases and are now inching towards the successful accomplishment of the fully automated process expected to occur by the end of 1H 2022. The aim is to build America's first home-grown Gigawatt scale Lithium-ion Battery cell manufacturing plant.