Traditional factories for battery cells and systems face unnecessary, self-imposed limitations that can hinder efficiency and productivity. It begins with the general approach of having multiple identical production lines that are laid out in parallel. Each of these lines features multiple indexed processes with different cycle times, which are arranged in a strictly linear structure. With this setup, even small differences of less than a second can lead to poor utilization of expensive production equipment.
Simply duplicating slower process stations to eliminate bottlenecks does increase throughput but can also have a negative impact on utilization. Additionally, even minor disruptions at a single process station can have an outsized impact on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), leading to delays and reduced productivity. As new generations of production lines grow faster and faster, the cost of downtime becomes even more significant.
Image: Typical line structure – Downtime at a single process station can stop the entire line
To address these challenges in battery manufacturing, a paradigm shift is needed – from traditional linear production lines to more flexible and agile production networks. A production network is a web of interlinked processing stations that are connected by intelligent transport systems like ACOPOStrak or ACOPOS 6D, allowing each product to be moved independently to any process station as needed. This enables dynamic balancing of load across the network and perfect orchestration of all process cycle times to ensure that every station is optimally utilized.
This combination of load balancing and cycle time optimization has a supercharging effect on productivity. Order-of-magnitude gains in output can be achieved without any increase in the number of process stations. This also reduces the overall footprint of the production facility, as fewer stations are required to achieve the same level of output.
Further benefits come in the form of more robust fault tolerance. In a traditional linear production line, a single faulty station can disrupt the entire line, resulting in costly delays and unnecessary waste. In a production network, however, the system can automatically reroute the production flow around the faulty station until it is back up and running, minimizing the impact on overall productivity. The result is a more available, more resilient production system.
To minimize complexity for users, B&R transport systems provide support through process-oriented programming and automatic shuttle routing. Thanks to continuous tracking of the shuttles, the topic of product traceability is also covered. More information on the topic can be found in the article “Seamless tracking in battery production”
Additionally, B&R controllers can be combined with advanced IT systems that leverage machine learning algorithms to optimize product flow, resulting in higher efficiency and resource utilization by continuously optimizing the production process and adapting to changing conditions.
In conclusion, the transformation of battery production lines into production networks offers significant advantages in terms of throughput, productivity, resilience and resource utilization. By removing the constraints of traditional linear production lines and adopting a more flexible and agile network approach, battery manufacturers can meet the challenges of extreme demand and cost pressure while maximizing efficiency and maintaining high quality standards. As the battery industry continues its rapid growth trajectory, the adoption of supercharged production networks can be a game-changer in the transition to a cleaner and more sustainable future.