During the Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific (ITAP) 2023 event, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) announced a new Electric Vehicle (EV) Battery Testing and Disassembly Line.
This is part of wider efforts by A*STAR’s research institutes such as the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC), Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), National Metrology Centre (NMC), and Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC), to work with partners in building a circular economy for batteries through the development of key remanufacturing processes and systems solutions.
The line, located within A*STAR’s ARTC, leverages Industry 4.0 technologies including automation, robotics, intelligent vision inspections, and diagnostics, to improve current practices of disassembling EV battery packs which can be dangerous, tedious, and labour-intensive. The line will also be used to assess the performance and physical conditions of batteries, such as wear and tear.
With the electrification of transportation, retired EV batteries are expected to pile up, increasing the need for effective solutions to manage them sustainably. Improper disposal of batteries can pose threats to human health and environment, and there is also a growing demand for the raw materials used in battery manufacturing.
Recycling allows the recovery of materials for the manufacturing of new batteries. Retired batteries may also retain some useful life that can be repurposed for less demanding applications before they are recycled.
Both repurposing and recycling pathways require the disassembly of EV battery packs, and manual disassembly is a labour-intensive process as these packs come in diverse shapes and sizes, as well as physical and performance conditions. It can take more than seven hours to manually disassemble a battery pack, which consists of numerous modules that need to be disassembled further into individual cells.
A battery pack is also typically held together by multiple fasteners of varying types, often numbering in the hundreds, that need to be removed during disassembly. Additionally, human operators are required to come into physical contact with EV battery packs, including their high voltage cables and wiring which operate at voltages ranging from 400 to 800 volts.
Even when discharged, these packs can still hold residual power that pose risks to a human, in some cases, up to 10% of their charge capacity. Automating parts of the disassembly process, such as visual inspection and the unbolting of fasteners, can reduce human exposure to high-voltage situations and speed up the process by an estimated 50%.
The line will also feature technologies for faster and more accurate measurements of batteries’ State-of-Health (SOH), which is an indicator of the batteries’ remaining useful life and how this compares to original capacity or performance capabilities. Current industry-accepted SOH measurements require the EV battery pack to undergo a complete charge and discharge cycle at a slow fixed rate, taking up to seven hours typically.
Under the current line, A*STAR’s ARTC is now able to quickly determine the SOH in 30 minutes at the battery cell level. It will look to scale this up to the battery module level, to simultaneously evaluate the condition of both individual cells and module and to better understand a module’s overall health.
A*STAR’s ARTC worked with knowledge partner McKinsey & Company on practical applications of Industry 4.0 technologies on the line, aiming to improve industry safety standards for handling high voltage battery packs, increase productivity in high mix and low volume scenarios, and standardise the handling of EV batteries. This includes using augmented reality (AR) to guide employees in a step-by-step fashion for testing and disassembly processes, an energy management system to optimise energy usage of the line, and a modular set-up supported by automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to increase flexibility of the line in adapting to changes in testing and disassembly needs.
For example, a user of the line can easily increase its capacity in battery pack inspection by increasing the number of stations that can check the physical conditions of these packs.
“A*STAR’s launch of the EV Battery Testing and Disassembly Line marks a significant milestone in our commitment to building a circular economy for batteries. This will set the foundation for important research and translational work in the remanufacturing and recycling of batteries. The new platform will use Industry 4.0 technologies for safe and efficient management of EV batteries, and we are excited to work with like-minded partners like McKinsey & Company on this development journey. We hope this novel approach will spur the industry to develop more applications for managing retired EV batteries,” said Dr David Low, CEO, ARTC, A*STAR.
Kaushik Das, Managing Partner, Southeast Asia, McKinsey & Company said, “As electric vehicle (EV) adoption surges in the region, we need to be innovative in scaling digital solutions to better manage end-of-life (EOL) EV batteries. Together with A*STAR ARTC via McKinsey’s Innovation and Learning Center, we introduced the EV Battery Testing and Disassembly Line, through which we are able to determine different methods to enhance battery circularity. Furthermore, the EV Battery Testing and Disassembly Line is also able to tackle critical issues in process efficiency, safety, and standards compliance. This ongoing partnership enables us to continue being changemakers in new technology development and capability building, which in return will contribute to the local and regional economy.”
To further develop technologies for commercial deployment, A*STAR will partner battery recyclers that are looking to disassemble significant volumes of EV battery packs at the end of their useful lives, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that plan to develop new technology offerings for the growing end-of-life battery market.
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