Automotive Engineering - March 2021 - 36

Q&A
Racing to keep pace with EV battery demand

When you started the Tesla partnership, did you know how
fast development would move?
I was at Tesla during a lot of that time. And the speed at which
we were continuously improving the
cells that we were putting in the Model
S and then developing for Model 3 was
fast by anyone's standard. It even surprised us inside Tesla about how fast
we had to go. No sooner had we finished and brought a cell under production and started producing with it, we
were already working with Panasonic
on the design of the next cell. It's been
Celina
continuous improvement, continuous
Mikolajczak
technology development. No resting
of Panasonic
on laurels, just on to the next.
Energy.
What's that pace like now for
Panasonic, with multiple big competitors working on lithium-ion cells
for electric vehicles?
It's kind of like orchestrating a symphony, because you've got so many
different organizations within
Panasonic having to bring together
their expertise. We have to worry
about our supply chain. If we're going
to build at the scale that Tesla needs,
or the electric-vehicle industry needs,
you are buying not in kilograms, but
in tons, or hundreds of tons of material. And that means a lot from the
supply chain, it means a lot from logistics. Then you bring it into the factory and you go through a lot of complex processes to make a cell.
And then if we're going to update
the technology - we've been introducing a higher energy-density cell
at the Gigafactory - it becomes
more like orchestrating a fugue.
Where we've got one cell model running on some lines, we've got another cell model running on other
lines, we are converting lines as we
36 March 2021

go, we've got new materials coming in. Getting it perfectly
right takes the effort of hundreds, if not thousands of people.
What are other challenges trying to manufacture these small
cells at scale?
The manufacturing process is moving very, very fast. So, if you
make a mistake, you have to find it quickly or you're going to
make an enormous amount of scrap. The stakes are really high;
there's no dawdling. If you think there's a problem with manufacturing, you have to make a decision quickly. And of course, if
you stop, you have to move quickly to resolve whatever issue
there is, because we look at our output in millions of cells a day. This is
not going to be a uniquely Tesla problem. This is going to be a problem for
the EV market in general.

" One of the big challenges
to my engineering team
is to continually add
automation, add sensors,
to our equipment. There is
no way we can achieve the
ambitions we want if we
don't automate. "

What goes into automating a process
like this?
The process is tremendously automated. One of the big challenges to
my engineering team is to continuously add automation, add sensors to
our equipment. So, we continuously
look for areas where there might be a
manual quality check. Can we automate the quality check? Somewhere
where an adjustment needs to be
made, can we apply sensors to determine that the adjustment has to be
made and make it automatically? To
continue to grow and scale, there is
no way we can achieve the ambitions
we want if we don't automate.
What role does recycling play in
this process?
First, we try to minimize scrap at all
cost, because it means you're not producing good material. At the same
time, any production process will produce certain amounts of scrap.
Obviously, the materials we use are
very valuable. We use a lot of copper,
we use aluminum. Just from their metals content, they are valuable and you
want to recover them because it took
a lot of effort to originally produce
these metals from their ores. Our longterm goal with Redwood [Materials] is
that we want to recycle those back
into the cell supply chain.
Paul Seredynski

AUTOMOTIVE ENGINEERING

PANASONIC ENERGY

As part of its series of virtual Tech Talks at the 2021 Consumer
Electronics Show (CES), Panasonic hosted key battery engineers to discuss the fast-paced development of the cylindrical
lithium-ion cells being produced at Tesla's Gigafactory in
Nevada. Providing insights into battery-production logistics,
scale and automation was Celina Mikolajczak, VP of battery
technology for Panasonic Energy of North America.



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