Hastening the EV Disruption with the PI System

In the realm of personal transport, fossil fuels are the established performers. An economy of many players operates a complex infrastructure to fuel and feed the machines. Through decades of development and a countless wealth of investment, engineers have learned to extract more and more power from each unit of petroleum. Established makers with generations of experience build and assemble gasoline and diesel-fueled engines with exacting precision and efficiency.

For a long time, batteries just couldn't keep up. In 2014, personal electric vehicles were only 0.66% of new cars sold in Europe. But that's all about to change thanks to the Production Engineering of E-Mobility (PEM) division of RTWH Aachen University. With the help of the PI System, Aachen predicts it can reduce electric vehicle battery costs by 20 percent and reduce scrap rates from 10 percent to two percent, making electric vehicles far more affordable to the general public. 

Aachen batteries

For a traditional internal combustion engine-powered automobile, the powertrain represents roughly 25 percent of the vehicle's total production cost. With substantially fewer parts than the combustion counterparts, the motors that propel an electric car represent only 15 percent of the production costs. However, the batteries to fuel those motors cost 36 percent of the car's value, and the combination of the two makes up a whopping 51 percent of an electric vehicle's total production cost! 

“The price of an electric vehicle is really defined by the battery and the production of the battery cells,” explained Christoph Lienemann, Group Leader of Battery Production at PEM, at the 2017 OSIsoft Users Conference in London. 

To meet the power and range demands travellers have come to expect, automotive transportation batteries must deliver a lot of energy from a compact, reusable cell. “The cell is a black box. Its chemical process is in there. You cannot open it. You can only destroy it and see what happened afterwards. It's a post-mortem analysis,” described Lienemann. Once a battery is produced, it must be energized, charged, drained, and then allowed to age for up to three weeks before final testing and QC verification can occur. 

Meanwhile, each battery must sit idle with no reassurance the final product will be sellable, leaving a lot of capital resources sitting on the shelf. Past failure rates hover around 10 percent of total production. 

With a goal of reducing end-of-line testing and failure rates, Aachen University organized a technology consortium to take a data-driven approach to the battery production process. The Aachen team knew there was untapped information available to them throughout the production line. “But now the challenge is to connect all this data, to connect the mixing process, to connect the coating process, to connect the welding process. Because it's such a different variety, you have electrical, chemical, and many influences. It's hard to understand what is really affecting the last 2 percent of the quality,” explained Lienemann. 

Aachen pi vision

A PI Vision display showing battery drying process overview.

In only six weeks, the consortium leveraged the OSIsoft PI System to capture data points across three of the four primary battery production processes and begin examining the cause-effect relationships between variables using PI Vision. Already, Aachen predicts a reduction of production costs by 20 percent! By the end of 2017, the entire process will be mapped and captured.  As the available data continues to increase, the Aachen team will be able to predict the final quality of an individual battery during production. Moving forward, Aachen plans to use the data to streamline and continuously improve, manage and direct the manufacturing process with an end-goal of reducing the scrap rate to below two percent.

Learn more about Aachen's partnership with OSIsoft to decrease the cost of electric transportation.