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Supply chain disruption & new life for batteries in the industrial space

Sept. 13, 2021
"We chartered a Russlan cargo plane to deliver our equipment from Asia to San Francisco."

Just as the larger manufacturing supply chain has experienced upheaval in recent years, so too is the role of batteries shifting. Nobody knows that better than Enovix, which recently completed its factory equipment installation in Fremont, California, which they claim is the first advanced battery manufacturing facility of its kind in the world, capable of manufacturing  45M batteries a year.

We wanted to learn more, so we connected with Enovix CEO Harrold Rust to chat about the role of batteries in the turbulent manufacturing supply chain. Take a look…

Smart Industry: How is the role of batteries affecting the modern supply chain? 

Harrold: An increase in global demand for mobile devices, electric vehicles, and energy-storage systems has made lithium-ion batteries invaluable in today’s global society. Leaders on both sides of the aisle, from the White House to the Department of Defense to Congress, all agree that the battery domestic supply chain is critical to fueling the industries of the future and fortifying national security. Recent events, such as trade disputes and a global pandemic, demonstrate how strategic goods produced offshore are at risk of disruption.

China recognized a decade ago the importance of establishing a Li-ion cell manufacturing base. Since then, it has rapidly increased its production capacity to an estimated 73% of the global Li-ion market by the end of this year. This has led to the US relying on China for battery manufacturing, with the continued risk of supply-chain disruptions domestically.

Smart Industry:  What role does the pandemic play in this shift?

Harrold: If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot be reliant on other countries to provide essential goods and services for Americans. Supply chains break down, cargo ships get stuck in the Suez Canal, and a pandemic can cut off families from products they need every day.

We experienced this first-hand earlier this year when global supply-chain disruptions nearly kept us from receiving critical equipment to complete the factory we’re building in Silicon Valley. In order to avoid delays in completing our factory, which would in turn delay production, we chartered an Antonov An-124 Russlan strategic airlift cargo plane—one of the largest planes in the world with the capacity to carry 165 tons—to deliver our equipment from Asia to San Francisco.

By creating a process-driven innovation ecosystem uniting R&D and manufacturing at our headquarters in Fremont, CA, we can continually improve the batteries of the future while creating domestic manufacturing jobs. This means that we are prepared for any potential future events that would hinder supply chain, like pandemics, natural disasters, or political disputes.

Smart Industry: What types of batteries are we talking about?  Has any new type of battery emerged in the past 18 months with new applicability?

Harrold: The vast majority of Li-ion batteries use a conventional graphite anode, giving them a capacity of about 372 milliamp-hours per gram (mAh/g). The Enovix 3D Silicon Lithium-ion battery has over nine times the capacity of graphite (about 3,579 mAh/g) and an energy density that is five years ahead of current battery technologies.

What makes this massive increase in energy possible is our novel three-dimensional cell architecture. Cathodes, anodes, and separators are precisely laser-patterned and stacked side-by-side. This allows for more efficient use of the battery’s volume, which improves its energy density. Our 3D cell architecture is also well-suited to accommodate silicon as the only active lithium cycling material in the anode, and capitalize on the higher energy density it provides.

Enovix has already completed equipment installation of its first US-based advanced battery production line, making it capable of volume production of advanced Lithium-ion batteries with a 100% active silicon anode using its 3D cell architecture and expects to start shipping batteries to customers by Q2 of 2022.

Smart Industry: Describe the new facility in Fremont and tell me what this indicates about battery usage in modern manufacturing?

Harrold: At our facility, we’ve developed a low-cost ‘drop-in’ approach that uses the conventional Li-ion battery production equipment for 70% of the manufacturing process (including electrode fabrication, packaging, first-charge formation and testing). We use our own proprietary tools as a ‘drop-in’ replacement for standard wound-cell assembly. Our roll-to-stack tools utilize laser patterning and high-speed stacking of electrodes for 3D-cell assembly. Our fully automated manufacturing process will be capable of producing 45 million batteries per year, more than one every two seconds.

Our ability to retrofit a standard Li-ion battery production line with our ‘drop-in’ 3D-cell assembly tools enables us to upgrade an existing factory and increase watt-hour capacity by about 30% in a fraction of the time and cost required to build a new factory of similar capacity.

Smart Industry: What role do batteries play in propelling AR/VR adoption in the industrial space?

Harrold: AR has been regarded by Apple CEO Tim Cook as the next big idea since the iPhone. Apple is not the only company that thinks AR is huge. Facebook, Microsoft, and Snap have major development programs. If companies can make the technology reliable and lightweight enough, AR could eventually replace smartphones as the primary mobile platform.

In order to gain wider adoption, devices like AR glasses must get smaller, lighter and more powerful. The digital display on a lens will need to be high quality while also small enough for a comfortable fit. Additionally, access to fast 5G mobile networks is considered a critical enabling technology for AR to become more widely used in both industrial and consumer markets. Currently, using 5G networks on devices drains battery life at a rate much faster than those without it. This has led to consumers opting to turn off 5G and live without the added features like increased speed and lower latency, in order to conserve battery life. Electronics and wearables like AR will need small, lightweight Li-ion batteries with more energy capacity in order to power features like 5G in a traditional eyeglass format while providing the battery life consumers expect.

Smart Industry: What most excites you about the near future of your corner of the industry?

Harrold: Here at Enovix, we’re excited to be the battery that powers the technologies and products of the future. Delivering more energy while still maintaining the same or even smaller battery size is a fundamental problem that’s held back innovation. The next mobile products, from electric vehicles to augmented reality, and technologies such as 5G and on-device AI, will all need more energy capacity to deliver the features consumers want and that mobile product designers and producers will need to win in their markets.