We are excited to announce that as of April 25, 2022, we have moved to a new location. Just a short drive from our former home, our new office is located at 823 Buffalo Run, Missouri City, TX 77489 (see map).
A move is always a big project and we are fortunate that this is a result of expansion in our business, as part of the Ultralife family.
Our new facility allows us to increase our operational capacity and efficiency and provides dedicated space for increased manufacturing and test capabilities.
This expansion will enable us to better meet our customer needs with the same high-reliability products and high-quality level of service we’ve always had here at Excell Battery. We look forward to working with all of our partners from our new location. If you are ever in the area, please stop by for a visit.
Supply Chain is a big term that can cover a lot of ground in an organization. Headlines purporting “Supply Chain Issues” in any industry have an immediate attention-grabbing effect on readers and without knowing specifics, the thought of any disruption to a supply chain sends alarm bells ringing. Peeling back the layers, these “issues” are often the result of an accumulation of smaller missteps along the way.
The process of cell selection
In the world of original equipment manufacturing, cell selection is a significant layer that can aid and just as easily hinder a project if chosen poorly. The process of cell selection involves its own micro-supply chain within the larger framework of an OEM operation. Choosing a strategic partner to assist in cell selection allows OEMs to have transparency in the process without bearing the weight of the entire supply chain.
When does an OEM enlist the help of a battery assembly partner? According to Excell Battery’s own Michelle Martucci, Sales Manager, the response is, “as early as we can.” There are multiple advantages to involving your battery assembly vendor at the beginning of the cell selection process. A seasoned vendor will be able to review, not simply an isolated design, but the project scope as a whole. Timelines, equipment, costing, availability, usage, and environment, all impact cell selection. Excell Battery’s team feeds all of these variables into a detailed proposal for clients on which cell supplier and components will best fit the OEMs needs.
Maintaining a stable supply chain
Established relationships with cell suppliers are a significant contributor to maintaining supply chain stability. In recent news, the EV industry was rocked by a dramatic spike in lithium carbonate prices (a key ingredient in lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries) after Tesla’s decision to switch to LFPs in all of their standard range cars. Tesla’s move is just one example of a single change causing immediate supply chain disruption. Disruptions are an unavoidable part of the business. The response to disruptions and their impact on an operation is what separates a strategic partner from the perils of the open market.
Part of Excell Battery’s strategy is to take a proactive approach with our clients. This plays out in a variety of ways, including the recommendation to have a minimum of one cell backup in place for each project. Another strategic procedure is the ability to perform in-house qualification and testing of all cells. Once the primary and secondary cell selections are made, the testing phases can all be completed within our in-house North American laboratory facilities. Any opportunity to eliminate layers and avoid reliance on third parties contributes directly to supply chain stability.
Success and the ability to adapt
A piece that can take up so little physical space can have seismic consequences on the greater supply chain. One of the great learnings of the global pandemic was the direct correlation between an operator’s success and the ability to adapt. Electrification adoption continues to grow and the technology advances alongside it. The best-in-class battery assemblers should be able to keep pace with both the industry growth and strides in innovation. It is in an OEMs best interest to select a partner who knows the business of selecting cells.
The lithium-ion cell and battery world has changed significantly over the last 10 years. From the evolution of Electric Vehicles (EVs) to advancements in the construction industry, many companies see lithium-ion cells as major players in the future of electrification. To understand the current and future state of lithium-ion cells, it is helpful to look at the history of lithium usage.
The history of lithium-ion cell types
The progression of lithium-ion cell types can be grouped into three main iterations.
Cylindrical: Twenty-five years ago, the 18650 cylindrical cell size powered cell phones, camcorders, and laptops
Prismatic with Metal Can: Rectangular or square shape cell types took over from their cylindrical predecessors for portable applications. Grouped by thickness, width, and length – Example: 103450 cells would be a 10mm x 34mm x 50mm size and a 53450 would be a 5mm x 34mm x 50mm)
Pouch/polymer: These cells almost entirely replaced the metal-can prismatic types in cell phones, tablets and laptops. The size of these cell types is mostly governed by the size of their application.
One of the only consistencies within the cell industry is the predictable cadence of new technology forcing the old into obsolescence. This pattern forces the industries reliant on cell selection to keep careful watch over a mercurial supply chain. Camcorders are an electronic fossil by today’s standards, but the 18650 cell size is still in circulation. This is in large part due to the demands of the market. In recent years, the EV industry has exerted significant influence over the production of lithium-ion cells. As of 2021, EV giant Tesla, Inc. became the largest single user of lithium-ion cells in the world, as well as one of the largest co-producers. Automotive companies are somewhat constrained by the nature of their product to only use the highest capacity, most space-efficient cells in their vehicles. In a 18650 cell size, this is approximately 3.5Ah. One of Tesla’s standard range vehicles uses approximately six thousand 18650 cell equivalents.
The effect of market demands
How does a high consumption rate by one manufacturer affect other cell types? In some cases, market demands can force cell types into rarity or extinction. Unquestionably, the 18650 cell size received a huge lift as a direct result of Tesla’s decision to use the cell type and other EV makers following suit. While the 18650 is still in production, its days may be numbered. In 2017,Panasonic (Tesla’s US battery partner since 2012) introduced the enhanced 2170 lithium-ion cells for the Model 3, which went into production in the summer of the same year. The 2170 cell pack is more energy-dense and can accept higher charge rates than 18650 cells. From a manufacturing perspective, if the 2170 cell demand surpasses that of the 18650 cells, then the latter could be forced into obsolescence. A manufacturing line that can make 18650 cells, can make 21700 cells with a minimal investment in tooling. Consequently, when a cell supplier announces that they have won a contract to supply an automobile manufacturer with lithium cells or batteries, it essentially means that their production and support will likely be more focused on higher capacity, bigger and newer cell types (5Ah 21700s).
Keeping with the theme of constant change, Panasonic announced a new cell type in 2021, the 9Ah, 4680 cell size. It is too early to tell how dramatically this new cell size will influence the current market. Unlike the relatively easy switch from a 18650 to a 2170 production line, the 4680 will likely require new, dedicated production lines. Other factors, such as focused engineering time and raw material consumption, are still unknown for the 4680, but will undoubtedly affect the production of other cell types.
We may have some time to wait before another new and improved cell size announcement, but that time will come. Cell development and selection is characterized by a unique double vision, with one view focused on the present market and the other always looking toward the future.
While their components are as unique as their respective industries, OEMs, by their very nature, are all characterized by pieces fitting into a larger puzzle. From raw material sourcing to trouble-shooting design challenges, there are endless “components” that feed into the business of component manufacturing.
The impact of design decisions
At every juncture in the process, decisions are made that ripple through an organization. Design decisions made by engineering teams without an awareness of current supply chain constraints are a common pitfall for OEMs. The ability to navigate this decision matrix, starting at the cell selection level for battery packs, is a quality OEMs can seek out in a battery partner.
With online access to branding and marketing, the industry is brimming with component vendors looking for new customers. Along with many established component suppliers and products, there are also many questionable suppliers. Cell suppliers are not immune to this reality. A provider offering “ideal” specs for a cell at significantly below market-value pricing and delivered at timelines that seem too good to be true should send the alarm bells ringing.
Another obstacle that is addressed by working with a qualified battery supplier, is the reluctance of larger cell suppliers to communicate directly with OEM customers. As Excell Battery’s own Mike MacWillie, Director of Engineering,puts it, “If you’re not an approved battery assembler of some flavour, the cell provider won’t even talk to an OEM customer. We act as an essential conduit between OEMs and cell providers”.
The role of scalability and practicality
Two more key, but easily overlooked, pieces of the matrix are scalability and practicality. This pair plays a significant role in the long-term success of any OEM design. Working in tandem, specs that are scalable are often inherently practical and vice versa. Achieving a happy balance between these two has more to do with timing than many engineers realize. As Excell Battery, the earlier in the process we become involved with an OEM, the easier it is to evaluate a design by its scalability and practicality. One of the first steps, before diving into electrical specs, is establishing the scope. What type of device will this charger eventually power? What environmental or industrial stresses will impact the device components? These questions and more all feed into the scope profile of a project.
Armed with an understanding of scope, decisions can then be qualified based on their ability to scale with the project and the practicality of all design components. This qualification is particularly important when looking at cell selection.
An alternate cell option is critical
Right out of the gate, we also recommend having a main and an alternate cell option. Using our network of cell suppliers, we advise OEMs on which cells will best suit the project and timeline. We then put all selections through rigorous qualification testing at our in-house lab to ensure the cells perform according to the cell specifications.
While far from taking the lion’s share of the automotive market, the prevalence of electric vehicles continues to trend upward. EV charging stations at shopping malls and along highways are far more commonplace now than even five years ago.Specifically, between 2015 and 2020, the number of charging stations in the United States alone more than doubled. In 2021, that number grew by over 55%.
As the demand for EVs increases so too does the demand for all components related to the surrounding infrastructure and building and maintenance of these vehicles.
The influence of key materials and the Tesla Effect
One of the EV components making recent headlines is battery-grade lithium carbonate. Lithium carbonate is one of the materials used in the composition of a battery cathode. While other metal compounds are used in lithium battery cathodes, there is no substitute for lithium carbonate. Every 18650 lithium-ion battery produced uses about 2 grams of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE).
Tesla, a company that had no appreciable automotive sales in 2012, is now delivering on the order of 200,000 vehicles a quarter. These 200,000 vehicles use up to approximately 1.2 billion 18650 lithium-ion cell equivalents per quarter. For perspective, a cell phone or tablet uses up to the order of one to two 18650 lithium-ion cell equivalents. A car-sized EV uses approximately six thousand 18650 cell equivalents.
The number of lithium-ion cells consumed by the EV industry dwarfs the usage rates of other traditional lithium-ion applications like cell phones, tablets, computers, sensors and power tools. Other automotive companies are now offering a wide range of vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, which also use approximately six thousand 18650 cell equivalents per vehicle. The amount of lithium carbonate now being used by these car companies for their electric vehicle batteries is staggering.
A market share of 4% may not register as significant from a sales perspective, but the consumption numbers on lithium carbonate alone have placed enormous strain on the supply chain. In remarkably quick succession, Tesla has become the largest single user of lithium-ion cells in the world, as well as one of the largest co-producers.
Consider key mitigation strategies
With the EV market showing no signs of slowing down, the question facing many companies is how to secure adequate lithium-ion inventory in an overstretched supply chain. Fortunately, there are some mitigation strategies that have shown marked success.
Partner with a trusted supplier: Look for battery companies with an ERP system, a recognized quality management system, UL or IEC listed and tested battery packs, and knowledge of international shipping regulations (IATA, IMDG, US DOT, ADR, etc.)
Alternative Cell Types: The component cell of a lithium-ion battery is a critical component, so having an alternative cell type in a battery pack, from an entirely different cell manufacturer, can mitigate the risk of one cell type becoming unavailable.
Existing Inventory: The only other way to mitigate this is to use a company that carries a large amount of cell inventory. Lithium-ion cells have a very long shelf life when stored and handled correctly (on the order of years), so carrying a large inventory is not detrimental to the cells.
The common thread in all three strategies is a proactive approach. As all roads point to electrification as the way of the future, companies in the battery world must be vigilant in their watch of trends like EV growth.
When it comes to lithium-ion cells, the smallest components can have the biggest impact.
The impact of COVID-19 on businesses in all factions was felt swiftly and significantly, with the ripple effects still disturbing the waters of global markets. In the midst of turmoil and many hardships in the medical equipment space, there have also been stories of triumph. To reach the goal of optimal patient care, it is essential for OEMs to choose a partner that can offer significant experience in the engineering and manufacturing of battery assemblies, specifically designed for medical devices.
In the tradition of many great partnerships, this one started with a problem. How could we meet the increased demand of a pandemic climate? Pushing internal teams is one factor, but gaining the buy-in of external partners often presents a greater challenge. The challenge was to produce batteries at a rate several orders of magnitude higher than previous production rates required by the MOVES® SLC™ integrated, portable life support system. MOVES® SLC™ is a portable life support system that provides the highest level of patient care in extreme and rugged transport and emergency settings. Battery-powered, the MOVES® SLC™ integrates the functions of a ventilator, oxygen concentrator, physiological monitoring, and suction, making it an invaluable tool in the fight against COVID-19 in Canada and around the world. We worked together with Thornhill Medical to optimize the manufacturing process for high volume production and improve both throughput and data capture on battery final assembly testing.
At the outset, both Thornhill and Excell teams emphasized the importance of a clear, detailed, and consistent communication channel between engineering and production. Both teams quickly engaged in a daily cadence to meet deadlines. In rapid and efficient succession, we worked with Thornhill to source components, built and deployed fixtures and designed a new final-assembly testing system to accommodate the increased demand pressures. The data from the new testing system enabled rapid improvement to production throughout. We tapped into our extensive industry network to build a multi-channel automated cycling system in a matter of weeks, instead of months. Our combined expertise resulted in a testing plan that captured all product application needs within our timeframe.
After partnering with Excell, Thornhill Medical is successfully delivering MOVES® SLC™ life support systems to support the ongoing response to COVID-19. Our team understood not only the timelines but the vital importance of delivering a battery and testing system that supports a complex medical device. As the partnership continues, we look forward to future innovation with Thornhill, always striving to produce the highest quality devices for an ever-changing global medical landscape.
Over our 35 years, we have honed the ideal balance between innovative design and unyielding safety standards. Customers operating within hazardous locations (HAZLOC) face a host of safety-related complexities. All of the manufacturing – from the largest machinery, down to the smallest battery unit, must comply with the governing country’s safety requirements. The HAZLOC classification was the standard in North America. However, the US and Canada are moving towards the IECEx system, which closely resembles its EU counterpart, the ATEX system.
How do we do it? At Excell, the design process and regulatory requirements work in tandem with each other. All battery pack components are designed to operate seamlessly within their intended environments. Our engineers design with the larger safety picture in mind. Understanding that these certifications are stand-alone is a guiding factor in the engineering process. Despite their regulatory similarities, IECEx and ATEX-certified products cannot automatically be used together. Products must be rigorously re-tested in a certified lab before they are approved for use together in a specific hazardous environment. This process can be incredibly costly and frustrating for HAZLOC customers. With our world-class lab testing facilities, our Excell team helps customers navigate their unique safety requirements.
The ability to provide an integrated battery solution that satisfies the strictest safety standards is one of the cornerstones of our business. Customers operating under HAZLOC/IECEx/ATEX guidelines can rest assured that Excell products meet the most exacting standards.
This year, Excell Battery exhibited for the third time at ADIPEC (Abu Dhabi International Petroleum and Exhibition and Conference) from November 16th-18th. We had previously attended in both 2018 and 2019 and seen the opportunity to reach new customers, network with colleagues and learn about new products.
This year, the show was very informative and inspiring. It was also well-attended by several thousand visitors, all safely carrying vaccination cards and wearing masks in these exceptional times. We’ve seen dramatic growth in interest in Excell Battery’s products and capabilities since 2018, and we experienced this first-hand at the show.
We’ve enjoyed the benefit of having our colleague and partner, Yahia Abdalrazzak, join us at the show. Yahia’s representation of Excell Battery in MENA has created inroads to new customers which have led to the success we’ve enjoyed in the region and we’re grateful for his support.
We’re looking ahead now to ADIPEC 2022. Please plan to join us again then!
An exceptional record of quality and service for 35+ years.