TIA and a digital twin speed up battery cell manufacturing

The innovative laser tab welding solution from Manz AG.

A digital twin and an integrated automation solution were two key ingredients for Manz AG in efficiently taking an innovative laser tab welding process for battery production from idea to marketable machine.

Around the world, sales of electric vehicles are skyrocketing. In 2021, one out of five newly registered vehicles in Germany had an electric motor. The growing market share of electric cars is also driving demand for batteries and, consequently, battery production capacity. With its high-tech solutions for battery cell manufacturing, Manz AG, based in Reutlingen, Germany, is making the most of these new opportunities, says Manfred Siekmann. He views turning the current boom into sustainable growth as one of the company’s main challenges, “and that means we need production solutions that both improve batteries’ performance parameters and reduce their cost.”

Manz AG: engineering tomorrow’s production processes

Headquartered in Reutlingen in southern Germany, Manz AG is a globally active high-tech engineering company that currently employs 1,400 people. Manz develops and builds innovative and efficient production solutions that range from customized stand-alone machines for laboratory production or pilot and small series production, to standardized modules and systems, to turnkey lines for mass production. The company is also one of the leading suppliers of production equipment for lithium-ion battery cells, modules, and packs as well as for capacitors for electric vehicles, stationary energy storage, and electronics. In its Future Battery Technologies division, Manz develops innovative processes and integrated production lines for the lithium-ion battery factory of the future, contributing to the growth of a sustainable and competitive battery industry in Europe.

An innovative technology enables improved quality, performance, and safety

One such solution is laser tab welding, which optimizes the welding process for the tabs of battery cells. Compared to traditional ultrasound welding, this technology enables a better weld quality and a more stable welding process. In addition, the laser system can be adapted to different cell designs more easily and requires little to no maintenance. All these advantages also add up to a significant reduction in battery cell production costs. Manz, with Siekmann as technical project manager, has implemented this innovative process in a newly developed machine.

Lean solution for a complex process

Because the development project faced significant time and budget pressure, recalls Siekmann, Manz chose to work with a new, open automation solution that would help to reduce the complexity of the overall solution. He explains: “The laser tab welding machine has to support multiple internal and external interfaces, so to make things easier for us and also for future users, we wanted to use a lean automation solution with well-structured, easy-to-maintain programming that would also allow for efficient commissioning, and with a consistent, user-friendly operation system.” In choosing a suitable solution, the team led by Stephan Lausterer, head of systems engineering, and Marcel Bradl, control system developer, prioritized the use of an integrated and uniform platform. “We often used to work with components from different suppliers that we had to integrate into our solutions, and this sometimes made error diagnostics and troubleshooting more difficult,” explains Bradl. For this reason, the new machine was equipped with a SIMATIC ET 200SP Open Controller with failsafe features, a SIMATIC HMI WinCC Runtime operator system, and a SIMATIC IFP1900 Basic Flat Panel 19" Display as the operator device on the machine. The entire automation solution was engineered in TIA Portal, and the machine visualization was implemented using the HMI Template Suite

Benefits for both developers and users

In addition, Manz used the Battery Guideline from Siemens to standardize the machine interfaces. “In this way, we expect to reduce our engineering expenses by 20 percent,” Lausterer explains. The uniform tools and integrated system platform also enable the efficient implementation of user applications, he says: “The programs in TIA Portal are clearly structured and easy to understand, which helps our application engineers focus on the specific project requirements.” The same level of clarity also applies to the user interface of the machine, which Siekmann highlights as a further benefit of the new solution: “The interface is very intuitive, so users require little training to be able to operate the machine with confidence – I really liked that.”

Optimized engineering with a digital twin

Lausterer is certain that the higher level of efficiency in development will be felt across the entire solution life cycle: “From software design to commissioning to testing, we can reduce costs through standardization, and this will ultimately benefit our users as well.” And the collaboration with Siemens also brought other innovations. “Our greatest challenge when developing the laser tab welding machine was the tight schedule. So we first worked very closely with Siemens to define the requirements and features and agreed on a joint project road map.” This road map also included creating a digital twin for the machine directly from the SolidEdge design environment in NX MCD. That way, the developers could test and optimize the machine using a digital model, which significantly simplified implementation of the solution as a physical machine. “Mechanical design, electrical design, and software design all merge, which helps us streamline the entire engineering process from mechanical design to commissioning,” Lausterer explains, “and I am confident that we can prove these benefits with real-world data in future projects.”

From R&D to active production

For Siekmann as well, this was an important outcome of the development project: “Time to market is critical for us in virtually every project. The digital twin helps us get a new solution to market faster, deliver good quality, and reduce delivery times.” Bradl is already thinking one step ahead: “We are currently working on equipping other types of machines with the integrated Siemens solution so that we can offer all these benefits to more of our customers.”