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Accelerating Battery Production with Inline X-ray Inspection Systems

Exacom CEO Hagen Berger highlights the transformative impact of inline X-ray inspection systems on battery manufacturing.

Geoff Giordano

May 31, 2024

4 Min Read
x-ray electric car battery – stock image
X-ray electric car battery – stock image.PhonlamaiPhoto via Getty Images

As more EVs hit the road, optimizing battery production with cutting-edge inspection systems is a fast-growing need. Supercharging battery manufacturing with inline X-ray inspection systems is emerging as an important tool.

Hagen Berger, CEO of Germany’s Exacom, will detail his company’s innovations in this area during The Battery Show Europe in Stuttgart from June 18-20. Berger began investigating battery inspection nine years ago — and in 2018 presented and sold the company’s first tool with battery inspection capabilities.

“At that time, we were limited to cylindrical cells of the coin format,” Berger recalled. “It was our goal to have also something available for stacked cells, and we intensified our development efforts.”

In 2020, Exacom added two new solutions: A superfast inspection system for cylindrical automotive cells that could inspect 180 cells a minute, and the first inline CT system for stacked battery cells.

“Ever since, we’ve improved the systems to be faster and provide the highest stability and reliability. We’ve also put a lot of efforts to have our machines as proven measurement systems.”

Integration made easy

Incorporating measuring X-ray machines in production lines “is fairly simple, as long as the space is available in the needed area,” Berger explained. “We are not limited to a specific material-handling system; we can adopt our machines to whatever is available. The only thing we need to take care of is not blocking the X-rays with any metallic materials between tube and detector. That would make the images useless.”

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One key to success is using “very powerful machine-to-machine communication and a flexible MES interface,” he added. Another is bringing system integrators into the process early, during the planning phase.

“In the industries I’ve worked in so far, the production line was planned for a specific throughput that was defined by the slowest machine in the process. The approach of giga-scale battery productions is slightly different: Here, full production is planned after the number of batteries that are needed as the output of the factory is decided, while also considering losses during the process. That means that you must plan and combine multiple machines in every single process step. This is of course a challenge in the planning, but also provides redundancies for every process step. Even if something goes wrong with one machine, you can still move on with the production at a slower pace and don’t have the stop the whole line.”

Once this type of inspection is integrated into battery production, “we need the data from all machines so we can cross-correlate that information and constantly improve the production process – and therefore the quality of the products. The biggest benefit is to be able to reduce waste rate throughout the production process, because you better understand what is going on during production and what effects may cause issues in the quality of the cell. This is not always a matter of the battery cell safety, but also the performance of the produced cells.”

How much waste can be eliminated? Waste numbers “are ranging from 15% to 30% or even more,” Berger noted. “Especially in the ramp up of a gigafactory, the waste rate is quite high. There are studies that this number can be reduced to approximately 7% to 8%. The goal is of course much lower, but I guess there is always (some waste to be expected from a) not-continuous process.”

Future need and applications

As Berger considers the need to facilitate rapid production of battery cells, he also weighs the impact of those processes on resources within – and beyond – the factory.

“It is obvious that the demand for battery cells will grow of the next couple of years, maybe even decades. It is also quite clear that we have to be very careful with the resources of our planet.”

By reducing the size of its machines, Exacom not only saves materials used in that process, but also reduces dry room space, he continued.

“Dry room space is specifically expensive, and here we do have a big lever in order to safe resources. Additionally, the energy consumption of our machines will be reduced, but I think this contribution is limited. That’s the reason why we are focusing on very robust machines that can run for a long time reliably with low maintenance.”

Inspection speed is another resource-saving dimension, he concluded.

“The faster we can inspect; the fewer machines are needed in the process. The only thing we have to ensure is that this does not happen at the expense of reliability.”

Berger will deliver his presentation “Supercharged Manufacturing – Build Your Battery Production Superhighway” at the Battery Show Europe, which runs from June 18-20.

About the Author(s)

Geoff Giordano

Geoff Giordano is a tech journalist with more than 30 years’ experience in all facets of publishing. He has reported extensively on the manufacturing, medical, and plastics industries. A top-shelf content creator, versatile large-market journalist, and tireless communications strategist, Geoff notes that after running a daily news operation, everything else is a piece of cake. Contact him at [email protected].

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