From R&D to Large Scale Production and Process Optimisation:
A Q&A With David Bowles
With the race underway to perfect next-generation EV batteries, the transition from R&D development to mass production and process optimisation is a complex, multi-faceted process. It involves countless steps and coordination between various teams that may even be located on different continents. To learn more about how engineers can tackle these challenges, we talked with David Bowles, Business Optimisation Director at Matcon.
Q: How is Matcon helping R&D and Process Engineers craft an optimised powder handling system to power the future?
Building on our 40-year track record in providing powder-handling solutions across various industries, including Pharmaceuticals, Food, Chemicals, metal powders and anything in between, it means we understand not only how different powders behave but also have an appreciation of how production objectives differ for each customer. This means we can use this knowledge to deliver effective powder handling systems for the Battery sector.Whilst this sector is still an emerging field, we bring a tried and tested perspective to optimise processes, which has seen us aiding battery ingredient producers in the anode, cathode & electrolyte production and even working directly with original car manufacturers.Our solutions have allowed our customers to take a project from the R&D stage to full-scale manufacturing and boost their yield while enjoying the agile way in which they can adapt their processes to fit the fast-evolving landscape of battery manufacturing.Many of our solutions remain proprietary and are kept as trade secrets. However, I can expand on the general principles we use for driving success: Decoupling the process – Our Cone Valve Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs) are the building blocks of our system. They allow for decoupled production that enables various powder production processes like formulation, blending, transport and cleaning to take place simultaneously.
The IBCs are available in durable 316L Stainless Steel and High-Density Polyethylene, with the option of fluorine-based coatings to ensure extra hardwearing protection against highly corrosive battery powders. Decoupling offers a significant advantage in this emerging industry. It helps processes evolve alongside science, enabling the development of more sustainable and enduring battery models with various powder blends and process changes.We’ve also adjusted our systems to accommodate various battery manufacturing requirements, such as inertion. This involves expelling Oxygen from the container at the filling stage when the IBC is empty and replacing it with either Nitrogen or Argon, depending on the application. This can protect against oxidation, humidity damage and potential explosive hazards. Variables such as container size, flow rate, and purging time are considered to determine efficiency for throughput calculations.Regulatory compliance – Each project poses a legal and regulatory compliance puzzle, which must be solved with insight into regional laws and synergy among production locations worldwide, if applicable. We identify each client’s requirements and navigate their regulation journey, ensuring all safety elements are accounted for throughout the project.For example, battery manufacturers strive to provide a high level of containment when handling NMC and other toxic powders or very fine powders such as graphite.
The Matcon system can deliver a high level of containment and, along with the capacity of our IBCs to deliver adjustable flow rates at varying temperatures- both high and low, makes it the ideal solution for operating in clean-room environments or gas-controlled areas where powder oxidation is prevented.Automation is also a key feature of our systems, minimising or completely reducing operator exposure, while the high-containment attribute also maximises the battery powder purity within an IBC. This is particularly relevant in applications that use various powder blends because the risk for cross-contamination increases exponentially, which could lead to compromised battery performance. Scalability and repeatable results – Matcon have developed equipment solutions to eliminate the guesswork and protect against potential manufacturing issues. Our lab and pilot scale kits enable us to test and model the R&D process, obtaining vital information about any potential challenges that need to be addressed for a successful large-scale implementation. This approach provides peace of mind and ensures our customers enter production with confidence. The result is an efficient system that works from day one, reducing unnecessary delays and costs.Our IBCs range from 300-3300L, while our lab and pilot scale range covers smaller sizes. In addition, the our pilot scale IBC Blender is designed to accommodate our Intensifier, which adds high shear to the tumble-blending process. The Intensifier consists of a bladed shaft capable of rotation speeds from 500 – 3000 rpm. This rotation range allows the Intensifier to add low-speed stirring to more friable mixtures or where particle reduction is an issue. At the other end of the scale, it can be used at higher speeds to increase powder shear to aid blending. The Matcon dry powder mixing method offers an ideal solution for manufacturers looking to innovate and experiment with different electrode powder chemistries that supports the elimination of costly wet slurry pre-mixing operations and reduces waste significantly, providing many cost benefits as well
.Q: Could you provide practical examples of how you have used these principles to help manufacturers improve margins on current processes and support their efforts for increased sustainability?
Our solutions have changed how many of our clients operate day-to-day. For example, we designed an ergonomic production layout to achieve greater cost-effectiveness with improved speed and reliability. Furthermore, our systems are engineered for autonomous operation, providing AGV compatibility for safety and convenience in hazardous working areas.In other applications, we created an automatic ingredient formulation system that feeds into a Loss in Weight Feeder via gravimetric instead of volumetric mode, eliminating any dependency on manual filling. This can also be combined online for bulk filling from another system. For another project, we faced an ambitious challenge that required a powder-handling solution with the total elimination of Copper, Brass and Zinc. The powder purity had to be lower or equal to 7 particles per billion. We knew that even our control panels would need to be altered to meet this stringent demand – but thanks to our expertise in high containment applications and engineering know-how, we could deliver this requirement. Our solution allowed the customer to maintain powder purity levels while ensuring the complete absence of copper, brass and zinc components.The on-site deployment of our lab and pilot scale range is another good example, as it allows the customer to conduct their research and development projects without relying on external help. Our customers expressed great appreciation for this service, giving them an independent platform to explore new ways of working and experiment with various powder blends to address their challenges.
Q: What results have manufacturers experienced from working with Matcon for global system integration projects?
Our IBC system is one of the most modular on the market, allowing clients to start with what they need and gradually expand as their production needs grow. We have extensive experience integrating other systems into our IBC platform, so it meets each customer’s exact needs. Additionally, our experts can help replicate these systems across multiple sites worldwide, giving businesses the global reach they need to excel. We also understand the complexities of working on an international scale. With many projects managed across multiple countries under our belt, our customers can trust us to deliver efficient results – whether it’s one site’s improved productivity or numerous powder handling system integration at a global scale. In conclusion, our capabilities are extensive, and our team is dedicated to helping manufacturers achieve their goals. Our IBC system is designed with scalability in mind, while our Intensifier offers a controlled high-shear mixing capability that can be tweaked to suit each application. We also have vast experience with global system integration projects, making us an ideal partner for manufacturers who want to stay ahead of the competition and strive towards greater sustainability.
David Bowles, Business Optimisation Director at Matcon