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Modern Virtual Design and Construction technologies Deliver fast, Cost Effective Battery Factories

Ankush Halbe, Technology Director, Exyte

Ankush Halbe, Technology Director, Exyte

The Lithium Ion Battery Cell industry is witnessing unprecedented growth. The global demand for Lithium ion cells is projected to grow by 50 GWh through the end of 2020. A projected growth of this magnitude will require the addition of several large scale battery cell manufacturing factories to keep pace with rising demand. This is an exciting time for the battery industry, but it creates challenges for facility owners to manage capital expenditures. The combination of technology, production volumes, and competition is driving down the price (and hence, the profit margins) of these battery cells. In such a hyper-competitive market, facility operators emphasize cost effectiveness, speed of construction, quality, and factory safety. 

The Target Value Design approach to factory design is at the heart of building a cost effective facility. In a typical design-build method, the factory design is generated and then scope, cost, and schedule elements are adjusted via value engineering. Target Value Design first develops a deep understanding of the manufacturer’s technology and the production specifications, and then designs the necessary facilities infrastructure to support the scale-up. Design value is matched to facility owner’s pre-determined cost and timeline targets. An accurate project virtual build is developed in a Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) modeling environment that details the plant’s physical areas.

"The implementation of Target Value Design that incorporates VDC and prefabrication elements creates economies of scale that optimize capital expenditure for every KWh of battery cell produced"

A resource or utilities matrix, consisting of projected utilities that the manufacturing tools will consume when production equipment is at full capacity is established. A future ramp in utilities and resources such as power, gases, chemicals, drains, battery production materials, etc. is also modeled. This knowledge facilitates appropriate sizing of the production area and other support areas, as well as the design of critical process, building controls, and facility systems. Target Value Design provides accurate baseline information to facility designers who evaluate all project aspects such as functional area layouts, dryroom coverage, building wall elements, floor/roof support elements, etc. to support the battery manufacturing tools and the materials they process. The rigorous application of the VDC process, with the virtual project targets for project scope, cost, schedule, and quality are all contained within the reference Building Information Model (BIM) that optimizes the collaboration among all design disciplines. The result is a functioning virtual battery manufacturing facility in 3D. This virtual build thus defines all exterior and interior features of the project.  

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The Engineering and Construction sector is undergoing rapid digitalization. A high definition BIM contains every scope detail linked to actual cost, procurement, and installation data. Time related productivity data such as work access, trade sequencing, and overall project timelines is also embedded within the model. The time element becomes the fourth dimension parameter for the VDC methodology, or “4D”. The intelligent relationship with the model and its pertinent cost data is termed “5D” in VDC terminology. The visual 3D smart objects, 4D time data, and 5D costing data become fully parametric across the VDC environment. This allows the stakeholders to simulate the impact of changes in Target Value Design with any associated data element (3D, 4D, or 5D) in real time.

It is challenging to maintain aggressive timelines on a hi-tech construction project, such as a large battery cell factory. The project is complicated by the installation of large amounts of mechanical, process, and electrical equipment, along with the manufacturing tools, all of which must be rapidly and safely installed in the facility. Such projects must place a focus on maximizing the amount of pre-assembled, pre-fabricated, and modularized components, and other material form factors. Identifying viable candidates for such an endeavor is accomplished in the Target Value Design phase of the project. Equipment or system assemblies are reviewed in the BIM environment by the specific engineering discipline who determines the methodology to transfer preparation and installation work off-site. This endeavor creates savings in overall cost, schedule, and site logistics, while increasing site safety performance. Such ‘prefabricated’ components require minimal assembly work on site. Examples of infrastructure in the battery industry that can be modularized include systems such as boiler-chiller plants, process skids (for ultrapure water, slurry waste treatment, etc.), electrical switchgears, and chemical/gas piping racks. The use of prefabrication ensures that the equipment is compact, thus improving the efficiency of the overall manufacturing floor space. Prefabrication also reduces the overall headcount on a construction site, thus improving site congestion if there are logistical limitations.

The implementation of Target Value Design that incorporates VDC and prefabrication elements creates economies of scale that optimize capital expenditure for every KWh of battery cell produced. These economies provide best value to the owner at a facility footprint of about 500,000 ft2. This translates to approximately 7 GWh of battery capacity. To put this into perspective, a factory of this size can produce enough batteries to power 200,000 electric vehicles every year and can be constructed in fewer than 18 months. 

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