Of course that is not something currently possible, but what b&b batteries does have are some secret recipes for their very specialised battery designs.
G Ajit Kumar, Director – India & SAARC, Maggy Lin, General Manager, and David Liu, Global Sales Director, B&B Batteries, speaks with Dilin Anand FROM EFY.
Q. What’s unique about the way your company does business?
A. In the battery industry, most of the other players are basically just supplying to the UPS industry – they are producing generic range to these kinds of organisations. However, we are focused on finding out innovative applications like Industrialisation 4.0 and mini hybrid electric vehicles, and then designing battery recipes for those applications that are then converted into high quality batteries. We design these in Taiwan, but we manufacture in China.
Q. What’s driving this intense focus on designing quality battery recipies?
A. If there’s one thing that we have inherited from our parent company, it is the fact that quality matters the most. Our parent company is a 55-year-old Taiwanese firm, are into manufacture & marketing of barbeque sauce. Yes, we know barbeque sauce is quite different from battery acid, but being in the food industry the company also knows that it cannot afford to make any mistakes.
So when the founder invested in B&B Batteries, he wanted to ensure that we make the highest quality products. Now 22 years later, we have established a very high reputation on quality. Today, we also manufacture batteries for big battery manufacturers in Japan and Europe. In fact an interesting thing here is that B&B is the only one in China who is capable of manufacturing for Japanese battery manufacturers.
Q. Could you explain the need for specialised batteries?
A. I’ll give you an example of another segment to help you understand the concept. 70 years ago if you wanted to buy a watch, you had limited choice to pick in the way of watches. But later when the market started to get more mature, people started to think and manufacturer created different watches for male and female, and later even watches for kids. It then evolved even more into watches for swimming and sports, and we have now reached the stage where we have really complex smart watches. Likewise we have identified which markets have special needs for fine tuning the battery recipe, and then went on to introduce special products for special applications. So our model is not building one product for all applications, instead, we have studied the applications and then designed products for those specific applications.
Q. What kind of changes happen under the hood of a battery while you specialise it for a certain sector?
A. We begin by identifying the criticality of a battery for a certain sector, and then for that criticality, we design a battery recipe that delivers the required features. It is fundamentally about material selection. We need to put different kinds of materials inside the battery to give it required features, like longer cycle life for instance. Another fundamental change is that you select a different kind of plate to make it survive longer under the electrolyte — which is an acid in this case. That’s a very corrosive liquid that slowly eats up the plate over a period of time. By working on different combinations, our engineers create this know-how on different ways to achieve different battery features and then work on those to create our own secret recipes – just like our parent company created their barbeque sauce (laughs).
Q. What’s focused upon while designing battery solutions for industrial use?
A. Our aim is to focus on high performance batteries that can handle robotics power draws without sacrificing cycle time. To make a high quality cost efficient product, the industry is moving towards Industrialisation 4.0 or connected industrial robots. These robots are also dependent on batteries since industrialisation 4.0 brings in a lot of wireless robots connect to an M2M network. An example would be in developing countries, where the sensing robots used in logistics management systems use these batteries to ensure the movement continues in the production line even if there is a power cut.
Q. What should designers know about battery technology for The Electric Vehicle (EV) Segment?
A. There are basically 5 categories in EVs. The first two are micro-hybrid and mini-hybrid. The micro-hybrid is that car that when stopped at the traffic light, the engine will stop automatically a few seconds later. Once you release the brake, the engine will start back up. In this market, most cars use lead acid batteries. The second is mini-hybrid. This is where regenerative braking technology is used. That is, when you step on the brake, the energy will come back to charge the battery. It is called recuperation and this is another feature. As we go into higher categories things get more complicated. For instance a Toyota Prius is a Category 4 EV.
Q. Could you explain the intricacies of designing batteries for the EV Segment?
A. Apart from lithium batteries, there are other batteries available for the micro and the mini. But the exact technology used depends on the nation because different nations have different approaches. In China, there is an electric vehicle that is pure electric and is used for farming in the countryside. Lithium battery in terms of cost is around 4 times that of lead acid battery. We are getting into solutions for electric vehicles that require lithium technology. We did not get into it before because there were a lot of issues with lithium technology like sparks and fires due to its hazardous nature. However, now the lithium battery recipe has become more mature and it is growing application wise, so we have to be in that space. We are starting with focus on electric bikes and we will take off from over there.
Q. What are the difference in challenges between industrial batteries, EV batteries and other sectors?
A. EVs could start from electrical lawn movers to scooters and other vehicles. While the challenge for the Industrialisation 4.0 machines was to bypass the power cut, here the vehicle is something you use everyday from morning to evening. So here the challenge is to give a better experience to the user. The users in this sector don’t want to have to go the manufacturer for service issues even with the constant use that the batteries typically see in this sector. The eBike market is an area where the batteries currently being used from other suppliers have not delivered to the user expectations in terms of capacities or life that user had expected from the device. Even in LED lamps we have been able to deliver more than the expected life due to our focus on quality. There are even cases where the life has gone up to 8 or 9 years for the batteries before they got replaced, and this includes UPS applications. Medical equipment manufacturing market is another area where the focus on quality and reliability is very high since a mistake could result in someone losing their life or limb. Due to this high level of importance, there are very few companies who are there to challenge this market.
Q.What problems cause these challenges in the EV sector?
A. It’s not merely working life alone that decides the performance of these batteries. There might be a lot of users who do not charge regularly or whose machines see a lot of idle time between uses. Batteries are now designed such that they tackle even those scenarios and continue to work while the other batteries may not even pick up the charge.
Q. Anything you feel customers should be aware of while purchasing batteries?
A. Yes, we do want to educate the customers on whether they want to buy at the lowest price or the lowest cost. Price and cost are totally different concepts. If they pay low price today they might end up paying a higher cost later due to lower cycle times, lack of reliability, etc.
Q. Could you share an example of how this has worked out of you?
A. One example is that one of the air traffic controllers in Madhya Pradesh was using equipment that had one of our batteries installed in it. This equipment had been imported and the battery came in as part of the original equipment. He searched on net & landed at our B&B website, located our India office, then contacted us with a photograph of the battery and said that he wants this battery. We identified the product from the photo and told him that the shipment will take four months. He said he didn’t mind waiting, and proceeded to send me a proper purchase order of Government of India, without us even having the stock at hand with delivery specifically written after 4 months. He received the shipment for the nine pieces that he wanted. The important thing here is that alternate products were available in India but he didn’t go for it. He said that he had seen the life of this battery and its performance throughout the time this battery was installed. Since it was critical equipment, it could fail at any time and so he wanted to keep the current batteries as standby if ever there is a need.
Q. What do you personally think is the most marvellous thing that could happen to batteries, that helps reduce its impact on the environment?
A. To be honest, we have a dream to save the energy spent to build the device. Manufacturing a battery and sourcing all the chemicals that go into it results in the consumption of a lot of resources and power. In order to make sure that the battery is completely utilised at end of life, we have come upon a grand plan. We hope that one day the end user can open up a used battery, and use what’s inside as a barbecue sauce (laughs). Seriously speaking, we have tied up with a battery recycler who will collect all the used up batteries at no cost to the customer, and then they will proceed with the recycling process.