Industry Article

Simulation-First, Digital Twins Speed EV Battery Production

December 17, 2023 by Nisar Ahamad, Capgemini

A clean energy revolution is quietly underway. The emerging “battery belt”—consisting of several southern and midwestern states stretching as far as New York—showcases the surge in demand for batteries and various automotive components produced in the United States and the need for better battery production.

At the front and center of the clean energy revolution are electric vehicles (EVs), which include freight and public and domestic transportation. EVs have accelerated the need to construct and operate battery factories known as gigafactories. The result? More than 15 new lithium-ion battery gigafactories have been built or announced since 2021, representing a combined investment of more than $40 billion.


EV battery being manufactured at a gigafactory. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock


Understanding Challenges to EV Battery Production

Why are battery manufacturing factories increasingly becoming the way forward for industry sectors, including automotive and transport? It is important to assess several vehicle market challenges to understand the answer.

Chief among these are the current time-to-market constraints of EV supply chains and the actual gigafactories themselves. The announced plants, many of which haven't even broken ground yet, have an average seven-year wait until production comes online. This should be shorter. Moreover, the raw materials needed for lithium-ion cells, including lithium, cobalt, and graphite, are mined in developing economies, which has posed challenges for manufacturers and regulators alike.

Understanding the traceability of components and raw materials is a complex, data-heavy process all EV manufacturers grapple with. Navigating multiple regulatory frameworks piles on time and cost. Without the right scrutiny across value chains, major manufacturers can be exposed to excessive and environmentally harmful waste, import/export complexities, and human rights concerns. Waste, in particular, is a concern, with scrappage running at approximately 30-40% in some gigafactories.

The logic behind bringing production stateside is sound: shortening supply chains and increasing oversight while simultaneously creating jobs, lessening environmental impact, and getting a jump on regulatory frameworks.

The market is enormously competitive, and businesses are seriously considering ways to accelerate this process. At the same time, overabundance of batteries in areas with little demand can lead to curtailment, meaning that production must be tracked to maintain the balance of supply and demand.


The Role of R&D in EV Battery Production

Because of the complex nature of the EV battery production economy, businesses must recognize the pivotal role of research and development (R&D). R&D is about adopting the latest technologies to advance towards sustainable production capacity and capture the market, and it requires being agile enough to adopt battery development breakthroughs.


EV battery production. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock


Recent strides in battery technology can reshape the industry landscape. Staying at the forefront of such innovations is essential to maintain a competitive edge and cater to evolving consumer demands. Moreover, staying updated on regulatory changes is equally crucial, as the industry's compliance landscape can significantly impact operations and market access.

With Asia leading in battery production and Europe belatedly realizing the need to invest, R&D budgets are ballooning globally. In addition to federal grants for automakers to retool their plants toward EVs, the current U.S. administration is investing specifically in battery tech and ensuring a chunk of that investment goes directly to R&D budgets.


Optimizing a Simulation-First Approach and Digital Twins for Design

To make all this count on the factory floor, many battery firms increasingly see the value in working with a technology transformation partner to leverage expert support across the product lifecycle to increase production capacity and meet growing demand. Some companies offer a combination of technological expertise and professional services to enable the battery industry to overcome challenges quickly and at scale.

Examples of how this works include adopting a simulation-first approach and utilizing digital twins for optimal product design—a methodology popular in other industries, such as pharmaceuticals, now applied to clean tech. Implementing a simulation-first approach and leveraging digital twins involves using an advanced simulation solution to optimize plant throughput through quantified decision-making on the production system's topology. This process relies on a simplified digital twin of site manufacturing operations, incorporating advanced modeling and simulation techniques.

Specifically in the energy sector, this includes real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance for battery systems, optimizing operational parameters, and simulating grid performance for enhanced resilience and reliability. Particularly when managing renewable energy integration and load fluctuations, this integration of virtual and physical components through digital infrastructure ensures efficient and seamless production processes.

The connection between virtual and physical is being driven across the board, with digital infrastructure and physical facilities now increasingly integrated to deliver seamless production.


Data-Driven Battery Engineering

There are many applications of strategic business partnerships for burgeoning battery factories. Developing and deploying data-driven operations is critical to shortening the wait time for active production to commence. Data-driven battery engineering leverages machine learning techniques to analyze complex electrochemical and thermal behaviors, optimize design parameters, predict performance under different operating conditions, and accelerate battery technology development.

By simulating and modeling battery behavior with artificial intelligence (AI), engineers can gain valuable insights, reduce the need for extensive physical prototyping, and expedite design and optimization. Moreover, by integrating hardware and software solutions and leaning on AI as the backbone of a potential step change in operations, the factory construction and, ultimately, the shopfloor itself can benefit from a data-centric architecture blueprint.

Moreover, because cybersecurity is a considerable worry for many manufacturers, network, hosting, and data management services can be streamlined and improved to ensure safe transmission. Several technical aspects are needed to enhance security in gigafactories, including secure network infrastructure, data transmission, and cloud services; data management and storage security; threat detection and incident response; employee training and awareness; and regulatory compliance.

From managing physical commissioning to integrating industrial strategy and maintaining security, technology partnerships enable organizations to quickly and efficiently implement comprehensive end-to-end solutions that address the many challenges inherent to EV battery production—and help them remain competitive in an evolving marketplace. These key capabilities will support the industrialization phase of battery development and implementation.

By creating digital and procedural target blueprints, partners can help develop standard processes that address challenges and boost competitiveness. This complex process involves delivering a platform for modeling and simulation to commission automation systems and validating software programs and system functionalities virtually before deployment to the real system. This is engineered by defining a virtual commissioning architecture based on the client’s automation ecosystem and connecting automation software with virtual commissioning toolchains. The second step is to model functional behavior to generate 3D models—including robot simulation—and enable unified communication through semantic integration.

In their quest to meet the growing demands for increased battery production, manufacturing organizations will unlock significant benefits by leveraging the expertise of well-versed partners in building, scaling, and overhauling industrial processes. These benefits include:

  • Expertise in scaling industrial processes, helping engineers plan for increased production capacities without compromising efficiency
  • Technological integration across hardware and software platforms, introducing engineers to cutting-edge technologies, fostering innovation in hardware and software integration
  • Tailored professional services, offering tailor-made solutions to address specific challenges in battery production
  • Acceleration of time-to-market, streamlining workflows leading to shorter development cycles, allowing engineers to stay ahead in a competitive market
  • Risk mitigation and cost management, helping engineers identify and mitigate potential challenges before they escalate while optimizing resource allocation and minimizing unnecessary expenditures

These partners can bring new working methods, integrate technological solutions across hardware and software platforms, and provide tailored professional services.

The transformational impact of this type of partnership is already on display across much of the battery sector. But as more investment pours in—with global automakers now targeting more than half a trillion dollars in extra funding by 2030—the need for bespoke partnership working models has never been greater. That winning combination of solutions, services, and industry expertise is out there, and the outlook for U.S. EV battery production is stronger, healthier, and more exciting as a result.