The digital age is leaving major German manufacturers behind
German car giant Volkswagen is continuing to suffer, not only with the repercussions of the diesel emissions scandal, but with difficulties adjusting to the digital age of manufacturing.
Former contractor for Volkswagen, Max Vilimpoc, was shocked by the company’s lack of open-mindedness towards technology, and said that the company approached design of digital tech the way it approached the creation of car parts.
This attitude “works if you’re making a gear that needs to work in all of your cars for 20 years,” Vilimpoc told BBC News. “It doesn’t work for software.”
Germany is known for its manufacturing skills, quality, and efficiency, but Volkswagen’s heavy-handed approach to computing does not bode well for the company’s recovery. Modern cars require sophisticated sensor, GPS, and monitoring technology, and keeping up-to-date with advances is necessary for any business aiming to compete. Volkswagen certainly cannot afford to be left behind. It is structured in a strict corporate hierarchy, a system which notoriously does not encourage the sharing of good ideas from lower company positions.
Other German companies are turning their manufacturing processes around to keep up with the digital age. Siemens now has computers controlling three quarters of its production processes at its electronic plant in Amberg. The German Artificial Intelligence Research Centre has been perfecting what it called the ‘smart factory’ in Kaiserslauten for nearly 30 years, constantly lessening the need for human employees in the production process. Unfortunately, such businesses are in the minority, and many of Germany’s major manufacturers are flagging behind the times.
Ultium Cells LLC/Li-Cycle: Sustainable Battery Manufacturing
Ultium Cells LLC - a joint venture between General Motors and LG Energy Solutions - has announced its latest collaboration with Li-Cycle. Joining forces the two have set ambitions to expand recycling in North America, recycling up to 100% of the scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing
What is Ultium Cells LLC?
Announcing their partnership in December 2019, General Motors (GM) and LG Energy Solutions established Ultium Cells LLC with a mission to “ensure excellence of Battery Cell Manufacturing through implementation of best practices from each company to contribute [to the] expansion of a Zero Emission propulsion on a global scale.”
Who is Li-Cycle?
Founded in 2016, Li-Cycle leverages innovative solutions to address emerging and urgent challenges around the world.
As the use of Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries in automotive, industrial energy storage, and consumer electronic applications rises, Li-Cycle believes that “the world needs improved technology and supply chain innovations to better recycle these batteries, while also meeting the rapidly growing demand for critical and scarce battery-grade materials.”
Why are Ultium Cells LLC and Li-Cycle join forces?
By joining forces to expand the recycling of scrap materials in battery cell manufacturing in North America, the new recycling process will allow Ultium Cells LLC to recycle cobalt, nickel, lithium, graphite, copper, manganese and aluminum.
“95% of these materials can be used in the production of new batteries or for adjacent industries,” says GM, who explains that the new hydrometallurgical process emits 30% less greenhouse gases (GHGs) than traditional processes, minimising the environmental impact. Use of this process will begin later in the year (2021).
"Our combined efforts with Ultium Cells will be instrumental in redirecting battery manufacturing scrap from landfills and returning a substantial amount of valuable battery-grade materials back into the battery supply chain. This partnership is a critical step forward in advancing our proven lithium-ion resource recovery technology as a more sustainable alternative to mining, " said Ajay Kochhar, President, CEO and co-founder of Li-Cycle.
"GM's zero-waste initiative aims to divert more than 90% of its manufacturing waste from landfills and incineration globally by 2025. Now, we're going to work closely with Ultium Cells and Li-Cycle to help the industry get even better use out of the materials,” added Ken Morris, Vice President of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles, GM.
Since 2013, GM has recycled or reused 100% of the battery packs it has received from customers, with most current GM EVs repaired with refurbished packs.
"We strive to make more with less waste and energy expended. This is a crucial step in improving the sustainability of our components and manufacturing processes,” concluded Thomas Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer, Ultium Cells LLC.