By Allison Proffitt
August 17, 2020 | Celina Mikolajczak is a veteran of the International Battery Seminar and Exhibit. While in the past she’s represented Tesla and Uber, Mikolajczak joined the 2020 Virtual event representing Panasonic Energy of North America (PENA) to give an update on the battery production at Tesla’s Gigafactory Nevada, where PENA occupies about two thirds of the completed Gigafactory space. The Gigafactory as a whole is about 30% complete, Mikolajczak said.
PENA began installing equipment into the Gigafactory in December 2015 and began mass production for EP cell in January 2017. PENA shipped its first billionth battery cell in February 2019. By April 2019, PENA had set up 13 cell assembly lines, and by November 2019 it shipped its second billionth cell. PENA has achieved its target of 35 GWh/year of cell production, Mikolajczak said. All of the cells produced by PENA at Gigafactory Nevada are for Tesla, she confirmed.
Panasonic designs all of its battery cells, she explained, though they are customized to customer requirements. R&D teams in Japan develop new materials, supply chains, and processing equipment. Final design for manufacturability is done onsite with manufacturing teams in local factories. PENA engineers conduct final design validation on site.
Mikolajczak says she is often asked: “How do we get to a cell price on the order of $100 kWh?” That’s a decent question, but the better question, she argues, is, “What production volume is needed to get to $100 kWh?” Improved battery chemistries help, she says, but more practical cell price reductions, she says, are really achieved by cost-effective sourcing and processing of raw materials, high volume pricing on both materials and production equipment, factory automation, and elimination of production stops and process upsets.
At Gigafactory Nevada, PENA brought to bear all the manufacturing know-how Panasonic has accumulated over its 100-year history and has maximized high volume manufacturing. The production consists of 8 coating lines, 32 die heads, 46 press machines, 198 winding machines, 13 top cap production lines, 7 formation lines, and more.
Economies of scale apply to people, too, Mikolajczak added. “At a scale of a Gigafactory, you can have engineers that are devoted to specific processes or specific equipment and focus on nothing but winding machines, and they will never, ever be bored, and they will never, ever be idle, because there’s just so much to do and so many of that piece of equipment.”
PENA continues to evolve production equipment and processes, prioritizing great speeds, automation, and the use of big data, Mikolajczak said. The company is also dedicated to developing staff, adopting a maxim from Panasonic founder Kōnosuke Matsushita: “Panasonic develops people, and also makes some consumer products.”
PENA conducts training and coaching across all levels of employees to develop technical and leadership skills. PENA has developed what Mikolajczak calls “high performance culture”, an approach that is “both fully Western and compatible with Japanese corporate culture” that allows the PENA team to work in a unified way in colleagues in Japan.
“There is no way to run an operation of this complexity or scale without focusing heavily on the people who run it,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Did you miss the 2020 International Battery Seminar? Because the event was virtual, you can still access the event including all of the recorded sessions, presentations, and materials. Register for PREMIUM POST-EVENT ON-DEMAND.