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Three environmental chambers provide in-house testing capability at ABS’s innovation center. (ABS)

ABS ramps up commercial-vehicle battery-pack assembly

American Battery Solutions has tripled the size of its R&D facility and is hiring more technical specialists to produce custom and off-the-shelf battery packs.

American Battery Solutions (ABS) is preparing for a big uptick in business with the increasing electrification of buses, medium- and heavy-duty trucks. “In order to be ready for the sales pipeline now through 2026/2027, we needed more space, more equipment and more people,” said Subhash Dhar, founder, chairman and CEO of the energy-storage solution supplier.

Dhar and other ABS officials spoke with SAE Media prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the firm’s expanded innovation center in Lake Orion, Michigan. Since the acquisition of assets from Bosch Battery Systems, ABS has been in growth mode. At its 2019 founding, ABS employed a dozen technical specialists. Today, the number of employees in Michigan is 120 with an additional 75 engineers and technical specialists being recruited by the end of 2022.

The innovation center’s 115,000-sq.ft. footprint includes three environmental chambers, a prototype low-voltage assembly line for 24- or 48-volt applications, and a prototype high-voltage production line with robotic assemblers. ABS’s high-voltage prototype line will be replicated at its 170,000-sq.ft. manufacturing facility in Springboro, Ohio, where Bosch Battery Systems workers previously assembled lithium-ion battery packs for the Fiat 500e subcompact car.

“We’re going to convert that line for the assembly of four different high-voltage battery packs,” said Dr. John Warner, ABS’s chief customer officer. The modular and scalable approach to pack assembly features unique manufacturing processes and cell interconnects. “We’ll use wire bonding on all the high-voltage cells, giving us the ability to use thermal management on the cells,” Warner said. “We’ll be able to sandwich an aluminum cooling plate between the two sets of cells.”

High-voltage battery pack production is slated to start in October 2022 for commercial-vehicle applications. “Everything that we learn on the prototype line in Michigan will get transferred to the production line in Ohio,” Warner said.

Wireless battery management coming
The ability to perform defect-free battery pack assembly is vitally important. “Even something like a low-voltage wiring harness, if installed incorrectly, can create an internal short on the pack. So, it’s really important to do it right,” Warner said. The passenger-vehicle market recently saw the unwanted aftereffects of battery-module manufacturing defects that led to the recall of Chevrolet Bolt EVs and EUVs (General Motors will receive up to $1.9 billion from LG Electronics for costs associated with the recalls).

The testing and validation of ABS battery packs includes time in an environmental chamber. ABS has three, 10- x 8- x 4-ft (3- x 2.4- x 1.2-m) chambers with temperature capability from -40 to +85°C (-40 to +185°F). One chamber also has humidity capability, and the new cyclers added to one of the chambers means power capability to test up to a 1,200-volt system. “I’ve always said that it’s not the cells that keep a system safe; it’s the system that keeps the cells safe. So, the entire battery pack, the battery management system (BMS), the thermal system, and the mechanical structure are all there to protect the battery system,” Warner said.

A hardware-in-the-loop BMS lab is tied to future product. “We’re in the process of developing a wireless BMS, which will launch in the next 18 months,” Warner said. ABS’s wireless BMS will enable battery cells to be tracked from the assembly point to end of life. Current technology involves a control board and a wiring harness. “Low-voltage wiring harnesses can be gangly, difficult to install, and the connectors can be prone to faults/failures. With the wireless BMS, we’ll use a small antenna that’s only 2 to 3 mm (0.08 to 0.12 in.) from the board for communications,” said Warner, projecting cost savings of 20-25%.

ABS’s energy-storage solutions are downstream from the battery cells. “We don’t care what the chemistry of the cell is. We’re able to adapt, whether it’s lithium-ion, liquid electrolyte chemistry, solid-state or some other cell type,” Dhar said. ABS provides off-the-shelf products as well as engineered energy-storage solutions to meet customers’ specific needs. In addition to commercial vehicles, ABS customers include providers of industrial equipment, industrial vehicles and niche EVs. “We’re serving the underserved market,” Dhar said.

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