Solid State Batteries - Providing Long-Term Financial Benefits to Industrial IoT
It’s generally acknowledged that Industry 4.0 offers great opportunities for businesses to obtain and analyze data for use in predictive maintenance and improved efficiency. Companies are increasingly implementing IoT systems with the global spending on IIoT (Industrial IoT) platforms for manufacturing predicted to grow from $1.67Bn in 2018 to $12.44Bn in 2024. However, many companies are concerned about the investment cost of implementation – do the benefits outweigh these costs? Can companies expect a return on their investment? And if so when?
The predictive maintenance benefits of IIoT enable companies to reduce their operational costs, optimize energy management systems, improve efficiency, ensure safety and prevent costly downtime due to asset failure. For example:
- Within large smart factories or other large buildings like hospitals, asset management needs to know where each piece of movable equipment is at any time so it can be moved where it is required as quickly as possible. When operating in a large area, not knowing where movable equipment is, can not only be inefficient but also costly.
- Health monitoring and predictive maintenance of large pieces of equipment in any manufacturing industry is vital. Engineers need to be able to ensure these expensive assets are performing efficiently all the time. Pumps, evaporation and any other manufacturing equipment that gets hot and vibrates in particular needs to be monitored.
- In the oil and gas industry, it’s critical to ensure pipelines and piping inside the refineries don’t corrode. Condensation between the hot pipes and the insulation around them can corrode the pipes, however because it is underneath the insulation material, you can’t see it and only know there’s a problem when something breaks down potentially causing damage to other equipment or a loss of earnings due to a shut down
- Transport infrastructure. For example, on railways, vibrations from passing trains, highs and lows of temperature, snow and ice can all damage, crack or buckle tracks or points which can impact their ability to provide a service resulting in revenue loss
- Manufacturers in the supply chain want to know the history of any components used in their final device to ensure the safety of each component. This includes where they’ve been (needed for active location), what conditions they have been stored and transported in and if components are perishable what temperature they have been stored in.
For many of these industries there is a concern about installing a connectivity solution unless it is easy to deploy and manage. Assets that need to be monitored are often situated in hostile and hard to reach locations, using an ever increasing number of sensors to work to their full potential. Cabling can be expensive costing >$300 per meter to run through existing infrastructure, plus opportunity costs such as losses due to shut down. It is frequently impossible and impractical, so power supplies must be wireless. However, with wireless solutions, battery replacement and failure costs drive up ownership costs as the system ages due to unpredictable labor and logistic costs.
The Initial reaction to addressing these problems of powering IoT sensors was to turn to traditional batteries, however they don’t address the challenges of most industries and add a long-term maintenance cost. Their need for frequent replacement will be financially costly especially for industries such as mining, drilling, pipelines - where sensors are placed in hostile environments. Gartner forecast that there will be 20 billion connected ‘things’ by 2020 and approx. 6 billion within cross-industry and vertical-specific businesses. For a typical $0.20 primary (non-rechargeable) coin cell, with a typical life time of two years, this is a cost of $1.2B every two years just for the cost of the batteries. Longer life batteries cost more.
In addition, each coin battery needs a holder which could add another $0.1 – 0.2 – not a lot per holder but when you consider all the sensors requiring batteries within a smart factory, it soon adds up. With Industry 4.0 predicted to be using 50 Billion sensors by 2025, maintenance costs could be huge especially for those industries placing them in hostile locations. And when a company has committed to the initial investment, they want to see a return on it, not unnecessary costs to maintain their connected devices. Companies need to think not only about initial investment costs but also Total Cost of Ownership which includes powering the devices and maintaining that power. If you’ve got a smart factory using hundreds of sensors, that’s hundreds of batteries that need to be changed on average every 2 years. If it takes 10 minutes for a technician, at an average cost of $24/h, to replace a battery in a device, this adds $4 to the real cost of ownership of this battery. This does not even include the cost of the technician getting to the location of the battery - in remote locations this can be hours or even days for a 10-minute job. Again, not a lot individually, but multiply that by the amount of batteries used and the figure soon sky rockets.
And there’s more to consider. Industry 4.0 only works if the connected devices retain their connectivity. If the sensor or machine monitored by the sensor, unexpectedly fails because there’s no power to provide information that should have predicted a failure, the smart factory is suddenly no longer smart. Traditional batteries have no back up – they either work or they don’t. When they suddenly stop working, the knock-on effect is both costly and disruptive. It’s not just a case of financially paying out for more batteries and the technicians to fit them, but there’s also a cost for loss of business when the sensors weren’t working.
But it’s not all negative, there is an alternative. Solid-state batteries have a lifespan of 10 years – that’s 5 times that of conventional coin batteries. Some also include an energy harvester so they can harvest energy from the environment, the vibration of assets, PV panel or thermal energy harvester. The solid-state battery then becomes more than just a battery – it’s an energy storage platform where the harvested energy, along with the battery’s own energy, extends the lifespan even further. Comparing that to a conventional battery and there are huge financial benefits to be made in maintenance of the Industry 4.0 program.
Solid-state batteries can have a wide temperature range from -40°C to 150°C - ideal as sensors will increasingly be placed in hot, hard-to-reach locations. They can be miniature in size, but still be reliable, have high-energy density and provide long life to perpetually power autonomous sensing devices.
There’s no doubt that there’s a cost to implementing an industrial IoT program but there’s also no doubt that it brings great benefits, both in terms of productivity and cost efficiency. It would be easy at implementation to take the cheaper option of using conventional batteries rather than solid-state batteries plus energy harvester, however this only provides short term savings. In the long term the costs when using solid-state batteries would be far less, enabling companies to monetize Industry 4.0 – not only through greater productivity and efficiency but also through maintenance savings and an efficiently reliable ‘Fit and Forget’ system.