How does an industry leader in the production of synthetic graphite for batteries ensure its product is manufacturer-friendly? For Pyrotek, the key was to replicate the manufacturing process of OEMs — and they turned to Frontier and Delta ModTech for help.
Challenge: Matching the Manufacturing Equipment of Battery OEMs to Create Graphite Solutions
Pyrotek is the world’s leading supplier of consumable and capital equipment for the processing of molten aluminum. Based in Spokane, Washington, and with over 3,000 employees worldwide, one of the company’s main focuses since its inception in 1956 was the use of graphite in its manufacturing process.
Pyrotek has developed its own technology for making graphite since the ‘50s, and has created two sizable competitive advantages for the graphite it produces for battery manufacturers.
First, because of its proprietary process, Pyrotek is able to produce graphite at nearly half the cost of other graphite manufacturers. According to Dr. Jeremy Schrooten, Technical Director at Pyrotek, “OEMs look at our price and ask us if we missed a decimal point.”
Second, the synthetic graphite Pyrotek creates has properties that behave differently than other types of graphite.
For example, when you charge and discharge a battery, lithium is introduced into the graphite, which causes a dimensional change. It grows and it shrinks with each cycle. After usage, building of “irreversible strain” starts to occur and your battery fades.
Pyrotek’s graphite has a hysteresis that’s smaller than their competitors, which means the life cycle is longer.
That unique chemical makeup allows for the price + life cycle advantage.
However, none of that matters unless an original equipment manufacturer can use the graphite. That’s where Jeremy’s team enters the equation.
You Need to Show a Battery OEM That Your Product Works
Pyrotek was charged with proving that the proprietary graphite would work in an OEM’s process. At the time, the company did not have the capability to make or test the battery, so they outsourced it to a lab.
Once the experiments were run successfully, Pyrotek would show up at the OEM with data in hand. “They’d say, ‘Great, let’s try it!’” Jeremy recalled. “But they’d try processing the graphite using the same processes used for other materials, and it wouldn’t work.”
It quickly became obvious that if Pyrotek was going to explain how someone could work with their materials, they would have to understand the intricacies and difficulties the OEMs were having.
“We didn’t want to become battery manufacturers ourselves, but we needed to speak their language and buy representative equipment for our lab,” Schrooten said.
Solution: Using a Slot-Die Coater to Truly Replicate the Process
Choosing representative equipment was essentially a no-brainer for Schrooten. “Every battery manufacturer out there uses a slot die coater as their preferred coating technology to make the electrode,” he said. “So that’s what we wanted.”
Most laboratories like Pyrotek’s balk at the expense of a slot-die coater. More inexpensive coating equipment exists, but Schrooten knew it was critical to match the equipment used by the OEMs.
“By having a slot-die coater, it would give us a much better understanding of the slurry’s properties, requirements and metrics that are important to a battery OEM,” he said.
Pyrotek chose the Frontier DynaCoat® slot-die coater. (Frontier is a Delta ModTech company.) After installing the machine, Frontier was on-site to train the Pyrotek team on how to use the machine.
Once they were on their own, the Pyrotek team made some initial mistakes as they became acclimated to the machine, but it was entirely user error. “From a machine perspective, it always did what it was intended to do,” Schrooten said.
With the help of the Frontier DynaCoat, Pyrotek can replicate the different processes of OEMs. In fact, the electrodes they’ve produced and delivered in a support role have impressed the OEMs. Pyrotek gets high marks for quality, all of which Schrooten attributes to the DynaCoat.
“The people at Frontier have been wonderful in their support,” he said. “We have had issues with lots of other equipment in the lab, but we haven’t had any issues with the DynaCoat. It works and works really well.”
About the DynaCoat:
The Frontier DynaCoat is a turnkey compact coating and drying system. It has a small footprint and is perfect for lab scale, pilot scale or production coating. It provides roll-to-roll coating solutions for:
- Medical Diagnostics
- Oral Pharmaceuticals
- Batteries and Capacitors
- Fuel Cells
- Textile and Adhesives
- Film and Foil