A plain-looking warehouse near Detroit is being transformed into a state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery assembly plant. General Motors Co. (GM) is investing $43 million in the facility to mass-produce battery packs for the Chevrolet Volt and other extended-range electric vehicles. When the 160,000-square-foot facility opens next year, it will be the first lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant in the U.S. operated by a major automaker.
By this time next year, a plain-looking warehouse 14 miles southwest of Detroit will be transformed into a state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery assembly plant. General Motors Co. (GM) is investing $43 million in the Brownstown Township, MI, facility to mass-produce battery packs for the Chevrolet Volt and other extended-range electric vehicles. When the 160,000-square-foot facility opens, it will be the first lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant in the U.S. operated by a major automaker.
“The capability to develop, test and manufacture advanced batteries in-house is a tremendous competitive advantage,” claims Bob Kruse, executive director of GM’s global vehicle engineering for hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries. “With the Brownstown battery plant, we can control the entire development and production of this important technology.”
The new assembly plant will provide more than 100 jobs and will be part of a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors called GM Subsystem Manufacturing LLC. It will be constructed with funds provided by the U.S Department of Energy (DOE). As part of its Electric Drive Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative, DOE recently awarded GM $105.9 million.
The investment includes renovation and lease costs for the building, in addition to new production equipment and tooling. With the exception of specialized battery manufacturing machinery, Kruse says GM is reusing equipment from other GM facilities. Equipment installation at the Brownstown site is under way and production will start in the fourth quarter of 2010 to support the launch of the much-anticipated Chevrolet Volt.
“Developing and producing advanced batteries is a key step in GM’s journey to become the leader in electric vehicles,” claims Fritz Henderson, GM president and CEO. “This state-of-the-art battery manufacturing site reinforces our commitment to achieve that goal and to deliver clean, fuel-efficient vehicles to our customers.
“Advanced battery development is a critical component that will strengthen the long-term competitiveness and technology leadership of the United States,” he points out. “At our Brownstown facility, GM will help deliver domestically produced and affordable energy sources for American consumers while creating U.S.-based manufacturing jobs.”
General Motors will use lithium-ion battery cells supplied by LG Chem Ltd. and its U.S. subsidiary, Compact Power Inc. Its new plant will include three primary assembly areas: Battery module pre-assembly, final assembly and battery pack main line.
The pre-assembly area is where cells will be processed and installed into one of three battery modules, which will ultimately be joined together to comprise a single battery pack.
The module final assembly area is where final assembly and testing of the three modules required for each battery pack will take place. According to Cowger, GM will use “a rapid pre-assembly system to drive accuracy and repeatability.
“The manufacturing challenge we face is to process a single cell every 2.7 seconds or, at full production, 70,000 cells per day,” says Cowger. “It’s a big challenge, but we have a plan, and the equipment, in place to meet that goal.”
The second part of GM’s battery plant is where final assembly and testing of the modules will take place. Automated welding equipment will perform hundreds of welds on each battery. Operators will perform leak testing and electrical testing.
Once built and tested, the fully functional modules will move via conveyor to the battery pack main line for final assembly. Assemblers will attach hoses, straps and electrical connections. The main line is also where battery pack final testing, verification and packaging for shipment will take place. Automated guided carts will be used for flexible material handling.
“The GM Brownstown Battery Assembly plant will use flexible manufacturing layouts, as well as equipment, which will enable the plant to quickly respond to volume or product changes in the market,” said Gary Cowger, GM group vice president, manufacturing and labor relations. “In the future, when we have a number of different battery packs in production, this plant will be able to adjust [work flow] based on market demand. We’ll [also] use a number of tools to ensure quality in every phase of the battery assembly process.”
The Chevy Volt will be GM’s first extended-range electric vehicle to receive the new plant’s lithium-ion battery. The 16-kilowatt-hour battery, the heart of the automaker’s Voltec electric propulsion system, consists of 150 unique parts. Kruse claims that GM designed and engineered all but eight parts.
According to Cowger, there are more than 220 cells in the 360-volt battery pack. The T-shaped device is currently 5-feet long and weighs 400 pounds. “We intend for our future generations to be even smaller and lighter,” Cowger points out.
The Volt, which is scheduled to start production late next year as a 2011 model, will be capable of travelling up to 40 miles on electricity from a single battery charge. A flex fuel-powered engine-generator will extend its overall range to more than 300 miles. Kruse claims that the Volt will be the first mass-produced vehicle to claim a triple-digit composite (city-highway) fuel economy rating.
General Motors plans to build the Volt’s 4-cylinder internal combustion engine in Flint, MI, while its electric motors will be assembled at a GM transmission plant in Baltimore. Chassis and body assembly will occur at the automaker’s plant in Hamtramck, which currently builds large sedans such as the Buick Lucerne and the Cadillac DTS. Assemblers have already begun building a batch of Volts at GM’s preproduction operations plant in Warren, MI.
The Brownstown Battery Assembly plant will work closely with GM’s Global Battery Systems Laboratory in Warren, which opened in June. The facility focuses on advanced battery development and testing for electrically driven vehicles.