The Indian battery industry is nowadays going through tough times due to
- Severe competition from many players vying for the same market.
- Rising input costs.
- Non-availability of labour
- Fluctuating dollar prices driving the cost of main input i.e. lead – upwards
- Price sensitive market with customers asking for batteries at a very low price
- High labour costs coupled with non availability of labour.
- Increasing freight rates going higher with frequent rise in price of diesel.
- Stricter norms as regards necessary environment protection.
- Unavailable trained personnel at supervisory and management level.
The battery manufacturers are left with no alternative but to rise to the occasion to survive this onslaught on various fronts mounted simultaneously on them. Cost cutting without compromising on quality is the only solution and am giving below the major areas in which all battery manufacturers must necessarily focus to reduce costs.
- Inventory Control.
- Automation of process based on need.
- Reduction of waste.
- Avoidance of rejection & rework.
- Enhanced productivity
- Reduced handling
- Warranty claim reduction & failure mode analysis
A – INVENTORY CONTROL
This is a major area with a lot of scope for cost reduction which is often neglected. A battery needs various components and the types of batteries are again many. This again increases the number of types of components. It becomes practically difficult if not impossible to procure various components in the required proportion unless the data is stored in a computer. However proper storage and issue of components as well as data entry in a computer are also important. All this is possible only if systems are in place and the setup is manned by a competent stores personnel who is well versed with the various components as well as manufacturing process.
It has been observed that many battery manufacturing companies give due importance to inventory control and work efficiently. However at times when the battery demand peaks up, the component vendors do not respond quickly. A couple of years back there was a shortage of separators and a few months back there was a tremendous demand for tubular bags far outstripping the supply of tubular bags. Such a situation forces the battery manufacturers to stock materials so that they can face any emergency demand for battery. Battery manufacturers must discuss with their vendors to ensure that components are stocked at vendor’s premises or assess the vendor’s capacity properly so that they face no shortages.
In any case, inventory control to the extent possible and for high value items is an absolute must as a first step to cost cutting.
B – AUTOMATION OF PROCESS BASED ON NEED
This is one area which a battery manufacturer needs to tread carefully. Before going into the purchase of a machine which shall be eliminating manual labour one needs to ask oneself a few questions:-
- Is the machine really required?
- If yes, what machine & what capacity?
- What will be the production from the machine?
- What will be the productivity per head?
- Will one need skilled labour to man the machine?
- Will the machine consume a lot of power, water, air etc. and are these available?
- How many skilled labourers does the machine replace?
- What is the machine capacity w.r.t. production upstream & downstream?
- What is the maintenance cost, running cost and is it justified?
- What about cost of consumables and spares, availability of consumables & spares?
- Status of service backup – Indian or Imported machine?
Am giving below some examples out of the many possible areas of cost reduction wherein mechanization or alteration of machines lead to substantial cost reduction.
- In the casting section, shifting from gas fired or diesel furnaces to electrically heated furnaces brings about substantial cost savings. The capital cost of electrically heated furnace can be recovered in 4 to 6 months after which the furnace saves so much money that it helps in bringing down the battery cost enabling a battery manufacturer to compete in the market due to lower cost of production.
However the furnace design, materials used in making electrically heated furnace, control panel quality and testing of the furnace after manufacture are equally important due to which one must buy the furnace from reputed and experienced machine manufacturers only.
- Many battery manufacturers use hand moulds for grid casting. To ensure a continuous production of good quality grids and to ensure that cork spray losts for a long time it is necessary to have consistent mould temperatures. Use of electrical heaters with controller is necessary and aids in higher production of grids.
- Decide on purchase of grid casting machine after studying the need properly – whether a semi automatic machine is to be purchased without trimmer or a fully automatic machine with trimmer at a higher cost is a better option. A cost benefit analysis and productivity per head may indicate that a machine with trimmer is economical to operate provided skilled or trained personnel as well as power and utilities are available for proper operation and maintenance at the user’s end.
- To avoid variations in paste mix batches it is preferable to use mixers of proper capacity with adequate controls like water cooling etc. and not make paste using mixers of 25 kgs, 50 kgs, etc.
- As regards automation of pasting is concerned the options available are slow speed pasting and high speed pasting. The battery manufacturers who are shifting from hand pasting to automated pasting must assess their needs keeping in mind the quantities that may need to be pasted in the near future, paste mixer batch capacity, grid availability from casting section for pasting, curing room capacity, availability of skilled manpower to run fully automatic machines etc.
Have met many battery manufacturers who mention that they need fully automatic high speed machines which can be worked once in 15 days to complete the pasting of grids in one go. These battery manufacturers must realize that such machines
- Need paste mixers of high capacity
- Require a lot of power & other utilities.
- Need adequate capacity of input from casting section i.e. a lot of grids on a regular basis.
- Need curing facilities to accommodate the once in 15 days output of pasted plates
- Necessarily need a high degree of skill of operators to set the machine parameters, run the machine as well as maintain the machine.
Another major factor overlooked by the battery manufacturers who are shifting from hand pasting to machine is that whilst it is theoretically possible to think of doing the pasting operation once in 15 days or do – practically such an activity creates many hassles with costly inventory being blocked in various sections occupying a lot of physical space. The finance cost of materials adds to the product cost and the manufacturer ends up being non-competitive.
Thus the decision as regards slow speed pasting and high speed pasting is one which needs to be a considered decision based on need and capacity of the battery manufacturer. Purchasing of a pasting machine must therefore be done after a careful study of process upstream & downstream.
For industrial batteries i.e. UPS and Inverter or Solar battery production the operation of tubular plate manufacture involves filling of powder in positive plates.
- This operation is a highly polluting operation with a lot of costly lead powder getting wasted. Though the process demands filling of powder into the tubular bags by use of vibrator it is in the economic interest of the battery plate manufacturer to have an effective dust collector to ensure that even the fine lead powder is collected for re-use.
Hence it is essential that the manufacture of tubular positive plates is not carried out using a vibrator but it is to be done using a system coupled to a duct collector. A system which ensures that lead powder is not spilled down is highly recommended. The system with a blender, feeder and vibrator along with bottom bar fixing station, coupled to a effective dust collector suits the purpose.
Such a complete system not only ensures savings by lead powder collection for re-use but also results in comfort for the operators working in filling section who do not have to face the hazards to their health due to lead dust pollution. The absenteeism of workers or non-availability of workers in this department of the battery factory is easily addressed by the installation of a good quality and proven Positive Tubular Plate Filling System.
- In the formation section the chargers used for plate charging must be properly selected giving due consideration to charger efficiency as regards input power. It is not advisable to use chargers with high output DC voltage & high output DC current at low currents and to regularly charge lesser than number of cells for which the charger is designed. The power losses due to such a usage is to the battery manufacturer’s account. This high running cost is not realized and is a very huge expense. Hence specifying of a charger is an exercise preferably to be carried out in consultation with charger manufacturer. It is strongly recommended that one procure chargers from a reputed manufacturer paying a marginal higher capital cost than buy chargers which are relatively inexpensive but waste energy and prove costly in the long run.