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Lithium-ion battery manufacturing: Here’s what you need to know about engaging mechanical partners

Mar 02, 2023

Mike Walberg, Business Development Manager, U.S. Engineering Innovations

Lithium-ion (Li-on) battery production in the U.S. is on the rise. A graphic about projected growth in worldwide battery manufacturing caught my eye recently. Unsurprisingly, the graphic shows China dominating that sector from now through 2027. But as some have pointed out, growth in U.S. battery manufacturing capability during that time period is projected to skyrocket, from 73 GWh in 2022 to 908 GWh in 2027. The United States is projected to rise from the third to second-highest producer, supplying 10% of the world’s Li-on manufacturing capability by 2027.

U.S. Engineering Innovations is already involved in designing and managing installation of mechanical systems in Li-on battery manufacturing facilities—one large facility in progress and several on the way—so as the market expands rapidly, I want to share the four most important things owners and GCs should know about engaging mechanical partners for work in new Li-on battery manufacturing plants.

Engage Early

Mechanical contractors with design-build and design-assist capabilities save you time, money and heartache. Engaging early is an essential tool for risk management. When your mechanical partner sees the project in its early stages, they have more leverage to work with other trades on the best possible solutions. In the planning stage, they can identify and solve potential spatial and supply problems before anything is roughed in. That means fewer hitches and fewer delays. Especially for a fast-paced job requiring special technical solutions, like a Li-on battery manufacturing plant build, early contact with your mechanical partner is key.

Battery manufacturing plants require stringent specifications. Work with a mechanical team experienced in clean environments, such as high-purity filters and piping, clean compressed air and high-purity water, and bio-medical environments.

In our case, U.S. Engineering has worked in dynamic environments across manufacturing and lab facilities for decades. In one example, we’ve manufactured and installed high-purity piping systems, including hydrogen, phosphane and silane, for a confidential client we’ve worked with since 1980. In this ongoing project, we provide the customer with specialty/custom HVAC and ultra-high-purity piping systems.

Most of the work for this confidential client involves installing exhaust and high-purity piping needed for tool installation for the clean rooms. This customer has three different clean rooms, Class 100 and 1000, that require unique procedures. U.S. Engineering also installs pump vacuum forelines, utilities, solvent exhaust and acid exhaust for this client. In addition to the technical specifications, we comply with Federal Cleanroom Classifications in an ISO 6 – ISO 7 environment, and we’re well versed in budgeting and control costs, planning, manufacturing, building and commissioning these systems.

Engage Mechanical Partners with Proven Track Records in Logistics

Mechanical systems in Li-on battery manufacturing facilities require large, specialized equipment (specialized process piping and exhaust duct, high-volume gases, hot-oil and NMP storage, and industrial ovens), and it helps to work with a mechanical partner versed in logistics. For example, a partner who can manufacture exactly what you need and ensure that those specialty pieces arrive on time and on budget goes a long way toward project success.

U.S. Engineering Innovations faced an interesting logistics challenge not too long ago: we were asked to produce chilled water and condenser loops for the central plant at a state hospital. In Hawaii. The manufacturing facility we chose for this job is in Colorado, and our team there was tasked with fitting everything into one shipping container for a single delivery. We meticulously modeled our loading sequence on the site install sequence and developed a highly detailed packing plan: the last item packed on the container had to be the first item the install required. Since the container was one-way-in, one-way-out, our load-in plan had to be exact (as Assoc. VP Jeff Kiblen, who was Director of Operations at the time, puts it: Tetris-style).

I mention our Hawaii job because new Li-on battery manufacturing plants are going to spring up across the country in the coming months and years, and partnering with someone who thrives under challenging logistics will be key.

Seek Out Innovators

In the United States, Li-on battery manufacturing is still a relatively new and growing field. You will need partners with deep roots in designing and constructing mechanical systems AND who think outside the box. Besides the new building processes you’ll face in battery manufacturing plants, in the next couple years, these projects will come quickly, and they won’t be small. Adding a wrinkle to the process, materials procurement is slow thanks to lingering issues with supply chains worldwide.

To tackle challenges with manpower, scale, and logistics, you’ll need partners with imagination. Who rethink scheduling sequences and traditional processes. U.S. Engineering is reimagining construction with a manufacturing mindset, which allows us to be more efficient, safe, and flexible than more traditional mechanical contractors.

Mike Walberg is Business Development Manager at U.S. Engineering Innovations, a national mechanical construction company. Based in Kansas City, he focuses on partnerships with end users, general contractors and local mechanical contractors to build large mechanically complex projects.

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