Navigant Research Blog

Materials Handling Sector Trends Upward with IoT and Automation

— May 4, 2017

As digitization and automation become mainstream, materials handling vehicles (MHVs) are evolving from passive tools to intelligent, connected pieces of the supply chain. Navigant Research believes that advanced technology options for MHVs are nascent in the materials handling industry and offer significant improvements over traditional options. As the needs of these users grow more complex, it will be important that equipment evolves as seamlessly and efficiently as possible.

The application of Internet of Things (IoT) technology is not limited to automation; it also increasingly enables data integration and using materials handling equipment as data sources. Businesses are turning to data-driven intelligence to guide decisions that improve operational efficiency and protect the bottom line. For MHVs, connected fleets and data-driven operations produce a wealth of small floor-level insights that are transformed into actionable business intelligence. Several companies recognize this and are making steps to ensure predictive analytics play a role in day-to-day operations.

IoT’s Role in Equipment Maintenance

Besides operational efficiency, IoT technology is playing an increasing role in equipment maintenance. Autonomously monitoring the condition of MHV components and generating trouble codes for service technicians can be used to detect failures and/or equipment wear before they affect the vehicle’s performance. For example, forklift manufacturer Linde is working on automating the procedure of troubleshooting fleet issues, ordering spare vehicle parts, and scheduling service engineers while simultaneously informing the customer about the order status. In turn, this makes it easier to streamline orders, identify bottlenecks, and provides transparency to customers.

Advanced Automation – Playing a Role in the Integration of Emerging Electric Powertrain Options

Communication-enabled battery data and chargers allow warehouses to:

  • Reduce or eliminate the battery room footprint by eliminating the need for bulky charging infrastructure
  • Improve forklift uptime by way of opportunity charging
  • Decrease the number of batteries and chargers onsite because of improved battery runtime

Navigant Research’s Advanced Electric Forklift Technologies in North America report states that advanced electric technologies for forklifts may have higher upfront prices. However, they can reduce operating costs with longer runtime and reduced fueling over the lifespan of the fleet.

Battery Advancements

Several battery manufacturers see increased interest in traction technologies nascent to the industry. One of the first companies to do so, Navitas Systems, recently announced it will deploy the Starlifter battery at a Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) in Pennsylvania. Navitas’ program objective is to evaluate the utility, feasibility, maintainability, and cost-effectiveness of replacing lead-acid batteries with fast-charging lithium ion (Li-ion) deep-cycle forklift batteries in DLA Distribution warehouses. The program also hopes to decrease total forklift battery costs of ownership and increase forklift operational readiness and productivity. Companies like Linde and Electrovaya also have recently announced new Li-ion options for forklift batteries as a result of the demands of current warehouse and logistics environments. Much different than the industry 20 years ago, modern warehouses have increased demand for operational efficiency, around-the-clock operations, and more advanced vehicles capable of working in cold storage climates.

Fleet managers look to operational data to improve efficiency and competitiveness. Real-time floor-level alerts are increasingly important so operators can address issues immediately. Customers also expect greater visibility into their lift truck fleet, support equipment, and ongoing asset health. In the future, vehicles will communicate with each other, decision-making will be at the user level, and batteries and charging infrastructure will combine with operator and truck data to inform fleet management across both forklift and powertrain platforms.

 

Beyond Li-Ion, Next-Generation Battery Chemistries Will Face Hurdles

— June 7, 2016

Batteries 2There is much hope that the e-mobility and grid-tied stationary energy sectors will soon be transformed by new advanced battery chemistries that are not yet commercialized. The reality, however, is that new battery chemistries in these sectors face significant hurdles on their path to commercialization. Navigant Research’s upcoming Next-Generation Advanced Batteries report will examine these issues and more for pre-commercial advanced battery technologies like lithium sulfur, lithium solid state electrolyte, and next-generation flow batteries.

Commitment to Li-Ion

At the top of this list of hurdles for pre-commercial battery technologies will be the long-term commitment to improved commercially available lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries by well-funded and stable battery manufacturers like Samsung SDI, LG Chem, Johnson Controls, Panasonic, and BYD. In addition, as highlighted in a recent Forbes article, one should never underestimate the added value of a proven, commercialized technology like Li-ion that is capitalizing on the benefits of a learning curve during a rapid growth period.

As highlighted in the Forbes article, the Argonne National Laboratory-led Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) is one of the key organizations leading the charge to identify next-generation batteries beyond advanced Li-ion chemistries that can lead to a transformational commercial battery. JCSER defines a transformational battery as one with 5 times the energy density at one-fifth the cost for the vehicle electrification and grid-tied energy storage sectors. As part of its efforts, the JCSER team developed Argonne’s open-source Battery Performance and Cost Model (BatPaC), which is useful tool for the evaluation supply chain, raw material, and manufacturing costs of commercial Li-ion and next-generation batteries. Late last year, leading into the fourth year of its 5-year effort, JCSER narrowed its beyond-Li-ion focus to four chemistry scenarios.

Navigant Research is watching the JCSER efforts closely given its unique focus and expertise. We continue to believe that manufacturing scale and expertise along with maturing supply chains for Li-ion will produce improved battery performance and lower costs over the next several years. There is great promise and potential advantage in several next-generation beyond Li-ion advanced battery technologies. However, these technologies will face strong challenges from incumbent Li-ion manufacturers. Navigant Research recommends that battery sector stakeholders watch closely for the emergence of strategic partnerships between pre-commercial battery chemistries and Li-ion incumbents as a key indicator of likelihood of success.

 

Dyson and Sakti3 Move Toward Solid-State Deployments

— May 13, 2016

BatteriesAs power and energy requirements are proving to be increasingly sophisticated for large-scale grid energy storage and automotive applications, many companies and research institutions across the globe are looking for alternatives to the lithium ion (Li-ion) battery. U.K. company Dyson acquired the rights to battery startup Sakti3 last December for $90 million and announced that it will invest an additional $1.44 billion to develop new battery technologies over the next 5 years. A portion of the investment will go toward building a new battery factory and R&D center.

Sakti3 is a pre-commercial battery technology firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specializing in lithium solid-state battery chemistries. The company was founded with a goal of bringing next-generation battery technology to electric vehicles (EVs) and consumer electronics, stating that it intends to double the energy density at lower costs than current commercially available Li-ion batteries. Historically, solid-state batteries have been plagued by the solid-solid interface’s high resistance to ion intercalation (resulting in low power density) and performance scalability; Sakti3 believes that it has reduced design cycles and is on track to find the critical mass to take its technology to market.

Solid-State Battery

Ian Blog Image

 (Source: Dyson)

A Start in Consumer Electronics

Li-ion batteries started in early consumer electronic markets in 1991 when they were first discovered and now are being deployed in complex applications globally. Navigant Research expects 93.1 GWh of Li-ion capacity will be deployed globally for EVs in 2025 alone, along with an additional 59.1 GWh deployed for grid storage. Dyson has been developing an in-house battery technology for its cordless appliances for the past several years and now plans on utilizing Sakti3’s prototype technology in existing and future products. The biggest questions to be answered will be how this acquisition affects Sakti3’s process of innovation—and what it could mean for battery industry stakeholders.

The complementary nature of the acquisition could help Dyson develop competency in cutting-edge aspects of solid-state batteries and commit to the reutilization of the technology as a whole. Starting in smaller consumer electronic markets and growing toward others could put Dyson in direct competition with battery giants Panasonic, LG Chem, and Samsung SDI. The company has not ruled out the option of licensing out Sakti3’s technology to other companies, further expanding its market reach. Dyson’s CEO says it is transitioning to become more of a technology company as opposed to a home appliance vendor and plans to develop a more sophisticated product catalog in the coming years.

Supporting the Investment

One challenge the company may face is how its R&D expertise and support teams support this investment. To push the technology forward, it is imperative that Dyson thoroughly understands how integrating Sakti3’s battery affects its existing product catalog. As a home appliance company, teaming with a battery company could make sense in the long run and translate to developing robust synergies down the supply chain. Focusing on niche applications, making deployment a priority over research, and rushing the development of R&D projects could potentially lead to failure. One of the biggest risks after mergers and acquisitions is the threat of organizational upheavals. Hiring and maintaining key employees that drive research forward will be important. Sakti3 founder Ann Marie Sastry will continue to lead the development of the technology as an executive for Dyson.

Can large battery companies and automotive OEMs learn something from this acquisition? Only time will tell. Dyson plans to get Sakti3’s technology to market within the next 2 years; it will be fascinating to see how it plans to overcome engineering issues faced by other companies that have attempted to bring solid-state batteries to market. How well-equipped is a home appliance company to accomplish such a feat? History says to remain skeptical while the technology says to remain optimistic.

 

Advantages Abound for Lockheed Martin’s New Energy Storage Effort

— May 13, 2016

Lithium BatteriesNavigant Research recently attended the Energy Storage Association’s 26th Annual Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. The conference has grown between 2010 and 2016 from approximately 300 attendees to over 1,600. This increase highlights not only the ramping interest in energy storage, but also the growth of the sector and supply chains as a whole.

One new exhibitor this year was Lockheed Martin’s new energy line of business. Lockheed Martin has consolidated energy-related technologies, products, and services from separate business lines into a new, integrated offering, which includes an energy storage segment. The company’s energy storage segment includes a turnkey lithium ion (Li-ion) battery energy storage system (BESS) module as well as a pre-commercial flow battery.

Targeting Commercialization

Lockheed Martin’s BESS uses Li-ion cells from unnamed leading battery manufacturers that have been integrated into a flexible and scalable integrated module along with power conversion technology, thermal management, and software and controls. The company’s pre-commercial flow battery technology is based on technology acquired from Sun Catalytix in 2014. Lockheed Martin is currently targeting a 2018 commercialization date for its flow battery technology.

Lockheed Martin is currently targeting both larger utility-scale applications and the commercial and industrial behind-the-customer meter segment. Having a short-duration, power-focused solution and a long-duration, energy-focused BESS solution will be key for the company. Navigant Research has focused on the landscape for these two sectors in detail in two recently published reports: Market Data: Commercial & Industrial Energy Storage and Market Data: Advanced Batteries for Utility-Scale Energy Storage. Lockheed’s new flow battery (along with other flow batteries and beyond Li-ion pre-commercial battery chemistries like lithium sulfur and lithium solid state) will be the focus of Navigant Research’s Next-Generation Advanced Batteries report scheduled for release later in 2016.

Key Advantages

Navigant Research sees the following criteria as key go-to-market advantages for companies focused on both the behind-the-meter and utility-scale energy storage sectors:

  • Access to an existing global customer base across the commercial, industrial, utility, and government sectors
  • Strong experience in commercializing new technology into new markets
  • A history of integrating new technology offerings into existing product lines and sales channels
  • Strong systems engineering expertise with complex technologies and products
  • Both short-term, power-focused and long-term, energy-focused BESS solutions

Many of the pre-commercial battery technologies currently under development look to well-funded strategic partners for additional investment and future product go-to-market capabilities. For Lockheed Martin, with the acquisition of the Sun Catalytix technology, the company is in essence its own strategic partner. Navigant Research will be watching Lockheed Martin’s energy storage strategies closely, as the company appears well-positioned to join others like GE Current, Johnson Controls, AES Energy Storage, RES Americas, and NEC Energy Solutions in the energy storage space.

 

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