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How to accelerate EV battery manufacturing in gigafactories

Leonel Leal
May 8, 2024

Learn how automotive companies can use technology to build a resilient and sustainable EV battery supply chain through gigafactories.

The key to playing a decisive role in the growing electric vehicle market is producing enough batteries sustainably at a competitive cost, at scale, and at speed.

Industry analysts anticipate global demand for electric vehicles (EVs) will rise in the next few years, thanks in large part to trends in China. Despite signs of growth cooling a bit, particularly in the US, it’s still incredible when compared with other segments of the transportation industry. The long-term growth story is alive and well, and getting to market with a lead is as important as ever. A confluence of factors indicate that North America will take more of a role in producing the batteries needed for the worldwide transition.

The Capgemini Research Institute’s (CRI) recent report on reindustrialization strategies in North America and Europe found that 63 percent of organizations recognize the importance of establishing a domestic manufacturing infrastructure to ensure national security, and 62 percent acknowledge its significance for strengthening strategic sectors.

The research also revealed that the US stands out as a top location for gigafactories – large-scale manufacturing facilities for batteries and component parts. Fifty-four percent of executives surveyed from automotive, battery manufacturing, and energy companies said they are currently building or plan to build at least one gigafactory in the US. Meanwhile, 38 percent said this about continental Europe.

Automotive companies that understand how to unlock the potential of North American gigafactories stand to gain market share and position themselves as lynchpins in this emerging ecosystem.

But winning the gigafactory race will require a holistic enterprise architecture that enables data-driven business agility. Automotive companies can master this transition by accelerating speed to production, optimizing costs sustainably, digitizing end-to-end core business processes, and upskilling their workforce.

Increasing speed to market and reducing scrap rates

Battery production is still responsible for much of the EV’s price tag. As new competitors race to the market, even incumbent players understand the need to transform their operations to be competitive.

It typically takes about five years for an organization with a small-scale pilot factory to complete a gigafactory and stabilize production. To remain competitive and responsive to demand, companies need a streamlined process of getting gigafactories to world-class production.

An inefficient gigafactory launch could mean that up to 30 percent of early production ends up discarded. Reducing the scrap rate by just 10 percent can save up to $300 million annually for a 30 gigawatt-hour factory.

Unlocking solutions with digital twins and data

Organizations can use digital twins – virtual models of objects or systems – to recreate the cell, battery pack, manufacturing process, and factory. Digital twins enhance co-creation and simultaneous product and process engineering. By optimizing in a virtual environment, companies can design and commission production lines that minimize extensive prototyping and costly changes on the factory floor.

Building the factory virtually before physically can save months of work. Today, we estimate that digital twin leaders see 15 to 20 percent savings in operational efficiencies.

Companies can expedite commissioning real-world gigafactories and ramp up operations at scale, by integrating virtual and physical models to enable data-driven automation for proactive quality and production.

They should aim to establish a closed-loop operation based on a highly scalable and flexible architecture. A solid and standardized data platform will allow interoperability between different sources for a data-driven operations strategy, which enables analysis that could reduce a factory’s scrap rate.

Digital tools can also accelerate the path to recycling, making it safer, faster, cheaper, and easier. For instance, models can combine physical and chemical disassembly with data analytics and automation to enhance the precision of planning and executing recycling. In recycling and waste management, it’s not uncommon to disentangle complex materials into simpler substances for safer disposal.

Engineering resilient, sustainable supply chains

Gigafactories need a connected supply chain with visibility throughout transportation and material handling to operate effectively and produce enough batteries.

Manufacturing electric batteries often relies on procuring raw materials – lithium, nickel, graphite, manganese, etc. – from countries with geopolitical risk, which renders them vulnerable to sanctions and other political hurdles.

Meanwhile, the entire battery supply chain contributes to an EV’s lifetime emissions and could be subject to future climate-conscious legislation. While the battery supply chain is still developing, it’s important to build it right with sustainability and resiliency.

To build resilient supply chains for gigafactories, organizations will need a single thread to connect bills of materials, partner with reliable suppliers, and enable transportation networks for valuable cargo. This requires thorough analysis of potential partners across many countries, sourcing in the Americas when possible, signing long-term contracts (for ongoing delivery) if suppliers are in riskier geographies, and designing packaging to protect battery components during shipping.

Organizations should digitize the supply chain for a comprehensive view on sustainability – one that enables data-informed decisions and battery tracking for responsible end-of-life disposal that recycles materials, and aims toward circularity.

Empowering the workforce

Organizations can face challenges recruiting the highly skilled workforce needed for specialized gigafactory responsibilities, which diverge from traditional factories in many ways. For instance, employees may be expected to maintain complex robotic systems, utilize precision automation, interact with digital twins, or use data analytics for energy management in sustainable production. Few candidates in today’s job market have all the necessary skills that align with new gigafactory processes.

Gigafactories need thousands of employees ready for day one of production, meaning that hiring, training, and expert development must happen while the factory is still under construction.

A training program like the Capgemini Battery Academy can help organizations define skill requirements for potential employees and upskill these hires through virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) training modules. The Capgemini Battery Academy develops and builds the necessary skills that transfer directly into the job on day one.

Capitalizing on growing interest in EVs

Annual global demand for passenger plug-in EVs is expected to grow 127 percent (to nearly 22 million vehicles) by 2026, compared to 9.7 million in 2022, according to S&P Global data.

Kelley Blue Book, a Cox Automotive company, estimates that US consumers bought a record-setting 1.2 million EVs in 2023, comprising 7.6 percent of all vehicles sold in the country – up from 5.9 percent the year before. That figure is expected to reach 10 percent by the end of 2024. EV sales are still rising, just not as quickly.

The slowdown in the US stems from the typical concerns when deciding between EVs and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles: range awareness, infrastructure reliability, maintenance costs, resale value, upfront costs, and so forth.

Despite this mild cooldown, automakers still see the long-term benefit of investing in EVs and batteries. In fact, my research indicates that federal support virtually negates near-term worries and incentivizes more aggressive investment in this sector.

The Biden administration’s Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act together mobilized more than $50 million toward climate resilience, which is encouraging domestic automakers to prioritize EV batteries and foreign manufacturers to open facilities stateside.

According to the Department of Energy, more than $120 billion of investments in the US battery manufacturing and supply chain have been announced so far – nearly $45 billion pre-IRA and around $85 billion post-IRA launch.

The CRI report found that nearly half (47 percent) of companies have already started investing in reshoring their manufacturing, which is expected to increase average onshore production capacity from 45 percent to 49 percent in just three years.

Now is the time to go full throttle.

Meet our expert

Leonel Leal

Senior Director, Engineering, Capgemini Americas
Leonel leads Capgemini’s North American battery gigafactory focus on enabling hyper-speed sustainable industrialization of future gigafactories, battery technology, and cleantech. He leads end-to-end development, from engineering design through go-to-market strategy. Leonel is an EV and battery product innovation expert on the use of advanced manufacturing to take production to the next level. Prior to Capgemini he worked at EV startups, tech firms, and global automotive OEMs. Leonel has a track record of launching industry-first products and digital factory technologies at Tesla, Toyota, Faraday Future, Amazon (in concert with Rivian), and Whirlpool. His experience at startups involved architecting future products, intelligent factory processes, and digital transformation for battery, EV, and e-Drive systems.