Developing batteries for emerging technology products often involves pushing the limits on battery performance metrics – be it greater flexibility, smaller size, higher energy/power density or manufacturability. This may involve battery engineering for things that have never been done before – for example sealing tiny microbatteries that are 3 times the thickness of human hair.
Before an OEM embarks on the custom battery development route, one of the common objections is how to manage and mitigate project risk. The more outlandish and farther away from existing commercial batteries the requirements are, the more chances there are that the battery project will encounter difficulties. A short and well-controlled development project could turn into a long and costly journey without the right risk mitigation process in place.
In order to prevent this, it is essential that custom battery development proceed with a risk mitigating workflow. The best way to do this is through a stage-gated process that seeks to answer the question “is this project feasible?” as quickly and as economically as possible.
Custom Battery Development Has Inherent Risks
Custom batteries differ from commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products in many ways
It is naturally riskier to develop a custom battery that addresses the unique needs of a specific application than it is to choose a commercially available battery. COTS batteries have already been manufactured on existing equipment, tested, and proven to work. Further, the cost of developing COTS batteries is spread over hundreds of customers and applications. This type of large-scale production drives costs down and any risk involved dissipates.
Custom batteries, on the other hand, require not only the development of prototypes, but also potentially the creation of unique manufacturing equipment or some level of customization of existing production equipment. Understandably, no company wants to launch into this type of venture, committing a large amount of capital, to developing a battery that has not been proven to work. In order to mitigate this risk on both sides, from the company who needs a battery as well as the company who will develop the battery, a stage-gated approach works best.
Understanding a Risk Mitigation Work Process
What is our mitigation strategy?
Employing a risk mitigation strategy from the beginning allows companies that are working to develop a custom battery to see the riskiest parts of the process and identify where the project might become unfeasible. This strategy benefits both customers and developers, since it minimizes the waste of resources and ensures feasibility in short stages, saving time, energy, and money.
A structured phase gated approach all the way from battery feasibility studies to prototyping, production, and full scale up is the best approach to custom battery risk mitigation. The initial stages are low budget with short time spans, while the later stages increase in budget, timeline and deliverables. Each phase is tied to deliverables that project managers are able to present to their leadership to get buy-in for the next phase.
Developing a Risk Mitigation Plan
Identifying a Gatekeeper
When a gatekeeper is identified early on, it becomes much simpler to move through the timeline with the right information. Appointing a disciplined gatekeeper is also beneficial since he or she can focus on the gated work process and not get mired in the project details. This gatekeeper can own the process throughout, ensuring that the project passes muster at each gate and creating reports with proof of that.
A risk mitigation plan before deciding to create a custom battery, can prevent a company from investing before realizing the product turns out to be impossible, or too expensive for mass production. In order to follow a risk mitigation work process you must specify project expectations and timelines early on in the project.
With a gatekeeper in place, the project stakeholders can set expectations and determine where the different gates will exist in the process. By identifying, with specificity and timelines, the deliverables of the process, the team can begin to see where potential problems may arise and design the development process around those problems. The actual risks will be identified in the creation of the risk list, as follows.
Utilizing a Risk List
A good risk mitigation plan should use checklists, also known as “risk lists” of topics and items covering not only the technical aspect of the development, but also its logistics, manufacturing, regulations, costs and competitive analysis. The more facts supporting pertinent answers to the checklist questions, the lower the project risk. When deliverables appear for which good answers or solution strategies do not yet exist, that piece of the project can be considered higher risk. Any gaps in the knowledge of the subjects on the risk list need to be analyzed in term of potential risks and their associated intrinsic severity. The risk list is then converted into an action plan, which may also be referred to as a mitigation plan. This plan is the tool decision makers and project shareholders will use to decide if the project is worth pursuing, killing, holding or recycling.
Poor decisions and rushing into the battery development process can result in excess costs and time for developing your application specific battery. The best practice when you are faced with developing a custom battery is to draft and follow a risk mitigation plan. For more information and help with all of your custom battery needs contact us or find more helpful battery resources in our blog.