The huge cost of not being “perfect”

At the end of the day, the most important achievement in battery manufacturing is consistency.

It has to be, right? Think about it: It’s what the customer wants. And it’s also what they need because unexpected variations lead to products that don’t work the way they should. Your goal is to make as close as possible to the same plates, every time.

Part of what makes our job so interesting is that to be consistent we have to embrace change. And we’ll probably spend the rest of our careers doing so, sometimes with frustration, trying to manage continuous change while keeping customers happy. 

If you want to reduce variation, you’re going to have to change your manufacturing systems. To become more consistent, you have to change.

You might not have a choice: the market will always demand better performance and lower cost. You have to change to stay competitive.

But isn’t change risky?

The biggest obstacle to improving your manufacturing processes is the risk of upsetting the “status quo”. Even your toughest OEM customers feed into this mindset. They push for lower prices and uninterrupted high-volume production. And, with the goal of managing risks, most manufacturers respond by doing what OEMs want them to do.

There’s no question that any change can open the door to new risks. But perhaps the biggest risk of all is maintaining the status quo ...

Did you know Tesla redesigned their entire factory twice in one year? Of course, they’re in a new product mindset, but they’re using their ability to do effective change management to hit consistent, high-volume production numbers. 

Another example: Ray Kroc was obsessed with getting McDonald's french fries in Chicago to taste the same as the fries in California. It turns out the potatoes in California were exposed to the open air while in storage, which changed their texture. He fixed the problem and eliminated variation.

Now, many people thought he was crazy – that his efforts were a waste of time. But he was right to be concerned. People want a consistent experience, whether they’re in Chicago or L.A. 

Consistency is important for branding. And this is true for the battery industry as well.

Inconsistently pasted plates result in wasted raw materials, jam downstream processing equipment, prevent plates from fitting into cases, and cause variations in cell voltage. All of these issues have a cascading effect on other areas, including production yield and delivery times.

Inconsistencies in the pasting process introduce undesirable business risks.

So the solution is clearly to embrace change, but to do so systematically. Incremental changes can lead to massive process gains over time. And the best part is these small, controlled changes are low-risk.

The biggest risk is embracing the status quo and fighting off change.

Cheers,
Steve