When you’re looking for the best battery for your Smart Object, you might be tempted to think that all the batteries are the same. Mindful of obtaining the lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), you might go for the cheapest option. You search for your options, compare the datasheets — the only information you have at this stage — you look at the declared performance of the batteries that seem, on paper, to be similar, and fortified by these observations, you choose the cheapest battery. It will get the job done... you think!
Then some months later, the battery fails, along with your solution, and you’re on the lookout for a new one. If you’re unlucky, you might even have to replace not one, but a thousand batteries distributed in many different locations, making the job even more difficult. Unable to predict which battery will fail next, you may even decide to replace the whole fleet. How would that impact your TCO?
While price doesn’t always indicate quality, there are many times when it does. It’s important to stop and think not only about how much money you’re spending overall and over the whole lifetime of your solution but also about what the price entails in terms of quality.
So, what’s behind the price of a battery? What are the elements that make a difference in a battery, and ultimately how do these elements impact the success of your project, the customer's ROI, and the satisfaction of the end user?
Batteries are made up of several components that react chemically to provide energy. Although the main chemistry used in a cell might bear the same name from one manufacturer to the next (Lithium-Thionyl chloride for example), each manufacturer develops its own proprietary recipe. Various ingredients will be added to the chemistry to offer a more stable voltage, deliver more energy density, limit voltage delays, etc., which explains performances variations from one cell to another.
The construction of the cell may also differ from one manufacturer to the next: various materials can be used for the anode and cathode, the separators or the sealing. Their composition and physical properties also vary depending on the quality or the metal grade that is being used. The sealing is a good example: the glass-to-metal seal that is often used is quite a complex component for which the manufacturing process is key to provide a qualitative sealing performance of the cell. A leaking cell could provoke irreversible damages to your IoT device. To protect it, it is therefore crucial to ensure that the mechanical components used in the battery are carefully selected and controlled.
Same for the casing: if you want your connected object to be resistant in harsh environments, you may want to make sure that the can of the cell is made of high grade stainless steel.
Impurities or low quality active materials and mechanical components can lead to lower performances and/or safety risks, thus impacting the reliability of the battery and the repeatability of performance. And when your solution is being deployed in the field, safety, performance and repeatability of the performances are equally important.
The manufacturing process should be taken into account too: does the manufacturer control the products at all stages of the manufacturing process? Are the connections soldered manually or automatically? Automated lines combined with process control at all stages of manufacturing are a guarantee of the repeatability of the results and performance. It also ensures less scrap and easier integration of the batteries in your connected object.
Batteries are hazardous goods and as such, they are to be handled with care. In the same way as a more expensive baby carrier may offer additional security features, battery manufacturers can include additional safety features on their cells like the ones Saft offer on its spiral elements. Saft Li-SOCl2 spiral cells feature a fuse that can be triggered in case of an external short circuit. These cells also feature safety vents that can release the pressure instead of exploding if the cell is subjected to an incident in the field.
Batteries need to pass a number of safety tests and certifications, which are not easy to get. You need to make sure your batteries are tested and re-tested and that they get the right certifications before making your choice. This is especially important if your device is deployed in explosive (ATEX) or other risky environments or if you need to ship your devices. The battery manufacturer must be able to provide technical reports committing them to the life of their products. A few examples of such certifications are the IEC 60086-4 that specifies tests and requirements for primary lithium batteries to ensure their safe operation under their intended use and anticipated misuse. The UL 1642 that aims to reduce the risk of fire or explosion when lithium batteries are used in products or the UN38.3 transport regulation which also requires a number of tests to guarantee high safety standards of the cells so they conform to IATA regulations and can be shipped.
The list of the raw materials needs to be certified too and the EU has a very strict policy on this matter. For example, all applicable batteries in the EU market must pass RoHS compliance that specifies maximum levels of phthalates for some restricted substances. The Reach certification (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) addresses the production and use of chemical substances, and their potential impacts on both human health and the environment.
And your battery’s end of life isn’t the end of the story! The EU battery directive (2006/66/EC) specifies an obligation from manufacturers, distributors or even users, to organize the collection and recovery of wasted industrial batteries to ensure proper recycling. As an end-user of the battery and in some specific supply chain scheme, you might be held responsible for the disposal and the recycling of the batteries, which is not cheap.
In these instances, the price is not only a guarantee of safety, but a token of the manufacturer’s responsibility.
Batteries can be complex to understand, with varying elements: chemistry, technology, ability to match the application’s profile and power needs, temperature in the field… Benefiting from the help of a technical expert to help you choose the right solution for your device will ensure the success of your project. The best scenario is if this expert can provide you a lifetime calculation of your battery whilst taking all these parameters into account.
And once you have made your choice, you might have to navigate the circumvolutions of transporting lithium batteries, getting additional certifications for your device, or once your device is deployed in the field, you may come across issues that you didn’t foresee. In these cases, having an expert to turn to, to evaluate the situation and determine a plan of action can be of great help.
These services come as an added benefit when you pay the right price for your batteries.
The bottom line is: don’t forget to estimate the hidden costs of your battery:
Saft benefits from 100 years experience in battery manufacturing and a 30-year track record in primary lithium battery technology.
We use first class components, ethically sourced, to ensure the stability and the reliability of our cells, which are controlled at all steps of the production.
Our selected suppliers are using only high-grade stainless steel to manufacture the cans of our cells, ensuring a high resistance in harsh environments.
Our batteries are amongst the best performers on the market, and we are not afraid of committing over their lifespan.
The production lines we use allow us to integrate the elements in an automatic, repeatable way, without scrap on the customer or integrator side.
Our batteries have received all the necessary certifications, which makes them a favorite choice for many IoT developers conceiving products for the industry.
We are supporting our customers to help them comply with the European Directive regulations and we take care of our batteries’ disposal and recycling.
And last, but not least, we offer an array of support and services throughout our products’ entire lifetime, including lifetime calculation based on proprietary mathematical models, and aftersales management.
But don’t take our word for it. It always pays to do your research and perform tests to make sure you’re investing your money wisely. We are not afraid of comparison. Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help. Or head over to the case study section of our site to see what our clients are saying about us.
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