New tools for new tech: servicing battery powered vehicles

News flash: EVs will suffer from manufacturing defects at approximately the same rate as their gas-fueled cousins. You can Six Sigma processes until you’re blue in the face, but machines designed and built by us mere mortals will always find a new way to break unexpectedly. So what happens when they do? 

If the issue involves hybrid or EV battery packs, enter Midtronics, a producer of battery management technology since 1984.

Midtronics works with nearly every vehicle original equipment manufacturer (OEM) worldwide to provide custom solutions for battery management, including battery and electrical diagnostics, charging, information systems, and integrated solutions. 

As the provider of required tools for vehicle OEMs, the introduction of advanced electrification in vehicles has given them the unique opportunity to provide multiple levels of dealer service solutions for this emerging market.

The Tools

Midtronics’ GRX-5000 EV Battery Module Diagnostic Station is a platform first created for Nissan in support of the LEAF program.

As a diagnostic/service platform, it has the ability to perform both battery module balancing and diagnostics. This allows OEMs to implement a more cost-effective battery pack service strategy. 

If the battery pack in a vehicle is not designed for dealer service, like several of the existing hybrid vehicles, the only option for the dealer with a cell, module, or pack problem is to replace the entire pack.

This could become costly for dealers and/or OEMs, if expected life spans for given battery packs are not achieved.

An alternative strategy, supported by the GRX-5000, is to design and build the battery pack with removable modules so that service can be performed below the pack level. 

In this scenario, a pack with an issue could be removed from the vehicle and disassembled to the required module level to solve the problem. 

A faulty battery module can then be replaced in the overall pack, and the pack re-installed in the vehicle. 

To confirm that the vehicle pack will function correctly with the replacement module, the GRX-5000 performs a balancing function to ensure it matches the correct State of Charge/State of Health for the given pack.

The GRX-5100 Hybrid Battery Pack Diagnostic Station has been designed to perform full pack service, including balancing, full discharge and diagnostics, or as a jump-start unit for either NiMH or lithium-based hybrid vehicles. 

Midtronics is using this base platform to work with several OEMs to develop tools that can be used for full pack service and/or for individual modules when those modules are in higher-voltage configurations. 

Safety First

The GRX-5100 can also perform a full pack discharge, so that packs in vehicles damaged in accidents can be discharged to a safe level prior to vehicle storage. Additionally, this handy tool is targeted as a solution for reclamation yards, where it can be used to perform safety checks, diagnostics and discharge, whether a pack is in or out of the vehicle. 

In this application, the GRX-5100 is also an effective tool to ensure that good and/or defective packs are discharged to a safe level for shipment.

The HYB-1000 Hybrid Battery System Analyzer is a diagnostic tool for hybrid battery packs. It is an aftermarket tool that allows the user to perform driving tests while connected to the vehicle On-Board Diagnostics (OBD) system. Sensor measurements from the vehicle during acceleration and braking are used to analyze the battery pack under stress and report its State of Health. 

The HYB-1000 can also read and reset battery-related trouble codes.

The most useful HYB-1000 application is for used vehicles. When a customer is considering purchase of a used hybrid vehicle, there will always be a confidence issue with a used battery pack.  

Using the HYB-1000, car dealers can show customers a printout of the pack health to help minimize the buyer’s potential anxiety. If dealers find weak or failing packs, they can ensure that they address and resolve the issue pre-sale to avoid selling a problem vehicle.

 

What does the future hold for battery pack service/maintenance?

“The biggest challenge is to make battery/battery pack serviceability a more important topic earlier in the vehicle design phase. As the number of electrified vehicles in the marketplace increases, so too will the need for more serviceable designs to help ensure that battery cost doesn’t become a liability,” said Will Sampson, Executive Director of Marketing at Midtronics.


Image courtesy of NISSAN.

“When, as is currently the case, the number of EVs sold is relatively small, OEMs are more accepting of the high cost for each service, assuming the scope of service incidents remains small. However, as the number of EVs on the road grows, the potential for problems and OEM costs for warranty issues will increase accordingly.

“Our focus is to work with our customers to create effective strategies to help drive down the cost of vehicle electrification. If better battery pack service models are developed, the cost penalty for OEMs and consumers will begin to shrink. A battery pack will no longer need to be guaranteed for 10 years, because there will be more inexpensive and efficient service options than costly full pack replacement.”

 

Issue: APR/MAY 2012