Batteries and rechargeables Longer lead time, higher price

Industry barometer 2018 for batteries and rechargeables. Availability stays poor. It is the poor availability of both the necessary lithium-ion cells but also of components for battery management systems for instance that is currently holding back growth on the German market for battery and rechargeable systems. Although some producers say that NiMH is a good alternative to lithium-ion rechargeables especially in high-temperature or long-life applications, at the moment buyers can only stretch their planning in response to the market situation. There are no signs of the taut supply situation easing up.

The boom devours its own children, one might say. While the supply situation in lithium-ion cells gets worse and the prices go up, the planning goals of equipment producers drift further away.

R&D focuses on increasing fast recharge capability of the anode; for the cathode one tries to raise energy density with high-grade substances containing nickel.
After long years of continuously growing turnover, especially in battery finishing and packaging, the German battery and rechargeable sector has been going through a demanding period for more than a year now. First the lead times were stretched, in particular for lithium-ion rechargeables of size 18650, the work horse in the sector, and in the meantime the prices too have again begun to climb, by as much as 20 to 30 percent. That can only partly be put down to increasing raw material prices, rather the opportunity to improve operating margin plays a role.

“Everyone wants batteries”, says Werner Suter, managing director of Tefag Elektronik, of the current situation. “The demand has increased further, but the availability of batteries and electronic components in recent months has got even worse.” – “In the first half of 2018 we notched up a plus of 20 percent compared to the same period last year”, reports Josef Pfeil, sales manager at Dynamis Batterien. “For the year overall we reckon with growth of 30 to 40 percent. And it might have been more if we’d received some parts earlier.” Varta management is also pleased to see double-figure growth. Expansion of the Ellwangen headquarters is progressing as planned, says CEO Herbert Schein. “And the Nördlingen location has commenced production of small-format lithium-ion batteries.” Looking at the business year ahead, Schein expects “continued positive development, to which our expanded production capacity contributes.” His provisional end-of-the-year summary for 2018: “Our order books are full and we can deliver on time.”

In the opinion of Thilo Hack, industry division manager at Ansmann, the situation has changed since the beginning of 2018 in that “instead of the problems in acquiring lithium cells, the bottleneck now is acquisition of components like for safety boards and piggyback boards for communication.” Put another way: the smarter the battery packs become, the more complex the bill of material.

After price increases in rechargeables of as much as 20 percent in the first half of the year, he now sees the price climb fairly settled at a high level. Marc Eichhorn, product marketing manager batteries at Avnet Abacus, also reports of unaltered positive development of business. “The delivery situation is still a bit tight, but the hecticness you might have sensed at the beginning of the year, because of numerous discontinuations and uncertain availability — that has calmed down for the most part”, says Eichhorn.

International market leader Panasonic sees 2018 as having been fairly stable until now, and as planned. Oliver Sonnemann, department head of battery sales at Panasonic Industry Europe, consequently reports of slight growth limited by availability, he estimates that growth will stay limited “because the availability of lithium-ion batteries will drop further.” He points to rising raw material prices and is sure that “smaller producers will have problems in acquiring their raw materials.” His conclusion: “There are no signs that the delivery situation is easing up. Orders we’ve accepted will be confirmed and delivered. But new projects will be carefully examined and must go through a selection procedure.”

From the point of view of a scientist, the present situation looks very positive. “Things are really booming, in past years there was never as much funding as now”, calculates Karl-Heinz Pettinger, professor for electrical energy storage at Landshut University of Applied Sciences. He stresses the positive activity of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. When it comes to the security of supplying European customers he is more careful: “The production of Asian plants is booked for years ahead. Panasonic, for instance, no longer accepts orders for delivery before 2024”.