The Hard Cell

Batteries represent a high percentage of the total BOM cost, so cheaper alternatives are attractive, but not if they affect product performance. This makes battery sourcing a complicated business, as Freeway Electronics’ David Piddington explains What are the main types of battery?

Batteries can be split into two categories, primary (or non-rechargeable) and secondary (or rechargeable). Primary batteries include the cylindrical zinc and alkaline types we all know well, through to various lithium types, which offer higher capacity and longer life. Secondary batteries include nickel cadmium and nickel metal hydride, which are often made into packs to suit a particular application, through to larger sealed lead acid types, which are cost effective in high power applications. Many new designs include lithium ion or lithium polymer batteries which have higher energy levels, but are lighter and more compact.
What products can Freeway supply?

Freeway provides all of the battery variants described above, all of which are produced in regularly audited production facilities in China. Standard products are usually available from stock in the UK, while less common items can be held in stock against specific customer requirements. To compliment the range, there is also a selection of battery holders, battery contacts, chargers and power supplies.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of sourcing batteries in Asia?

The main advantage of sourcing batteries in Asia is obviously cost, however as anyone who has been involved in Asian sourcing will know, it is not without its pitfalls. Product quality can be variable, sometimes falling well short of the specification provided. In addition, depending on their chemical content, batteries can be complicated and costly to transport.

What are Freeways unique selling points and how do these benefit customers?

Being part of the Rebound Group, Freeway aims to provide the focus and expertise of a specialist supplier, while being able to call upon the resources of a larger organisation. The benefits of this include consolidated logistics, a solid financial base and offices located around the globe. Of particular benefit is the companys facility in Shenzhen, which is able to carry out product inspection prior to shipment and regular factory audits.

What volumes should be sourced off-shore and what lead times can be expected?

The volume and lead time depends very much on the product involved. Many standard battery types are heavy and relatively low in value, which means the most appropriate method of shipment is by sea. Similarly, some specialist types are considered hazardous, so would also normally be shipped by sea. This obviously has an impact on lead times, with sea shipment typically taking four to six weeks. Minimum quantities would also be required, although these can usually be overcome by consolidating requirements. Some items however such as rechargeable lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries are higher in value and lighter in weight and can be ordered in smaller batches and shipped by air.

What does the future hold for battery technology?

There have been a number of exciting developments in battery technology recently, the most significant being research carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By altering the way in which ions behave, scientists have produced a battery that can be charged in seconds. This technology is likely to be available commercially within two to three years and the implications for products such as electric vehicle are huge. Solar and wind energy generation is also expected to benefit from this breakthrough.