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Ultrasonic Welding of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Wayne W. Cai
Wayne W. Cai
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ASME Press
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Process physics understanding, real time monitoring, and control of various manufacturing processes, such as battery manufacturing, are crucial for product quality assurance. While ultrasonic welding has been used for joining batteries in electric vehicles (EVs), the welding physics, and process attributes, such as the heat generation and heat flow during the joining process, is still not well understood, leading to time-consuming trial-and-error based process optimization. This study is to investigate thermal phenomena (i.e., transient temperature and heat flux) and to realize production level in-situ temperature measurement by using micro thin-film thermocouples (TFTC) and thin-film thermopile (TFTP) arrays (referred to as microsensors in this article) at the very vicinity of the ultrasonic welding spot during joining of three-layered battery tabs and Cu bus bars (i.e., battery interconnect) as in General Motors (GM) Chevy Volt. Microsensors were first fabricated on the bus bars. A series of experiments were then conducted to investigate the dynamic heat generation during the welding process. Experimental results showed that TFTCs enabled the sensing of transient temperatures with much higher spatial and temporal resolutions than conventional thermocouples. It was further found that the TFTPs were more sensitive to the transient heat generation process during welding than TFTCs. More significantly, the heat flux change rate was found to be able to provide better insight for the process. It provided evidence indicating that the ultrasonic welding process involves three distinct stages, i.e., friction heating, plastic work, and diffusion bonding stages. The heat flux change rate thus has significant potential to identify the in-situ welding quality, in the context of welding process monitoring, and control of ultrasonic welding process. The weld samples were examined using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) to study the material interactions at the bonding interface as a function of weld time and have successfully validated the proposed three-stage welding theory. On the other hand, real-time monitoring and control of temperature in ultrasonic joining of battery tabs and coupons are important for the quality improvement and cost reduction of battery assembly. However, there have always been difficulties in accurate and real-time measurement of temperature by conventional sensors for practical implementation. In this study, an innovative method is developed to provide an enabling technology for the in-situ transient temperature monitoring, which could provide reliable feedback signals for potential control of ultrasonic joining processes. TFTCs were fabricated on thin silicon substrates, which were then inserted in the welding anvil as a permanent feature so that the sensors were always located about 100 μm directly under the welding spot during joining of multilayer Ni-coated Cu thin sheets for battery assembly. Good repeatability was demonstrated while a temperature rise of up to 650°C was obtained due to the closeness of the sensors to the welding spot. The inserts with thin film sensors remained functional after welding experiments. This method has a great potential for in-situ transient temperature monitoring, and thus the control of ultrasonic joining processes to realize a practical smart joining system.

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