German firm ZELTWANGER reckons it has got a handle on one of fuel cell manufacturing’s top problems—and it has a solution that stacks up.
We met with Patrick Reich, the global sales manager for the ZELTWANGER Group, to talk about their growing activities servicing the fuel cell industry.
Within the fuel cell industry, ZELTWANGER works with leak testing systems and automation for bi-polar plates, fuel stacks, recirculation blowers, humidifiers, and other components.
The company creates automated assembly lines and test solutions and has built several assembly lines, either fully or semi-automated, that include a leak test at the end.
Its first project within the fuel cell industry was in 2016, when it manufactured a semi-automated leak test bench for bipolar plates. ZELTWANGER has since accumulated leak-testing projects for bipolar plates and branched out into fuel cell stacks and humidifiers using either air as process gas or helium.
Since leak testing is used for different components, including automated assembly, ZELTWANGER ultimately landed on automated stacking.
Today, its second field of focus within the fuel cell industry is an automated stacking system to build fuel cell stacks, including the compression, leak testing, and tensioning of the fuel cell stack itself.
Patrick explains, “after focusing on leak testing and developing an expertise, we found that precise and fast fuel cell stacking is one of the biggest challenges to achieve lower production cost in fuel cell manufacturing.”
“On the one hand, you want to be very quick to achieve high production rates, but on the other hand precision is critical. Components need to be stacked on top of each other with utmost accuracy.”
As a result, says Patrick, “We have developed a concept based on tried-and-approved processes that achieve positioning accuracies of up to 0.1 mm required by clients.”
“And we conduct speed tests on our robots for moving components through the assembly line as fast as possible while meeting the precision requirements.”
ZELTWANGER’s approach has attracted customers across Europe, China and North America, with 70% of clients hailing from the automotive industry and increasing activity in the maritime sector.
While fuel cells remain the core of the business, Patrick says ZELTWANGER offers the same services for electrolysers, which essentially have the similar processes as fuel cells but at a different scale.
In addition, Patrick explains, “We’ve noted a heavy increase in interest to generate green hydrogen in the past year, with an even stronger surge over the past six months as a repercussion of the unfortunate war in Ukraine and the energy crisis.”
In addition to its in-house activities, ZELTWANGER has built a strategic cooperation with two German equipment manufacturers, VON ARDENNE and Weil Technology. This cooperation, called “German Fuel Cell Cooperation”, offer production and testing equipment to efficiently produce bipolar plates, fuel cell and electrolyser stacks.
Together the companies contribute to reduce metallic bipolar plate industry costs. They have created a stable process to produce bipolar plates with a long lifespan, which is vital for the evolution of the industry.
VON ARDENNE provides expertise in engineering and producing PVD coating systems. Depending on the needs, it can undertake either pre-coating of metal strips or post-coating of bipolar plates by utilizing their wide range of scalable equipment concepts.
Weil Technology provides expertise in laser cutting and laser welding of metal bipolar plates. And ZELTWANGER provides automated assembly and testing processes.
This offering is quite unique because there aren’t many companies delivering across the entire production chain. The approach has proven effective with customers looking to work with experts who can provide a reliable service.
A key to the success of the partnership has been a focus on core capabilities. ZELTWANGER, for example, has laser cutting and welding competencies within its group, but chooses to work with Weil Technology because of the partner’s specific fuel cell know-how.
The goal is to enhance the potential of the fuel cell and electrolyser industry and contribute to the advancement of an industry that all partners believe is vital to the future of the planet and its people.