Keeping Batteries Connected
By Mike Brezonick23 March 2020
As commercial vehicle manufacturers and fleets transition toward battery electric powertrains, they face a range of new challenges. Among the most critical is keeping track of the battery system’s state-of-charge (SOC), overall health, driving range and charging times — all vital information in terms of optimizing vehicle operation.
These days, vehicle operators typically rely on telematics systems to collect and process essential data on vehicle operation and status. But installing a telematics network focused on battery performance and analyzing the data it generates present challenges of its own.
In an effort to streamline battery tracking options through a single-source solution, XALT Energy, the division of Freudenberg Sealing Technologies that specializes in lithium-ion technologies, partnered with HED Inc., a supplier of intelligent vehicle controls and telematics systems, to develop a proprietary system designed to provide complete battery monitoring to optimize electric vehicle performance.
XALT Battery Viewer (XBV) is a telematics system sold as a companion tool for the heavy-duty lithium-ion batteries the company provides to commercial vehicle manufacturers. The system offers users access to sophisticated system data in a simple-to-install-and-use telematics package that delivers critical operational information through a user-friendly portal.
Telematics Development At XALT
At its heart, telematics combines GPS, wireless technology and on-board diagnostics with data analytics to track vehicle variables such as speed, distance, direction, location, stops and performance. A transmitter on the vehicle relays system information to a network receiver via Wi-Fi access points or cell towers. Raw data is processed through back-end software and compiled into useful vehicle system information for vehicle manufacturers and fleets to track.
XALT Energy began pursuing telematics system technology in 2015 as a means for tracking data on the performance of the lithium-ion batteries it was supplying commercial vehicle manufacturers. “Our initial telematics efforts were geared toward troubleshooting customer systems out in the field,” said Casey Hourtienne, Telematics manager at Midland, Mich.-based XALT Energy.
But starting in 2018, XALT took its pursuit of telematics to a new level of sophistication. Fleet owners needed performance data about how their battery-electric vehicles were being charged and driven and XALT decided it needed to provide telematics service to its customers.
A Telematics Partnership
XBV was developed in the strategic partnership with HED, which is headquartered in Hartford, Wis. The system provides multiple connectivity options, was engineered to be easily integrated into new and existing configuration designs and uses an adhesive mounting system to quickly and securely attach the telematics antenna.
HED’s CANect portfolio of hardware, software, cellular and portal technologies provided the two companies with an established path to support XBV development.
“The success of the XBV project was made possible by a clear objective from XALT,” said Chad Repp, Business Development manager, Telematics at HED. “The company wanted to provide advanced battery management information to customers by leveraging HED’s CANect configurable toolset.
“XALT’s knowledge of battery systems and controls paired well with HED’s CANect Telematics. The system has been developed for market leaders like XALT, who know what they want to offer their customers but need dynamic tools to provide it.”
The XBV system tracks critical information such as charging status, energy generation and consumption, maximum and minimum cell and string voltages, temperatures, state of charge, diagnostic occurrences, location tracking and route map views. Information is accessible on a global basis through an XBV portal that uses intuitive dashboards to view critical battery data at all times.
“By working in partnership with HED, we are able to provide our customers with a substantial variety of telematics tools including Wi-Fi, Ethernet, cellular and dedicated portals,” said Hourtienne. “HED has been growing with us on this project, approaching every feature of the system with a forward-thinking perspective. This has resulted in some very interesting telematics innovations.”
The XBV Advantage
Battery electric powertrains require charging stations to recharge. They also require fleet drivers who have been trained to optimize vehicle performance between charges to avoid overcharging the battery and potentially voiding the system warranty.
XALT and HED designed the XBV to allow fleet operators access to dashboards that monitor drive cycles, routes and charging times of individual vehicles on the road. This data can be extrapolated by XALT technicians to determine the size of the battery system an individual vehicle actually needs to optimize performance.
Because XBV is focused on providing battery-specific data to customers, Hourtienne pointed out, XALT technicians also track diagnostics codes to alert fleet operators anywhere in the world about potential issues on a 24/7 basis. This collaborative approach is intended to help customers address maintenance and repairs proactively, resulting in less unscheduled vehicle downtime.
“Data accuracy and visualization simplicity were critical to XBV’s success given its relationship to the electric vehicle battery management system,” said Repp. “In working with XALT, we utilized an engineering mindset to define the data strategy while retaining an information architect’s visual skillset in order to build out logical dashboards.”
The complex telematics capabilities that have emerged out of the XBV development process have led to important applications for the data generated by the system, Hourtienne said.
“The most complex component of an electric vehicle is the battery,” Hourtienne noted, “and understanding energy requirements is no small task. We can now offer customers trustworthy data that shows energy usage and energy requirements so they can design an optimum battery system for their application.
“Such data may show, for example, that they could reduce the original design of the battery system size by 20% for a particular use case. This saves money for our customers and enables them to sell their product at a lower price point.”
Additional Customer Value
As manufacturers, fleet owners and municipalities continue to invest in battery-electric vehicles, their familiarity with the technology will grow. As it does, so will their ability to identify and request unique system designs to resolve their specific transportation challenges.
Information collected by XBV units will serve a crucial function in helping XALT technicians and engineers apply actual field data to address these requests. XALT said that detailed technical reports from XBV data are already helping it focus product development efforts on specific areas of the battery.
“We have a data-driven means for focusing our engineering and development efforts going forward,” Hourtienne said. “When we can optimize our battery designs based on actual data, it’s a significant benefit to industry and to customers. They will get more satisfaction and value from every system they install.”
This story appeared in the March issue of Diesel Progress. To subscribe, click here.