Innomech to develop automated fuel cell manufacturing for AFC Energy


18-11-2013

GB Innomech has been appointed by AFC Energy – the fuel cell energy developer for industry – to develop automated manufacturing equipment to assemble fuel cell stacks for the company’s EU-backed Power Up programme.

The work includes the development of automated equipment to dismantle stacks at the end of their working life, allowing key components and materials to be recycled and reused.

The appointment is being made with the support of a four year €6.1 million (£4.9 m) EU development grant that will enable AFC Energy and the Power Up consortium to develop and install commercial-scale energy generation plants using hydrogen as a fuel source.  One of the first clean energy plants will be located at Air Products’ industrial gas processing facility at Stade, northern Germany.  The first of two KORE systems is due to be installed in 2014 and the plant will generate a total of 500 kW electrical output when fully operational.

The first phase of Innomech’s work is to help scale up the fuel cell manufacturing process and to supply a suite of assembly equipment, including a robotic workcell for automated stack assembly utilising the flexible automation provided by an ABB IRB 2600 industrial robot.  The scale up will also incorporate laser marking equipment into existing production lines for electrode plates so that each part will be uniquely identified with human and machine-readable codes.  This approach ensures full traceability throughout subsequent manufacturing, enabling the robotic assembly cell to verify that the correct part has been loaded into the multilayer fuel cell stack, and also records its details with the potential to capture data on the performance of each electrode throughout its lifetime.

Each fuel cell stack comprises layers of electrode plates and interleaving spacers that need to be precisely orientated and aligned during assembly.  Robots help deliver the production rate required because of the many layers and multiple checking routines involved: the final stack is then compressed and bolted before having electrical contact clips attached.

“Innomech has always been committed to minimising the environmental impact of its own business so we are delighted to be involved in such a high profile, clean energy project.  The Power Up project will draw on our skills in robotic handling, machine vision and manufacturing traceability, as well as our experience in helping industrial clients to bring exciting new technologies to market,” said Tim Mead, commercial director at Innomech.

“We at AFC Energy are delighted to be working with Innomech who are regarded as one of the leaders in their field – we look forward to this being the first step of a long successful partnership,” said Ian Williamson, chief executive of AFC Energy.

The second phase of work, which is due to start in 2014, will be to develop and produce automated disassembly equipment that allows the fuel cells stacks to be taken apart layer by layer at the end of their working life.  The electrode materials and plates can then be separated for recovery and re-use, with the catalysts and other materials regenerated and recycled.

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