Electrifying. Battery Know-How

By profession, he is a developer, but a few times a month Manuel Neidhardt becomes a coach. Then he trains colleagues at Mercedes-Benz to become battery specialists. We have looked him over his shoulders.

The object of desire lies on the table: a Mercedes-Benz lithium-ion battery of the latest generation. Strictly speaking, it's half a battery. For demonstration purposes, part of the body and some other elements were removed. This provides a clear view into the battery's interior - on the cell modules, the electronics, the cooling system and the structural design. Manuel Neidhardt is surrounded by a group of curious-looking colleagues. He enjoys these moments at the beginning of the training sessions in the workshop of the Sindelfingen training and further education center. His “students” seem to absorb every single word he speaks. What he has to offer is hot stuff: Battery know-how. "Don't worry, you can touch everything here," jokes the PhD chemist, passing around a battery cell. Still a bit cautious the others reach out – but that's quite normal, explains Neidhardt: "You have to slowly approach batteries, get a feeling for them."

Getting a feeling for batteries - that's what Neidhardt and four other colleagues from the battery development department at Mercedes-Benz are up to. In addition to their work as developers, they have been training lithium-ion battery specialists for a great variety of departments at Daimler since 2018.

With Ambition2039 at the latest, the demand has increased rapidly. With the latest strategy update the company has once again sharpened its electric mobility goals: Mercedes-Benz will be ready to go all electric at the end of the decade, where market conditions allow and will design all new vehicle architectures electric-only from 2025 onwards. This also means that, in the future, more and more employees will have to handle batteries - and will have to be able to handle them. Already today, the portfolio ranges from starter, 48-volt, plug-in to complete EV battery - and the proportion of purely electric models will gradually increase. Last year, Mercedes-Benz trained around 20,000 employees in electric mobility topics in Germany alone. With the shift to all-electric mobility, thousands more colleagues will be trained in the coming years.

Truly electrifying: the training courses by Manuel Neidhardt and his colleagues.

From the basic course to expert training

The training program is developed and implemented in close cooperation between the battery development department and the “TechAcademys MO and RD”. It plans and organizes the training courses and provides equipment and the facilities. Neidhardt and his colleagues offer a total of four training programs. First of all, there is the battery specialist user training: "It is, in a way, the basic course in how to deal with batteries." This training is aimed at anyone who works with batteries in any way in their daily job and needs to determine the condition of the battery in the event of an incident. This ranges from employees in production to colleagues in development. The objective: "To know how to handle a battery and what to do in an emergency case," explains Neidhardt. Additionally, employees can also get qualified as a battery expert with advanced training, for example if they prepare emergency and escape plans and take on coordinative tasks as part of their job.

However, the training offered by the battery developers is not only aimed at employees with experience. It is also part of the training to become an electrician at Daimler. Thus, both apprentices and employees who want to change their profession take part in the training sessions: "These are people who have previously worked in other areas and had little or nothing to do with electronics," says Neidhardt. "In addition to all the other knowledge they receive we provide an insight into battery technology."

In the light of increasing demand, Neidhardt and his colleagues are increasingly reaching their capacity limits. Therefore, they also conduct so-called "train-the-trainer" courses. These are designed specifically for colleagues who want to take the training concept to their respective locations and conduct training course themselves. The concept has proven successful: "In the meantime, in addition to Sindelfingen, we have trained coaches in Rastatt, Bremen, Kecskemét, and also in the United States."

But the development of battery technology is incredibly fast-moving: "What is state of the art today can be out-of-date quickly". Therefore, the battery developers also offer refresher courses on current batteries.

Theory and practice

"Usually, we first present the Mercedes-Benz battery portfolio," Neidhardt explains the training procedure. "Then we take a closer look at the battery - from inside out". The focus is on questions about the central elements: What does the cell do? What are the modules? What other components are there? Where are the electronics located? How do the individual elements interact?

The focus is always on certain safety aspects, explains Neidhardt: "Our goal is that our colleagues develop an awareness of potentially critical moments, recognize them and know what they can do - and of course what they shouldn't do." A basic tool is the so-called battery assessment, i.e. the ability to determine the condition of a battery, for example before transport or in the event of damage. Various exercises intend to help participants to gain a certain amount of confidence in dealing with batteries: "When a battery falls, it doesn't explode. It is protected by its solid body."

Learning from the model: Together with his trainer colleague Matthias Seeger, Neidhardt prepares a vehicle diagnosis on the EQS.

Meanwhile, Neidhardt and his group are taking a close look at an EQS. "Learning on the model is the highlight of a training course for many participants," says Neidhardt. It is also a very important part of the program. It's not just about understanding the battery. It is also about the interaction with the other vehicle technology. The minimum requirement for this? First experiences with vehicle diagnostics, i.e. reading out various vehicle parameters, Neidhardt explains: "On that basis, we show how to communicate with the respective battery types, which parameters are important and how you can interpret them."

Neidhardt and his colleagues benefit from working in development: "We have the luxury of being able to access various models with different batteries in multiple workshop spots at any time". This makes the training courses practical and product-related.

Teaching and learning

Practical relevance is also guaranteed by the trainers themselves. "One of us deals with the latest generation of batteries, the other knows the latest cell technologies, the next tests the latest software," says Neidhardt. New findings - as soon as they are ready to communicate - are immediately incorporated into the training concept.

Neidhardt himself works in series production support for plug-in hybrid batteries. He is currently advancing the repair concept for batteries together with other colleagues from development, production, procurement and after sales. "Just because a battery has a small defect, you don’t have to instantly remove it," he explains. You need a sustainable concept to make a spare part available in five or ten years: "Developing that is super exciting."

In his element: Neidhardt with a lithium-ion battery.

Even though the qualification program is only a small aspect of his job at Mercedes-Benz, it is very close to Neidhardt's heart: "I really enjoy sharing knowledge with other people." The training program brings him together with people from the most diverse areas of Daimler and enables an intensive exchange - not always just about car batteries, he grins: "With the technical background that we provide in the training courses, some people suddenly understand why the battery of their mobile phone is broken again, why the portable screwdriver no longer charges or why the e-bike keeps going on strike. Recognizing people suddenly begin to see the issue means a lot to me!"

He himself also switches to the school desk from time to time: "I'm always happy when I can learn something new, I can't sit still," he says. Openness for new things, personal initiative and professional support from colleagues, that is the "drive" the company needs for the future, says Neidhardt: "We always have to be in tune with the times - and that is only possible if we are constantly learning, as a company and as human beings."

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