By Jason Deign
Eastman Kodak has already signed up three customers for its Kodak Cell Assembly Center at Eastman Business Park in New York, company sources confirmed.
“We’re working with three customers right now to build their devices using a process that’s scalable to high-volume manufacturing,” explained Dan Ocorr, pilot coating manager at the centre.
“We’ve got discussions ongoing with three or four others, so I expect by the end of the year we’ll have half a dozen or more active customers in the lab.”
He declined to name the three existing customers, citing confidentiality agreements, but said they ranged from a start-up to an established manufacturer.
The latter was using Kodak’s equipment to develop a new product without having to interrupt its existing manufacturing processes, Ocorr said.
Eastman Business Park
The customer is thought to be the ultracapacitor maker Ioxus, which provided a testimonial when Kodak opened a cell assembly line at its Eastman Business Park facility in August.
“Kodak’s battery facility has the ability to be the intermediate step between the lab and high-volume manufacturing, where the processes are scaled up and controlling parameters defined,” said Ken Rudisuela, chief technology officer.
“The ability for us to have Kodak manufacture significant quantities of the new product per month defers the requirement to make major decisions on capital expenditure prior to fully understanding market acceptability.”
Another company believed to be using the Kodak facility is Powerit, a Seattle-based start-up working on zinc-air batteries for smartphones.
Kodak, which made its name in photographic film but crashed in 2012 after failing to keep pace with the move to digital photography, is looking to build a significant presence in the energy storage market.
“The roll-to-roll capability that we’ve used for making film we’re now able to leverage into new technologies, energy being a key piece of that,” said Dolores Kruchten, president of Kodak’s Eastman Business Park division.
“A part of this is us looking at the technology and capability that we have, as well as markets that are growing [and] that we can leverage the technology into.”
Kodak benefits from the fact that some companies in the New York Battery and Energy Storage (NY-BEST) consortium have chosen its sprawling Eastman Business Park, in Rochester, US, as their home.
And in 2014, NY-BEST and DNV GL, the global quality assurance and risk management company, chose Eastman Business Park as the site for a Battery and Energy Storage Technology Testing & Commercialization Center.
Kodak spent USD$4.5m
Last year, Kodak spent USD$4.5m on the Center. In August this year, it rounded off the investment with the installation of a cell assembly centre.
“The Center completes an ecosystem of three core processes for energy storage manufacturing, providing coating, assembly and testing, all in one location,” said Kodak in a press release.
“The facility allows design and development from small to large scales, eliminating cost-heavy hurdles that slow and sometimes shut down promising technology.”
Kruchten said Kodak had since seen “incredible interest” in the facility. “We believe this will help people get over this chasm of going from labs into a pilot, which is incredibly difficult,” she told Energy Storage Report.
Today the centre provides anode and cathode-making equipment, cylindrical- or pouch-cell cutting lines, and testing systems.
“Importing the expertise we need”
The cell assembly equipment is new territory for Kodak and “we’re more or less importing the expertise that we need in conjunction with the new line,” Ocorr said.
The investment underscores how serious Kodak is taking its foray into energy storage. “From our perspective, it’s two things,” said Krutchen.
“It’s leveraging the technology and the capabilities that we already have, for a new purpose, and then it’s supporting companies to move to new high-value manufacturing here in the US, versus having to go overseas.”
Eastman Business Park, which is also being touted as a centre for chemical recycling and food production, is well placed to cater for high-volume manufacturing, she said.
“It’s too soon to say it’s a major bet, because we’re just starting and it is one of a few that we’re entertaining,” Krutchen said.
But “we’ve said that energy and energy storage is a big play for us, whether we’re doing the manufacturing or attracting other companies here to do that manufacturing,” she added.
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