Top Lead Three

By Hugh Abner
[44 Years and Counting Manufacturing Batteries and Battery Machinery]

Well you have waited patiently on this version of Top Lead so I thank you. There is so much going on the world it is hard to resist taking advantage of this Blog format for commentary rather than historical review of the evolution of battery components. But Lead Acid Batteries are our thing. We at FMMW have been almost totally involved in the top lead of batteries for the past 40 years. Before that it was mostly grid casting machines and molds so that explains why we have been around for nearly 80 years now.

In Top Lead ll I had explained that the company I was working for had gone all out to enter the world of COS production with machines made by MAC Engineering. I had mentioned that at the time I was unaware of John Farmer and I certainly did not know he made COS machines.

The path our company first took was one of purchasing two MAC machines for three of our five factories. I spent most of the next couple of years involved with these machines and during this time another person out of our technical department was assigned to the purchase and start up of Farmer COS machines. His name was Laury Hahn. Laury and John became close acquaintances and their relationship led to another Top Lead machine which FMMW named the Bonder. That is a whole different story and we will not go into it now. The point is that John had a battery machining company in Saint Petersburg and our multi-factory battery company had its home office across the bay over in Tampa. This close proximity allowed for easy cooperation and development.

So Laury was also out and about in our factories and often we were in the same areas. Our MAC COS machines had become kind of common – common enough that many of our older Tiegle burning boxes had been replaced. They were now only used primarily for the larger commercial battery business. The new FMMW COS machine though clearly was the item of the future. Even though it did not cast an entire battery with all the cells connected and ready for casing, as did the MAC design, it did rapidly cast individual battery cells and only two workers were required just like the MAC. The ratio for an 8 hour day was something like 4 to 1 against the MAC machines. { Please note that I am referring here to the very first MAC COS machine. It is worlds behind the present design}. Yes, an additional worker was required to fuse the up and over inter-cell connectors but this was a low skilled job and it could be done rapidly.

Many times then I would be working in the same factory with Laury and John Farmer would be there with us. John actually was called in many times during the early stages because the FMMW COS production did produce a high rate of scrap. A very low scrap rate was one of the main benefits of the old Tiegle burning box method even though it was very labor intensive. So, company management, (This company was fat with “Bean Counters”), did not hesitate to come unglued when the monthly production and scrap reports were generated. And yes, my MAC machines could also generate scrap. The problem was big enough for all to share. The point here is that as manufacturing methods evolve and new machine species are created there generally is a time frame of gains due to less labor cost but losses due to scrap. That certainly was the case here.

The story of battery scrap which was produced with the early COS machines had to do with the control of Pb dispensing and Pb temperatures at the time of dispensing. The simplicity of it is that the objective of the process is to dispense heated molten Pb into a mold at the same time cold and solid Pb plate parts are immersed into the mold. Here it is easy to see that the heated Pb has to be of sufficient quantity and it has to be of sufficient heat in order to melt the hard metallic Pb enough to allow fusion to occur. There is an old saying or cliche that goes something like – (“There is many a slip between the lip and the cup.”). Well the same thought can be applied here. There are many ways for the items involved in this process not to arrive in time, not to arrive in sufficient quantity and not to arrive properly heated. Plus, even when all of that arrives in good order, other malfunctions happen. The plate lugs might not be aligned for example. All COS machines have to contend with good and repeatable plate alignment.

Eventually the scrap problems became under control. It took efforts on the battery manufacturers part and it took additional effort on the machine manufacturers part. Today’s “Bean Counters” probably have given a very small little area on their all important charts for COS scrap numbers.

Just about the time it seemed that engineering time and efforts now could move away from top lead concerns another new device came along. {TTW} or Through The Wall welding. Tiegel introduced a process that would enable one battery cell to be connected to the adjacent one through a round hole which was punched in the battery case cell partition. I have already explained how these cell connections were post of Pb which extended from both cells up high enough so that they extended above the partition and the two cell post were fused together with a torch. This was named – “Up & Over” – battery cell assembly. Well, Tiegel’s machine did away with that and by doing so there was again some reduction in the quantity of top lead required for the battery but the larger advancement came from the fact that the internal electric circuit of the battery was reduced in length which is a direct reduction of the internal electric resistance of the battery.

An – “Up & Over”  had a normal length of about 2.0 inches and the TTW has a normal length of 0.060 inches. This is a considerable difference in the length of the electrical path.

Now I am sure the “Bean Counters” took an interest in all this Ohmic reduction being the great number manipulators that they are but a number without the ($) notation in front of it does not generate excitement. However, Tiegel satisfied them too. His automatic welder eliminated at least one and sometimes two more workers from the battery assembly lines.

Tiegel’s TTW welder works on the principle that if the plastic partition which separates the cells has a hole in it then Pb can be pressed through the hole and this extruded Pb, if heated somehow, will melt and fuse. Guess what? It also results in sealing the hole. this was a “can’t miss” event in top Pb history.

It was such an event that FMMW and others could not just leave it alone. I really do not know the particulars. I became familiar with the TTW process and Tiegels machine before I ever came to FMMW. Somehow though FMMW found a way to make a similar machine and the courts agreed that it was different enough that it could stand on its own merits.

This was enough of a boost for FMMW that it became just a natural process for FMMW to take on  the entire range of machines required for battery assembly line production. In many different ways the COS was followed by the Hole Punch,the TTW,the Short Tester, the Leak Check and so on and so forth.

At this point in time which all happened from about 1965 to 1980 Top Pb became less of an attraction. The quantity of Pb had been reduced along with the quantity of workers needed for the assembly lines but enough workers had not been eliminated. No! The efforts which involved Top Pb being reduced settled down but the efforts to reduce labor cost exploded and the concept of replacing COS operators with robots or mechanical manipulators took over.

The way I became familiar with the FMMW COS did happen while I still was with Chloride. Our engineering group was assigned the task of adding a special assembly line in our Columbus, Ga. factory. We built the first VRLA batteries in The States. Valve Regulated Lead Acid batteries were different in that the design was to eliminate the free liquid electrolyte. This had a benefit of allowing the battery to become a true maintenance free battery and with the exception of the small valve which allowed the battery to vent when the internal pressure reached a pre-set level the battery was fully sealed. The design still used the flat plate cell structure but the nature of VRLA demands the cells to be fitted into the battery case with a snug or even tight fit. This led to a change in the FMMW COS machines which we had at Columbus. The cells were first placed into the battery case but were not fully seated. This allowed the batteries to be fed into the FMMW COS without the need for an operator to load or unload it. The batteries went through the normal process of brushing-fluxing, casting and then unloaded back onto the assembly line.

Therefore the FMMW COS was the first COS used to in the U.S.A. to produce VRLA batteries and it was done without an operator or a battery caser but the caser job was not eliminated. The caser was moved up the line to man what was called  a “Shoe Horn”. The English Chloride engineers developed this machine in their shops across the pond. The Shoe Horn, of course, was used to initially load the cells into the battery case and as already mentioned the cells were not fully seated for the plate lugs had to extend out of the case far enough for them to be inserted into the COS mold.

FMMW had a Vice President, John Bruzas, and John worked closely with an engineer from Chloride, an American, by the name of Dick Riggs to develop this unmanned FMMW COS. The entire engineering VRLA project in Columbus was directed by Pat McNally. Mr. McNally is a unique individual in many ways. He is an excellent leader but most importantly he is always goal oriented.

Since the MAC machines were now replaced I was used in Columbus in a a total different area of production — Acid Filling and Formation. I wish FMMW had been involved with this part of the factory because there is unlimited remarks I could enter here but this is a FMMW Blog and I cannot tie these things into a discussion about battery top lead.

A few years later a company by the name of Optima appeared. That’s right. Another brand new battery company specie. This one appeared because a cell with the name of Gates Rubber Company did some splitting and out popped Optima and, I think, Boulder Battery. Anyway Optima had new ideas. Battery cells should be round and they should be of the VRLA design. Because FMMW and John Bruzas had so much experience with the flat plate VRLA project in Columbus it was most natural for FMMW to be invited to this round of events and as far as I know the FMMW COS is used even today as part of all the Optima production. Yes it has been hybridized but some of the original bone structure remains the same.

For the most part this concludes TOP Lead lll. I do intend to discuss other top lead subjects though for it is still our main business. I have only mentioned here and there  the FMMW Bonder machine and the story with it is extraordinary. The Bonder bonds the outside top terminal of a battery so it to is part of the top lead world.

I like the comparison of battery development to nature’s evolutionary development so I hope to do something with that in mind. However, even if I do not it is easy for any serious readers of this stuff to see how a forced change of one minute ingredient in our battery composition leads to new species of batteries, machines and even battery companies. Besides, I am just finishing a book – The Ascent of Money – and the author, Niall Ferguson – worked this evolutionary principle into the entire world history of finance. Evolution is not just a matter for nature.

Look at it this way. In our own industry, just a short time ago, lead-acid was in many ways non-contested. Today, it has to fight for survival. Will it be the fittest?

**** I see that I might have spoken here about the VRLA battery design as being just another means to reduce the labor force. No! I am much aware that this is not the case. The industry reached a point in time where making a battery totally maintenance free became almost an obsession. First it was “Low Maintenance” and now the VRLA design allowed the goal of a fully “Maintenance Free” battery to be achieved. It just so happened that along the way of the evolutionary spiral less workers were needed.

1 Comments to “Top Lead Three”

  1. Jewel says:

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    JEWEL

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