Breakthrough batteries for electromobility? Still more talking than reality

We have already written about MGM Compro at PCB Master. A company that grew out of the so-called “Slušovice miracle” in the early 1990s, and today delivers sophisticated solutions to the most demanding clients in the field of aerospace, from Zlín. This time we will look at the story from a slightly different angle. From the one that might interest the reader even more. From the point of view of printed circuit boards. A good reason to interview Grigori "Griša" Dvorský - the spiritual father of the company who is still considered a key innovator and bearer of corporate know-how. And Jakub Henčl - a young "go-getter" who holds the position of the Chief Operation Officer and takes care of the operation and processes in the company.

An important part of your company’s philosophy is "always strive to do the best that is available on the market" and never settle for a mere average solution. What does this mean in the area of printed circuit boards? Do you require something atypical, above standard?

Griša Dvorský: Basically not I would say. Our usual specification is boards with four to six layers, which actually is an absolute classic. We need to use the so-called FinePitch because we have a relatively high density of components but today it is rather a kind of a standard for all manufacturing companies. Our specialty is the requirements for production areas. We have extreme demands on power boards where we speak about currents in hundreds of amperes on a small size. We have to bring the currents to power components without major losses, and at the same time we have to dissipate the waste heat. This puts enormous demands on the boards and we need to find suppliers who can handle it. Now I am speaking about eight to ten-layer boards made of 105µm foils where the current and cooling demands are relatively extreme.

Have the technologies like flexi boards or rigid-flex good prospects for you?

Griša Dvorský: Flexi material does not concern us for the time being. We have not come across this requirement so far. For us, it is rather important that the boards must withstand extraordinary demands on temperatures. They actually have tens of thousands of small holes that transfer currents and dissipate heat. That is the absolute gist of what we do.

What demands do clients have on you, for example, in terms of longevity? For example, do they require IPC Class 3, or is it a parameter that is not important?

Griša Dvorský: Honestly, we don't deal with that much. Our customers want the products to work for a long time and at the same time, often to have special parameters. Such that our competitors do not have at all. It is really a compound of design solutions of those products, and of course of the technological, production, component and, after all, the "PCB" ones. It's a really comprehensive solution. Certification alone does not solve that much.

Jakub Henčl: I would just like to add that, of course, the whole area we work in predestines us to the requirement of absolute reliability. It is not just about electronics but also about pure engineering. For three years now, we have been building a team of mechanical engineers who, of course, need to understand what is going on in terms of the electrical side with all the products, but at the same time open the door to more complex customer solutions where it is no longer just about thinking electronically. We can't afford to say we have a controller and that's great. We have to build it in somehow, it has to be covered, cooled. It has to communicate at some quality level, and that's just such a complex thing that, as a result, we can say we can cover all the processes at the highest added value that we can provide to the customer.

What does it consist in?

Jakub Henčl: Our whole business is about the concurrence of many activities. About design, about the architecture of elements, about the combination of various physical rules. A customer says: "Here's a wreck of a plane, equip it, let it fly using electricity, let it communicate and tell the pilot what it should, let it be reliable, let it meet some certification requirements of course, and do it so that a guy can sit in it and fly.” It's not fun at all. But it is our great advantage that something completely bare comes here - and leaves as something that meets all the requirements.

Many traditional physics disciplines are currently at their limits. When we speak about processors, we hear that there is nowhere to move forward, that photonics is to come. An alternative, a paradigm shift. How is it in your field? Is it all about continuous development, or is there a step change lurking that would move it by leaps and bounds?

Griša Dvorský: It's both. It is about continuous development and improvements. New ideas, experience and requirements from customers come. Components are changing, hardware and software are constantly evolving, and a completely new idea appears here and there. The big topic that is being addressed today is batteries. It is not as attractive as the construction of aircraft but we are also involved in the development of battery systems. And there is a great potential to bring something that will have a huge impact.

Jakub Henčl: Here, we already speak about electromobility as such. Silicone carbon technologies have great prospects which could accelerate the entire development. The biggest limit of the current electromobility is battery stability. Technologies have been developed - electric cars are already running, electric planes are flying, drones are working. But we are looking for a "gamechanger" - a new battery technology that would crank up the whole development by two orders of magnitude further. If today we speak about an energy density of around 250 hours per kg, we would need to get to 600-650 hours per kilogram. In this business today, incredible hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent worldwide in primary research. Now and then, some fantastic PR reports leak out about revolutions but in practice the capacity is shifting by some four, maybe five percent a year. But here is a really good chance to change something, whether in the field of ion or polymer batteries.

Is there any ambition you want to achieve in a year or two? For example, to reach a new client, come up with a new product or implement a ground-breaking technology?

Jakub Henčl: We are thinking rather about diversifying our portfolio and perhaps focusing more on marine propulsion. This is, of course, a market that is incredibly large. Conditions add to this - there are bans on internal combustion engines on lakes in Austria, Switzerland or southern Germany already now. And we are also attracted by various propulsion systems - outboards, inboards. In terms of in-house development, we are approaching the launch of completely new series of controller evolution. We will go from 1 to 450 kilowatts of continuous power. Not of peak power, because our competitors often like to confuse it. When we say we have some power, we really do have it permanently, which may not be a rule specifically for controllers or even more for electric cars. Unfortunately.

Last question, why do you actually cooperate with Gatema?

Griša Dvorský: Because it is one of the three companies on the Czech market that can meet our requirements for PCB technologies. At the same time, it has no problem with above-standard and non-standard items. We need someone that is flexible and co-operative. An that's what we get in the case of Gatema. Plus, it can handle it in no time.

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Luděk Buchta
Marketing Manager