Please note that this is a quick writeup, and not intended to be an independent guide to machining or battery pack design.
I have been very fortunate to be part of the Midnight Sun Solar Car Design Team at the University of Waterloo (uwmidsun.com). As the Battery Lead for our next solar car (MSXIV), I am responsible for designing, prototyping, testing, manufacturing, and integrating the battery.
Our battery pack is made from 864 18650 style cells in a 24P 36S arrangement, for a nominal voltage of 131V and capacity of 10.8kWh. These 18650 cells are held in place at the top and bottom using acetal plates. In the image below, the acetal plates are the grey plates at the top and bottom of the cell supports.
The choice of acetal was made primarily because it is easy to machine, creating lots of chips and not melting too easily. After finishing the design in Solidworks, I imported it into MasterCAM 2020 where all of the toolpaths were created. This was my first real project in MasterCAM, but I am glad that I spent the time to learn the software as this opens up a whole new area of possibilities for manufacturing for future projects. Anyways, the part was designed so that no endmills smaller than 1/4″ were required, and could be milled using only 2.5D operations. The process was relatively straightforward, aside from getting used to all the different plane naming in MasterCAM. Because I had created this part to be machined, all the toolpaths were easy to pick out, though time optimizations could definitely be made. This round, I was only making 2 parts for the prototype module, but in a month or so that full production will be headed to the machine with much more optimized gcode.
The University of Waterloo has a Haas VF2 CNC Machine that students can use for design team projects, and is the machine that this part was created on. Again, it was a relatively simple process of setting tool offsets, setting the part zero, then loading the program.
After testing the sizes of the cell holes, we decided to go back over the holes and enlarge them to ensure a smooth fit into the slots and not destroy the PVC insulation while inserting or removing the cells.
From design to final product, this has been a huge learning experience for me, and I hope to continue to improve my machining skills in the future.
I’m looking forward to doing some lightweighting on this part for the final manufacturing run, but have learned a lot in the prototype process.
Written By: Micah Black
Project By: Micah Black