Flash Battery, founded in 2012 by Marco Righi, the CEO, and Alan Pastorelli, the Technical Manager, is today leader in the production of lithium battery systems for industrial machines.
The company was recently awarded the prestigious National Innovation Prize 2020, presented in person by the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella. As stated in the motivation for the prize, it is in recognition “of investments in research and company innovation, for the development of technologically state-of-art, competitive products, in a rapidly and constantly evolving international market”.
In order to find out more about this important local actor, with a constant growth in turnover and personnel, and who have recently inaugurated new headquarters in Sant’Ilario, we interviewed Marco Righi to ask him about the company objectives and new technologies associated with lithium batteries.
Marco, how many countries in the world are you active in today?
Today in 54 countries, thanks to our good fortune of working with customers who produce machines that are exported all over the planet. As a result we had to organise ourselves right from the start to provide after-sales support for customers around the world, creating what has become our showpiece: the Flash Data Center, a remote automatic software control system.
Who are your main competitors?
There are currently no other companies in Italy structured like ours. There are some big players in Europe but unlike us they do not have such a strong capacity for specific customisation, and this is a leadership we want to maintain, combined with a target client running medium to high volume turnovers and with a marked need for customisation.
What level of investment does Flash Battery have today in research and development and what are your technological objectives for the near future?
The main objective is to fit ever more energy into the smallest possible volume and save on weight. The technology is evolving in this direction because by reducing volumes you can install more kWh into vehicles and guarantee more autonomy.
There are also secondary but equally important objectives, like being able to implement all the information that we have accumulated over the years, also using artificial intelligence systems, to be ever more predictive and effective in designing batteries for the future.
What objectives is Europe calling for as regards batteries and sustainability today?
The world of lithium batteries is in evolution. Our R&D department keeps close track of European directives and regulations: Flash Battery is among the 17 European companies involved in joint research and innovation projects (I.P.C.E.I.) for the industrial production of new generation lithium batteries.
There are also global efforts to be increasingly sustainable as regards both the environment and society. For example, cobalt is currently extracted by exploiting underdeveloped countries. The batteries we use are already cobalt free and in the near future we will increase our commitment to the creation of ever more sustainable batteries.
If you could make another investment for your company, what would come to mind?
Without wanting to sound presumptuous, today with our new site we really lack for nothing, so it is hard to imagine another investment. Just a short time ago we did not even have fibre optics, which was a real problem. Fortunately today this inefficiency has been eliminated, but in general fibre optics and broadband communications are still an issue for some Italian areas and companies.
Just think of the “smart working” we were obliged to adopt during the COVID lockdown, or the now familiar “distance learning”. How could it work without an adequate network connection?
While it is true that we now have general distribution by fibre optics, it does not arrive all the way into homes as it does in other European countries. We are missing the final section, the one that enables full realisation of fast connections. Sadly, we are always just a bit behind the others.
Opinions differ about the question of disposal of dead batteries and their recovery for material recycling. What can you tell us about this?
Recycling is becoming increasingly important, especially considering the quantity of batteries that will be produced in coming years. Europe does not yet play a significant role in recycling, and to date there are not many collection and disposal centres, for one simple reason: the battery world is still a relatively young market and there is not much material to process. Battery production has only become significant in the last few years and considering that the average life of a battery is from 10 to 15 years, it is obvious why there is not yet a complete recycling process chain, even though on a global scale the target is to achieve recycling close to 100% within 2030.
The complete chain is thus developing in step with the recyclability of the batteries.
Exactly, if somebody opened a collection centre today it would not be economical because there would not be enough materials to keep it working. As manufacturers of lithium batteries, Flash Battery fulfil their legal obligations though participation in Cobat (National Consortium of Collection and Recycling), which manages the disposal and recycling of batteries and accumulators in Italy. The Research and Development Department at Flash Battery are constantly researching ever more recyclable materials that also offer high performance to guarantee the highest efficiency for lithium batteries, aspiring towards greater sustainability and lower environmental impact.
Then there is another very important theme, the “second life“, in other words the use of batteries for a second purpose, an alternative application after the end of their useful life on vehicles. In a sense it stands alongside recycling and should not be underestimated. It is mainly applicable in the vehicle sector.
Flash Battery has enjoyed constant and large annual development and growth rates. Some people say that, like trees, companies need terrain fertile with human resources and adequate services in their local habitat. For a company with a global vision, what is your relationship with your local area?
We are fairly lucky because we are in a highly industrialised zone where we can find most of the components we need, including obviously our basic raw material, lithium cells. If we consider our suppliers, we have a low-distance production chain because within a range of 50 kilometres we have about ninety per cent of our suppliers, many of whom are involved in electrification, motors, motor controllers, steering gear, and battery chargers.
You promote school and university visits to your company sites: what relationship have you established with schools and universities?
We have always tried to collaborate with schools and universities, we try to inspire the youngsters, and we take every opportunity to bring them to visit us. We have always been open to this because I believe companies need to actively provide young people with orientation and sometimes step into the front line for training.
I also believe that one of Italy’s most outstanding qualities is manufacturing, which is often well ahead of the teachers themselves as regards new experiences and technological breakthroughs.
For this reason we have also acted as teachers on some university courses, for example in collaboration with Milan Polytechnic, the University of Parma, and the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, making our engineers available to provide state-of-art information on this modern technology. We know many companies who are accustomed to working with internal combustion engines or mechanical hydraulics, and now that they are converting to electricity one of the first questions they ask is: “do we have the skills to deal with this evolution?“.
What are the selection criteria for your technical and manufacturing personnel, who have also increased significantly in numbers over the years?
We are in quite a fortunate moment now, because while we used to have great difficulty finding qualified staff, today our company is well known, which helps, and being in an advanced technological sector like ours is very attractive, so we get a lot of applications.