Standardization is good for going green

A 6 minute read about the worlds electric car future

· blog,logistics and systems

Standardization is the process of making something conform to a standard.​

- Google

I’m not talking about standards for operational excellence or some abstract idea based in fantasy… well not yet at least. What I’m talking about is practical standardization, specifically, the standardization of batteries. As mentioned last time, I posted about the idea of ride-sharing companies being able to dictate what they want cars to look like and be capable of. Suggesting we can reduce automotive production cycles and the environmental damage they cause at the same time. But I stopped when we got to talking about the end of life of batteries. Hence today we look at standardization, making things the same so that they work longer and faster.

In logistics, the shipping container is the best example I can think of when describing standardization. “Back in the day” goods, like a sack of flour, used to be thrown into ships one bag at a time by longshoremen. Then a guy called Malcolm McLean came along said, “Hey, instead of that, why not put things into a box, we can then stack that box on another box and better use the space on the boat. Shipping more stuff and making more money”. Brilliant isn’t it. Well… at first, people thought he was an idiot. But fast forward a few years and the idea caught on. The shipping industry is, at the moment, worth around $700 Billion.

Note: Malcolm McLean may not have said those exact words, just play along alright. Just chill, we’re learning AND having fun.

Besides the shipping container, examples of good standardization come from railroad tracks, power sockets, numbers, and the McDonalds menu. Ahh, McDonald's, what a fantastic business, a place you can trust to be there at 3pm or 3am after a night out. So just like relying on Maccas after a Saturday night out, I’m going to do the same thing here, because the company is a case study in how standardization can scale your operations.

Note: if you want to see a movie which is actually pretty sad but has a great montage showing the origins of standardization in the McDonalds restaurant. Check out a movie called, The Founder.

McDonald's cut the lead time (a logistical term used to describe how long something is going to take to do) to make a burger when they created an efficient process which combined modular activities. You know what, this will be a lot easier if you just watch the clip.

I don’t know how copyrights work so… hopefully I don’t get sued, believe me, I have zero money.

As you can see in the clip, by making each burger the same, monitoring resources becomes easier, it’s easier to know how much sauce you need. When something is predictable it becomes much easier to forecast. The better you can forecast, the better you can plan. The more you can plan the more you can prepare and organize accordingly. This leads to great efficiencies and better use of resources.

What’s the abstract idea based on fantasy?

Here’s the idea, making car components standard (more predictable), in order to make their environmental impact easier to forecast, prepare for and manage.

So, how does the idea work?

If we can make batteries in cars the same as they are for consumers, I’m talking about AA or AAA sticks which are easy to handle and work in multiple devices. If we could ask carmakers to do the same things with electric car batters, then logically could we not extend the value chain and lifetime of the product? In industry terms, this entire concept of making something which can be reused is called a circular supply chain. You make something which can be reused, think kegs of beer and pallets. All I’m suggesting are some steps for execution by adding standardization into the mix.

Why this idea is important?

This is important because as much as history seems to rhyme, it doesn’t have to be repeated. When we replaced horses with cars, we removed emissions from horse crap and replaced it with exhaust emissions. With the right approach, this next evolution of transport can move forward with the right management of its toxic output. Because the output is there even if you can’t see it.

Issue 1 - difficulty

I am fully aware that I lack the engineering knowledge to correctly comment on how viable an idea this might be. Every time one of my mates starts to explain electrical engineering to me, I start to fall asleep. Don’t worry they do the same when I start talking about a supply chain. So I don’t know how difficult this idea would be if you happen to be an engineer, let me know – I’m curious to learn.

Issue 2 - innovation

When new cars are released, they often come with new technological progressions which make things better. Such as engines which are more efficient, smaller, faster, which use less fuel and all the rest of it. This is where the great tradeoffs come in. You want to reduce emissions by taking all trucks off the road but still need to drive the global economy. I want to have a standardized battery but know that engineering seldom stays in the same place.

There will be solutions to these issues, the point of writing this piece was to bring a little more awareness of the idea. Adding a little objectivity to the hype going around with my Klarity (get it?! Like clarity but I replaced the c with a k because that’s my name?! yeah. You get it. You totally do).

How does any of this relate to logistics?

Standardization, tradeoffs, having to choose what to do with the resources available, this is something a logistician has to deal with daily. Running a fleet? how many orders are there, how many trucks do you have available, how many of those orders belong to your most valuable customers – who will get priority? You can ask the same questions of a warehouse or purchasing department.

But I suppose, it’s true in this scenario, it’s less about the logistics of moving a reusable battery and more about the engineering needed to enable this idea. Perhaps that Klarity is mostly related to how the supply chain could look.

What would the supply chain of a reusable electric car side battery look like?

A car and battery get developed, put into production, used in a new car, a better version of the batter comes out but because the batteries are (in some way) standard, rather than putting to waste the entire car and batter which is being replaced. The battery can be taken out of the car and put into another machine. Thereby extending the usable life of the battery. It could be any machine like a power grid in an impoverished place, as emergency backup power to something, sold in a second-hand market to automotive repair houses which want to repair electric cars.

I’ll try to emphasize the value of this by going back to McDonald's and the power socket. Making things to a standard is not easy, what is easier is standardizing the mechanisms which create the outcome. The container allowed people to put whatever they wanted into a standard box, McDonald's allows you to order whatever you want – their background processes can handle it, and so long as you have the right adaptor you can do whatever you want with the power coming out of a socket. For standardized batteries I can see a similar principle could be applied, I won’t attempt to assess this from a technical perspective because again, I am not an engineer.

Is this already happening?

I am aware that the EU mandates electric car makers to collect end of life batteries, but I don’t know if all car makers are doing this. I don’t know if it is happening globally. Nor do I know if car makers are secretly conspiring together, to make the next generation of worlds waste more manageable. If they are, why? Isn’t it going to be great PR if you all played nice?

Anyway, to wrap up, the idea is to encourage car makers too, in some logical way, to standardize batteries. So that supporting industries can grow, new businesses can be formed – built to extend and properly manage end of life batteries and do this while maintaining an incentive to compete for better performance.

If you are a car maker, an electrical engineer, an industrial designer, or anyone else who would like to support this idea. It might even be someone who can do better Googling then I can. Please, get in touch I’d love to hear from you.

Here are some useful links I found while writing this post

Also posted on