Peeking under the copper top

Duracell provides a look inside its Belgium factory as it brings its longest-lasting battery to Israel.

November 20, 2016 21:07
PACKAGED BATTERIES are prepared for shipment at Duracell’s packaging facility in Heist, Belgium.

PACKAGED BATTERIES are prepared for shipment at Duracell’s packaging facility in Heist, Belgium.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The folks at Duracell like to call their batteries the “hidden heroes.”

That’s because users don’t pay those power-packed cylinders much attention – they just want them to work when they turn on the flashlight, toy, remote control or other device.

With Duracell’s introduction of Ultra Power, its longest-lasting alkaline batteries, to the local market on Sunday, Israeli consumers can have that much more peace of mind.

Ahead of the release, the world’s No.

1 consumer battery company by market share and leading manufacturer of high-performance alkaline batteries, for the first time, gave journalists a peek into the making of its batteries with a tour of its European Innovation Center and manufacturing plant in Aarschot, Belgium, and distribution facility in Heist ‒ the origination point for 80% of the company’s batteries sold in Israel.

Batteries may seem simple, but the delivery of packaged power is a complicated electrochemical process. Key elements to the technology behind Duracell’s Ultra Power battery are: • A high-efficiency anode. Made of zinc, the anode is the negative terminal from which electrons flow. Ultra Power uses especially small zinc particles to get more “juice in the can,” creating a bigger surface area to enhance high energy transfer and allowing more chemical reactions to occur, resulting in higher electron output.

• A high-power cathode. The key ingredient of the positive terminal toward which electrons flow is manganese dioxide.

Essentially, the more cathode, the more energy produced.

• Energy-transfer-promoting separator.

The paper separator is the dividing layer between the anode and cathode that prevents electrons from taking a shortcut and creating a short circuit.

Ultra Power uses a very thin separator, which allows for higher cathode volume and lowers internal resistance for better energy transfer.

• Duralock power preserve. A unique power-preservation system that helps lock in power to guarantee the battery retains its energy for as long as 10 years in proper storage, giving users peace of mind that it will be ready when needed.

The Ultra Power batteries, now available in Israel in AA and AAA sizes, feature a blue band between Duracell’s signature copper top and black bottom, indicating the presence of Duralock inside.

• Ultra Power’s final feature, and likely to be the favorite of consumers, is “Powercheck.” Originally introduced in the 1990s, it was “rediscovered as a highly underused consumer and environmental message.” Powercheck lets users instantly verify the power level remaining in the battery so it can be given a “second life” in another device with lower energy needs, thus creating value for the consumer and helping to reduce battery waste.

“One of three batteries is thrown away with life left inside,” said Nihan Belik Güneri, Duracell’s marketing director for the Turkey, Israel, Caucasus and Central Asia region, during the visit to the Aarschot manufacturing plant.

This is something Duracell takes seriously, not only because battery disposal and recycling is a tremendous environmental concern. Israel’s Electrical and Electronic Equipment and Batteries Law, which went into effect in March 2014, requires manufacturers and importers to either treat their electronic and battery waste themselves or work with companies accredited to treat them.

“Eco-friendliness starts with efficiency,” said Frank Imbescheid, the communications manager for Europe, India, Middle East and Africa. “Using better technology extends the battery’s usefulness.

This is where it starts.”

According to the company, added mercury was voluntarily eliminated from all its batteries in 1993. Its alkaline batteries are composed primarily of common materials – steel, zinc and manganese – and, therefore, it said, do not pose a health or environmental risk in normal use or disposal.

Duracell’s quality assurance, it added, exceeds the ISO 9000 standards and specifies the highest quality for raw materials, rigorous testing and inspection of performance and energy usage.

Each battery is quality checked before leaving the plant to ensure maximum performance, lessening the chance of early disposal by the consumer.

Duracell’s beginnings go back some 100 years, when entrepreneur P.R.

Mallory and inventor Samuel Ruben founded a company that started with the production of wires, before going on to manufacture batteries. It has seen numerous management changes over the years, with owners that include consumer giants Kraft, Gillette and Proctor & Gamble, and it even had a stint as a public company in the 1990s. In March, it found what it calls its “permanent home” when it was acquired by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corp., which also owns Israel’s Iscar.

“I have always been impressed with Duracell, as a consumer and as a longterm investor in P&G and Gillette,” Buffett said. “Duracell is a leading global brand with top-quality products, and it will fit well within Berkshire Hathaway.”

Longevity, according to Duracell, is the key factor that drives purchasing decisions, and consumers are willing to pay for that peace of mind.

“Clearly, batteries are expensive in Israel. [But Israelis are] value seekers and are willing to pay more for a quality product,” said Frederic Facca, Duracell’s director of international market research and analytics. Prices are set by the retailers, he said.

According to Gulhande Sanay, general manager of the Turkey, Israel, Caucasus and Central Asia region, 80% of the market in Israel is for “more expensive” batteries.

In developed markets such as Israel, life stages are the most important differentiator in how consumers use devices and batteries.

Battery use here is generally in line with global trends, with broad use in remote controls, clocks, flashlights and computer accessories, said Güneri.

In Israel, however, which is very children- focused, toys and baby devices are the most common devices using batteries.

Speaking of toys, along with the introduction of Ultra Power, Duracell’s iconic pink bunny is making a return to Israel.

The “Drumming Bunny,” which debuted in a 1973 advertising campaign as a plush toy powered by Duracell batteries that outperformed similar toys driven by ordinary zinc-carbon batteries, soon became the lovable Duracell hero who saved the day for kids, moms and families, beating his opponents in side-by-side battery tests.

Now fully computer animated, the bunny serves as Duracell’s icon around the world except for in Turkey, where a bear is used, and the US.

“He’s a hero with a sense of play,” said Imbescheid. “The bunny brings emotion to the equation ‒ strong and masculine [the battery’s black and copper color] versus cute.”

The writer was a guest of Duracell.

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