March 28, 2019: Tributes to Michael Weighall, the much-liked and well known lead battery veteran, have been coming in to Batteries International as the sad news spread that he had passed away suddenly on March 7 while out walking. His private funeral was held today, March 28.
One of the many repeated compliments we have received about Mike was his ability and willingness to pass on his vast knowledge to others — which while in great demand from the industry itself, he always found time to patiently explain to newcomers to the industry.
Steve Barnes, vice president of Hammond Expanders UK, was one of the many beneficiaries of Mike’s knowledge.
“Over the many years of working with Mike I was always grateful to him for the amount of time and effort he would put aside for me in sharing his knowledge and experience,” he told BESB. “I was always struck by how friendly, knowledgeable and helpful he was.”
Barnes had met Mike during their joint time at the Cookson Group, which was eventually to be taken over by separator company Entek. Mike was technical manager there, having been recruited in the early 1980s by Howard Forrest, who says Allan Cooper had come across him in a business directory. Forrest ran the metals side of the business, and at the time Cookson was focusing on industrial metals, producing lead alloys and battery terminals.
“I ran the metals side, recycling, lead alloys, and Mike Weighall came in with a roving brief to look across the whole of the company and help us liaise with battery customers,” said Forrest.
“Through him we got into polypropylene and recycling battery cases, which was new in the UK. Then we found an American company, MA Industries, which was developing a new technology for recycling polypropylene battery cases and finding they were a good source of raw material.
“They had devised a battery recycling process to separate out the polypropylene then sold it to battery recycling companies. We formed a JV with MA Industries and set up a recycling operation in Newcastle.
“While we were looking at all these new developments, Allan Cooper was talking to Mike about the battery industry. Mike said we were virtually supplying everything for a battery except the acid and the separators.”
Mike had incredible technical and electro-chemical knowhow, and he also had a thorough way of working, says Forrest. It was this knowledge that helped to achieve the company’s first sale and set them on the road to achieving an annual turnover of £25 million ($33 million) within just four years.
“The sale was to Tungsten Batteries — who knew him, so had confidence in him. It was thanks to that sale that we managed to get going,” said Forrest. “Then we heard Entek had been set up and had this battery separator process and we came along and formed a JV with them — so in 1990, it was 75% Cookson, 25% Entek.”
Entek would gradually take over more and more of Cookson, which focused on ceramics and eventually sold its lead business.
“Part of the work Mike had been doing disappeared but he remained as technical manager,” said Forrest. “After 1994 he was allowed to build up a consultancy on contract with Entek over a four-year period.”
Steve Barnes recalls the consultancy that Mike set up — MJW Associates.
“Mike’s expertise and experience was in great demand from many companies, organizations and associated businesses. Mike certainly seemed to be enjoying this new role but always finding time to keep in contact with me and other friends from his Cookson days,” he said.
“Early in 2007, Hammond UK needed some additional technical support and it was without hesitation that I contacted Mike and asked if he would be able to assist me at Hammond. During this time we had many meetings and discussions, on several occasions these took us out on the road visiting customers in the UK and overseas.
“It was obvious the people we met were aware of Mike and his work and were always keen to spend time listening to Mike and asking his opinion on numerous topics.”
Mike became chairman of the European Technical Committee of the ALABC (now Consortium for Battery Innovation). Cooper remembers his involvement with the ALABC.
“He would talk to battery companies to find out what we could do for them. When I’d joined it was more a case of, ‘how many tonnes do you want?’ — it was more of a commodity business,” says Cooper. “Now it’s much more technical, and Mike kept up with the technical side, and his involvement with the ALABC ensured that.
“He was a very pleasant guy, amenable, got on with things — there was a lot going on in the battery industry, with battery maintenance, and with alloys changing from cast grids to expanded metals. There were changes with active materials as well — and that’s why we needed a battery specialist like him.”
Mike wrote many technical papers on battery technology and separators, which were published in the Journal of Power Sources and other publications. He also wrote market research reports about the global battery market, lithium ion batteries, ultracapacitors, smart grids and energy storage, and disruptive technology in the battery industry.
He originated from Chepstow, in south Wales, something Entek sales manager Eric Donjon was reminded of when he happened to drive past Chepstow about four weeks ago.
“I saw the sign and realized it was where he was from, so I gave him a call,” he told BESB. “He would always say, ‘Hello there!’ when he answered the phone, and we spoke about meeting up.
“I got to know him in June 1994, when he was technical manager at Cookson Entek. He basically taught me everything I know today. He was such a kind man, he could have been a teacher. You couldn’t say a bad word about him.”
Mike was a committed Christian, a member of his local photographic society, a gardener and a keen walker. He remained a consultant until his sudden passing.
“In recent years we have lost a number of good people in the battery industry,” said Steve Barnes. “Sadly another true gentleman of the industry has left us.”