Mechanical engineers support the automotive industry with electromobility. What more productive machining strategies and precise components can do for e-cars.
In this article you will get the answers to the following questions:
- How do mechanical engineers help with the technical challenges of e-mobility?
- How do machine tools make electric cars cheaper?
- Why are innovative machine tools increasing the range of electric cars?
- What should machine tool manufacturers keep in mind with regard to electromobility in the future?
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By 2023, electric cars should be as attractive as cars with internal combustion engines on the European market. This is the forecast of the VDMA study ‘Drives in Transition’, which was updated in 2019. By then, battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids should account for 42 per cent of newly registered vehicles in Europe. Hence there will continue to order for machine and plant manufacturers in the field of combustion engines, but the market volume for components for electric drives, in particular, will grow.
For this reason, many machine tool manufacturers are currently working on getting in shape for electromobility. It is about expanding core competencies, advancing the transformation process and thus securing future competitiveness.
“We are concentrating on the topic of e-mobility, even if it involves a great deal of uncertainty,” reports Stefan Birzle, Head of Global Account Management Automotive at Chiron. “It is not yet clear where the journey is headed and how many electric cars there will really be in the future. Nevertheless, despite the current downturn, the demand for components for e-mobility is stable or even increasing.”
The uncertainty of the vehicle market is also an issue for the plant and machine tool manufacturer Grob: “Our customers don’t yet know which way things are headed,” explains Steffen Pohl, head of the innovation management and e-mobility department at Grob-Werke. “It makes sense to position ourselves broadly, which is what we are doing.” That’s why Grob is currently primarily developing efficient assembly lines for fuel cells and electric motors. “Grob believes in the fuel cell, even if it still lags behind battery-electric vehicles in terms of development,” says Steffen Pohl. “But you always need electric motors, whether for hybrid, fuel cell or battery drives.”
How machine builders help with the technical challenges of e-mobility
With all the uncertainty about which type of drive will prevail in vehicles, one thing is undisputed among machine tool manufacturers: the components for electric vehicles and for the remaining more efficient internal combustion engines will be significantly more complex.
“The complexity of the required parts increases with the electric car and that is a challenge for manufacturers of machines and controls,” explains Jürgen Kläser, Senior Manager Application at the machine manufacturer Okuma, which offers CNC machines, motors, spindles and controls from a single source. “As the components are becoming more and more complex, our customers are demanding highly integrated machines for electromobility.” This is also due to the fact that the product cycles in the field of electric vehicles are currently still particularly short and the flexibility of the machine tools is therefore becoming increasingly important. “That’s why universal machines like Okuma’s have an advantage over special machines.”
The complexity of the parts is not only a challenge for the machine tool industry, but also for its customers. This is why Chiron, for example, also relies on advice in the field of electric vehicles. “The parts for vehicles in the field of electromobility are very special and therefore often a major challenge for our customers,” explains Stefan Birzle. “That’s why we offer our customers to accompany them throughout the project with product and process know-how – across the entire process chain.”
At the machine tool and plant manufacturer Emag, a holistic approach is also the focus, especially when it comes to the production of components for electromobility. For example, the company develops manufacturing systems for electric motor shafts in which manufacturing systems, peripheral machines and automation technology are coordinated. According to Emag, electromobility will primarily benefit hardening processes (Emag Eldec division) and electrochemical metalworking (Emag ECM).
“The parts for electric vehicles have to be light, material has to be saved and the high torques involved require particularly wear-resistant parts,” explains Gerd Killinger, Hardening Systems Sales at Emag Eldec. Hardening is good for tensile strength and protects against wear. “Inductive hardening is therefore becoming more relevant and offers Emag good opportunities to benefit from electromobility with the Mind-L 1000 hardening machine.”
Electrochemical metalworking also contributes to an optimized process chain, because the method enables different designs and processing steps than machining. For example, parts that are already hardened can be machined with almost no tool wear. This fits in well with the existing process chain.
“Solutions for electromobility are about considering the entire process chain in order to connect several stages and make process chains more efficient and shorter,” summarizes Jochen Laun, Managing Director of Emag ECM. “For our customers, this results in a cheaper overall package; for the buyer of an electric car, a cheaper vehicle.“
How these machine tools make electric cars cheaper
In order for electric cars to become cheaper for end users, not only must the number of electric vehicles produced increase, production must also become faster and more efficient. “The component cycle times must be significantly shorter so that electric cars become more affordable,” emphasizes Gerd Killinger from Emag. “High quantities and a high level of repeat accuracy are particularly important and this is exactly what our production systems enable.”
“In order for electric cars to become more affordable, the component cycle times must be significantly shorter.”
Gerd Killinger, Emag Eldec
Chiron would also like to help make electric cars more affordable and supports the car manufacturers with particularly productive processing centres. “Our multi-spindle machines are definitely making their contribution to making electric cars cheaper,” affirms Chiron’s Stefan Birzle. “Because the productivity of the machines and the digitization products of our company allow a more productive manufacture of the components and thus also of the electric cars.”
An example of such a machine is the new Chiron DZ 25 P, which premiered at EMO Hannover 2019. The double-spindle machine should be particularly productive even with very large components, such as those required for energy storage boxes, without losing precision
Because not only productivity but also precision plays an important role in electric vehicles. “Production accuracy and the resulting reduction in the need for rework also reduces the CO 2 footprint of the manufactured products, for example,” explains Jürgen Kläser from Okuma.
Innovative machine tools are helping to increase the range of electric cars
Particularly precise components reduce more than just the CO 2 footprint, namely, for example, the weight as well; and that in turn affects the range of electric vehicles.
“Weight is an even bigger issue with e-mobility than with conventional types of drive,” says Jürgen Kläser. “Lightweight construction requires precision and therefore a different type of mould – Okuma machines can do that, especially when it comes to body construction.” Because in this area Okuma has already gained a lot of experience with the conversion to new production methods. “Body mould construction has always been constantly changing and precision is and will remain the be-all and end-all.”
Weight does not only play a role in the bodywork and precision play a role, also with the electric motors. Jürgen Kläser: “The ultra-high precision also brings with it an increase in efficiency in the field of electric motors, because more precise parts mean less friction and less energy loss.” And that ultimately means more range for the electric car with the same battery performance.
The particularly good thing about it is that the know-how that the company collects in the field of electric motors can not only be used in the field of electromobility but can also open up new business areas – for example, the production of electric motors for machines.
“More precise parts mean less friction and less energy loss. This ultimately means more range with the same battery performance.”
Outlook: What should machine tool manufacturers keep in mind with regard to electromobility?
New business areas, the expansion of existing and well-thought-out transformation processes will have to have a high priority for the manufacturers of machine tools in the near future. “New sales channels must also be considered because, in the course of electromobility, other partners than before are coming into focus,” reports Steffen Pohl from Grob.
At Grob, the new partners are the suppliers, because the OEMs are buying more and more in the field of electric vehicles – mainly due to the uncertainty of the market. Steffen Pohl also emphasizes that machine tool builders should above all be open and well prepared: “Change is happening very quickly and you can no longer rule anything out. You have to be prepared for all eventualities.”
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At Chiron, this ‘being prepared’ also includes monitoring the global market for electric vehicles, particularly the market in China. “Electric mobility will be decided in China,” postulates Stefan Birzle. “Especially in the Asian regions, there are many new players. That’s why you have to be wide awake at the moment to identify them and to take advantage of the opportunities that arise there.”
The VDMA also recommends in the study ‘Drive-in transition’ to take the market for electric vehicles seriously and to drive the transformation process forward quickly. It is important to establish innovation networks and identify individual opportunities to participate in the ‘electric drive’ trend. In the long term, participation in the sales market for components of electric drives is an absolute prerequisite for the economic success of component manufacturers and machine and plant builders.