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Electric & Autonomous Vehicle Market: How to Prepare

Category: Manufacturing Technology Jan 26, 2021

By Kathy Keyes Webster, AMT Exhibitions Content Manager – Correspondence

How fast is the electrical vehicle (EV) market growing? When will self-driving vehicles be on the road? With production for both increasing, what can small to medium-sized manufacturers do to prepare for a future that promises a high-mix, lower-volume operation?

“Electrification of the auto industry is going to change production volumes and vehicles, and it's going to make several manufacturing technologies more critical,” says Robert Schoenberger, Editor of Today’s Motor Vehicles and Today’s eMobility. “Shifting production in this rapidly growing industry is going to require a greater focus on automation, new metrology techniques, and new process handling steps to handle a wider variety of materials.”

Schoenberger asked four manufacturing technology builders—who have dedicated new energy vehicle (NEV) initiatives—how the industry can prepare for a future with less parts, in the webinar, Adapting to Electric: Manufacturing Experts Turn eMobility's Growth to Your Advantage. Panelists included:

  • Luca Castignani, Global Automotive Director, Hexagon
  • Brian Huang, Global Account Manager, Techman Robot
  • Thomas Reek, Vice president of Sales Automation, Schunk
  • David Wick, Manager Product Management, Zeiss

How fast is the electrical vehicle (EV) market growing?
Schoenberger noted North American electric vehicle plant investments by Ford, General Motors, & Fiat Chrysler, announced or begun in 2020, equals $13.6 billion.

NEVs are expected to be 50% of all new vehicle production by 2035 in North America and sooner in China and Europe. A California executive order requires that by 2025 all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California be zero emission vehicles. Castignani noted in 2020 EV sales increased in Germany and France helping Europe reach the 25% mark of EV production sooner than the expected year of 2025. Wick pointed out that EV trends will vary by region. McKinsey reports automakers plan to introduce around 450 additional models by 2022. With these new model launches, automakers and suppliers are localizing the production of vehicles and components. 1

When will self-driving vehicles be on the road?
The panelists agreed autonomous vehicles pose more challenges than EVs, pointing out that advances in sensors and artificial intelligence still need to be made. But they agreed the technology is ready for well-defined, precise environments for “robot taxis,” such as Olli, which transported visitors between the North and East buildings of McCormick Place during IMTS 2016 and IMTS 2018. The speakers agreed we’ll see more robot taxis deployed in the next two years, but we will have to wait a decade or less until we see our own cars take over the driving. In the meantime, here’s how manufacturers can be ready for high-mix, lower-volume operations:

7 Ways to Prepare for High-mix, Lower-volume Operations

  1. Use simulation to design the gears and body panels so that noise will not emanate from them.
  2. Use coordinate measuring machines to very precisely define and inspect components including battery cells, battery modules, and battery trays that must meet critical dimensions and be properly put together.
  3. Incorporate electrical servo components for automation, robots, and cobots to increase production speed and flexibility.
    1. Known for excellent repeatability, robots can free up personnel from menial, monotonous work to do higher level skills like programming the robots. Robots are easily removed for skilled operators to take over a more complex task.
    2. Automation gives engineers flexibility to adjust for changing parts and work pieces going through the lines and builds in quick changes to allow flexibility from day-to-day or week-to-week.
    3. Both help reduce waste of expensive new material such as aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber used by more automakers.
  4. Use electrical programmable equipment as it is more productive than resetting torques manually.
  5. Consider end-of arm tooling to boost productivity and improve handling, such as Gecko Gripper technology for gripping (magnet, mechanical, soft, or vacuum).
  6. Talk to multiple sources for integration as companies are very specialized. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
  7. Anticipate production will be easier and more staff will be needed to ensure quality.

In the end, Wick summed up how manufacturers might prepare for the future, “Keep doing what you’re doing. Look for adjacent opportunities in the NEV industry. When it comes time to capitalize, purchase equipment with multi-sensors that can plug and play to measure a variety of different things. Then you’ve set the stage to make the switch to work in the new energy vehicle industry.”

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