31 Jan The future of transport – where the supply chain will make a difference
A new decade and the automotive industry is in rapid transition. The changes we have seen over the last ten years including the emergence of autonomous vehicles and the disruptive force of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) business models, such as ride-hailing services, have had a more profound impact on personal transportation than any other decade in the last 100 years. Meanwhile, EVs are predicted to account for 30% of new cars sold in key automotive markets by 2040. These changes in the next ten years alone will not only impact OEMs but the entire automotive supply chain.
If you think about it, a modern ICE powertrain has approximately 1500-2000 different parts, compared to electric alternatives that have roughly 60 to 70 parts. Therefore competition amongst suppliers of these components will be fierce, while others will find that their current products for ICE powertrains become virtually obsolete.
The most vital and one of the most expensive component parts is the battery. Its performance and the mileage that can be squeezed from a single charge will be a key point of differentiation between competing vehicles. Carmakers, naturally, are investing in battery-pack manufacture or electric vehicles with the likes of Nissan and Tesla leading the way. Tesla’s $5 billion Gigafactory 1 in Nevada USA has been built with battery-maker, Panasonic to exploit the economies of scale to reduce the cost of battery-packs by 30%.
Challenges for ICE manufacturers
But building the level of know-how in the design and manufacture of batteries that carmakers have of ICEs, will be a significant challenge. The modules that have largely been manufactured in-house could be outsourced in future. Meanwhile, other EV components including the motor, are more likely to be commoditised. This will encourage outsourcing because there will be a limited opportunity for manufacturers to use motor technology as a point of competitive differentiation.
Design to cost
Using DTC, costs are considered during the earliest phases of design; unnecessary expense is stripped out, and focus is intensified on areas that have the most impact on desired function. For EVs, these areas are energy efficiency and weight.
Reducing waste, saving money
Such parts are usually produced using computer numerical control (CNC) machining processes owing to their relatively complex geometry. But these are essentially destructive and yield large amounts of scrap material. While this manufacturing waste can be recycled, it takes time and adds expense.
On the other hand, precision cold forming can produce high-quality, intricately shaped parts while generating little-to-no waste. Using this process, a metallic blank – sawn or cropped from a round bar or wire, or a cold headed preform – is shaped using a high-pressure punch and die at ambient temperatures. The resulting part mirrors the shape of the tooling precisely; dimensional tolerances of a few microns are possible, equivalent to those achievable from the best CNC machine tools.
Precision cold forming is fast, consistent and repeatable, making it ideal for volume production. The process causes the granular structure of the metal to align to the contours of the die, ensuring that its tensile strength is maintained. Further, the parts’ internal surfaces take on a mirrored appearance, reducing the need for finishing and thereby helping to reduce both cost and manufacturing time.
Reducing waste is just one aspect of DTC. It is also possible to integrate multiple functions into one part, reducing component count and the number of production stages required. Different materials could be used to negate the rising costs of metals or the uncertainty of their supply, or to enhance the performance, functionality and reliability of a given part. The latest design tools allow prototyping and testing to be carried out in digital environments, speeding up development cycles. Further, identifying and building relationships with specialist suppliers can yield significant benefits for optimising the production processes.
And power connectors are just one small example of the myriad opportunities for innovation presented by electrification for engineering firms that can identify existing needs and bring their technological expertise to bear to find solutions. There will also be opportunities in other areas of the powertrain, as well as in machine learning, software development, data collection and analysis, and sensing and automation technology.
As carmakers investigate new approaches and technologies, they must strike a awkward balancing act between the performance, efficiency and weight of a part, and its cost to manufacture. Their supply base will be key in achieving this.
Talk to us about how we manage these complex issues and take the stress and cost out of some of major engineering challenges manufacturers will face over the coming years.