The landscape is changing and one estimate says all new passenger cars sold in Europe will be electric or hybrid by 2025. For the companies supplying the global automotive market, this fact and others will require an immediate and ongoing assessment of technologies and machinery. Only those prepared for this next generation of transportation will succeed.
Though the numbers are small here in America at present, who among us hasn’t taken notice of Tesla and other cars which represent the reality of e-mobility on the road today? In truth, most of the components on today’s electric and hybrid vehicles are made quite conventionally, with most of the same gears, brakes and powertrain devices onboard. And yes, most cars still have steering wheels, but the driverless car is a topic for another time.
My point is, as the evolution of the electric and hybrid vehicles continues, suppliers will need to anticipate this trend and be ready with alternative machining technologies and the equipment to deliver those technologies to customers.
Entirely new approaches to machine tool design, build and assembly will be required, with a more responsive and close collaboration between the design and manufacturing teams. The advances in CAD, CAM, CNC, robotics and alternative production technologies such as laser sintering, ECM and the rapidly emerging science of additive manufacturing will all impact the process chain, in ways we need to imagine today.
Battery and fuel cell development is progressing at light speed and the electric power source, I believe, will vary by continent, with Asia being heavily leveraged to the all-electric vehicle due to pollution and other concerns, while Europe will maintain an allegiance to the hybrid gas engine, due to the road conditions and established recharging network. In America, hybrids will have more gradual growth, while the share economy of the Uber services and the Google car take shape.
Smaller, more precise e-mobile machines will drive down the price point, as well, as we see high-production scenarios replace today’s developmental environment in their manufacturing. The vehicles will likely have more gears, smaller engines with less horsepower, superchargers and other high-performance enhancements, as driving becomes more an as-needed than a luxury engagement for the consumer. This might seems counterintuitive, but the faster pace of life, especially here in America, seems to argue for such a scenario to unfold, in the very near future.
As always has been the case in America, the price of fuel and the methods available for power generation and distribution will also stimulate and fund the development of alternative vehicles in the general manufacturing sector here.
From the parts perspective, the overall design strategy of the car will, as it did 100+ years ago, take its lead from the power source, resulting in more exciting and challenging innovations in powertrain engineering. All the options for lighter weight and stronger materials will require consideration, but the nature of those materials and how they take shape to become tomorrow’s parts will likewise require a close cooperation between all links in the process chain for automotive.
A truly exciting time.
This article was first published in the November 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.