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ABB Says Flexibility Needed With Shift to Vehicle Electrification

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

Automakers will need more flexible manufacturing with the shift to electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and other powertrains, automation company ABB said today in a presentation.

“We need changes in manufacturing and production,” Joerg Reger, ABB’s head of global business line auto, said in an online briefing for journalists.

“The only way to do that is flexibility,” he added. “There is demand for more flexibility in manufacturing.”

ABB said automaker factories will continue to make vehicles with traditional internal combustion engines even as they boost output of EVs, hybrids and, on the horizon, hydrogen vehicles.

Companies will need to do all that inside of existing factories, Patrick Matthews, a group manager at ABB, said during the same presentation. Automotive companies would prefer new plants but “that’s not practical,” he said.

Matthews said vehicle manufacturing is shifting to cells, rather than traditional manufacturing lines.

EVs “are still more expensive” than traditional cars and trucks, he said. With a cell approach, he added, “you can drive that cost down. This is going to be critical.”

ABB has a lot riding on auto industry changes. It produces robots and equipment used in factories.

The automation company sponsored a report by Automotive from Ultima Media, the business intelligence arm of Ultima Media and Automotive Manufacturing Solutions (AMS).

Automakers and suppliers “face constraints and uncertainties in achieving this product and manufacturing transformation,” according to the report.

The automotive companies “must raise huge amounts of capital for technology R&D and to build new production capacities – especially in the battery supply chain,” the report said. “They will also have to face challenges in scaling up charging infrastructure, while navigating many different political and consumer headwinds.”

The report also stressed the need for manufacturing flexibility.

“The biggest production volume in the coming years will be on vehicle platforms that can accommodate ICE, hybrid and EV powertrains,” according to the report. “Electrification also brings new parameters for materials, battery cases and electronics. In many examples, OEMs will produce multiple powertrains and platforms on the same production line, increasing complexity in supply, scheduling and cycle times.” 

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