High cost, range anxiety and lack of charging infrastructure are some of the well-known hindrances in the wide-scale adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). Besides, there are challenges related to designing and manufacturing of EVS. Rakesh Rao interacts with industry experts to find feasible solutions to some of these lingering issues.
In June this year, the Chinese start-up firm NIO started the commercial sale of ES8 – its first electric, all-aluminium vehicle developed in association with India’s Tata Technologies – a part of the Tata Group that also owns Tata Motors. Since mid-2015, Tata Technologies has been engaged with NIO to drive major engineering aspects related to the development of ES8, such as body structures, closures and exteriors, advanced manufacturing engineering, PLM and off-car connectivity.
NIO ES8 is not an ordinary one. It broke lightweight index benchmarks and evolved from inception to road-ready vehicle in record time. “Tata Technologies’ 5R Rightweighting methodology is a tried and tested formula that delivers the Right Performance at the Right Price, by applying the Right Amount of the Right Material in the Right Place. Our recent claim to fame is the delivery of the Nio ES8, the all-aluminum EV from China that has broken benchmarks of even German OEMs,” claims Anand Bhade, President – Asia Pacific Sales & Global Marketing & Communications, Tata Technologies.
Electric vehicles are gaining traction in India with the primary aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on oil imports. “While the digital and electrical revolution in the automotive industry is encouraging, it also places a lot on the shoulders of automakers and their engineering partners to deliver the best and do it ahead of time. For the major established car makers, phasing out internal combustion engines (ICEs) and electrifying their entire fleet implies substantial challenges,” opines Anand Bhade.
Investment challenges to the extraction of raw materials needed for battery production are emerging as a critical issue. Widely available charging stations and increasing consumer acceptance are also the critical factors for replacing conventional transportation in India. He states, “Administrations around the world are laying down stricter standards for fuel efficiency, CO2 emissions and this is the context that makes lightweighting an absolute necessity. Technically speaking, there are several ways to reduce CO2 emissions and improve fuel economy of a vehicle overall, but there is none as cost-efficient as reducing vehicle weight.”
Lightweighting: Is Al the answer?
Still now India has not reached the volume for any mass manufacturing activity for EVs, thus resulting in cautious investment. “It will take time for volumes to pick up. Another challenge is the lightweighting of the vehicle vs the cost of manufacturing. The lightweighting is possible with aluminium and many of the leading EV OEMs are already using aluminium in western countries. The knowledge, expertise, infrastructure, manufacturing cost and capital investment for processing equipment for induction of aluminium part is still not explored well in India and this will happen as the volume increases,” says V V Kamath, Managing Director, Fronius India Pvt Ltd, which is active in the fields of welding technology, photovoltaics and battery charging technology.
While globally OEMs are increasingly turning to aluminium for lightweighting, there are a plenty of challenges in welding aluminium. Aluminium is fast conductor of heat and, since the possibility of distortion is high, it requires different clamping jig & fixtures.
Kamath explains, “Aluminium does not change colour when heated, making it difficult to know if it is overheated. Hence, less heat input is required. Also, the aluminium oxide layer has higher melting point than the aluminium and this makes the welding process difficult. For several decades, Fronius has handled these difficulties very well and made technologies in welding of aluminium. Today in this county maximum aluminium radiators, defence bridges, Coast Guard interceptor boats, aerospace components & scaffolding of buildings and many more aluminium components are welded using Fronius aluminium welding technology.”
As companies in India also turn to aluminium for making car parts, Fronius – which provides welding solutions for premium cars like Audi A8, Mercedes AMG and Tesla Electric S Model – is bullish about growth in India. “Maximum battery housing across the globe are produced using Fronius technology. So we are all geared up for welding of aluminium and willing to transfer the technology to OEMs and tier 1 & 2 suppliers. Some of the OEMs are already shifting to aluminium parts in India and a few of the two-wheeler makers are also looking forward to use aluminium solution from Fronius,” informs Kamath.
Solution providers like Fronius are eyeing huge opportunities in the EVs space in India. “Fronius has expertise in providing total solution for lithium ion battery box housing (including the robot, power source, cell and technology transfer). Fronius is the only company that has the technology to join steel with aluminium. In the two-wheeler segment, we have special process for aluminium frame and offer the same for the lighter and aesthetic frames,” says Kamath.
Robots: Lending a helping hand
Some of the challenges involved in the manufacturing of EVs are charging stations, battery life and new material which will be used in body in white (BIW) manufacturing. BIW refers to the stage in automotive design or automobile manufacturing in which a car body’s sheet metal components have been welded together. Manufacturers are using robotic technologies for solving some of these manufacturing challenges. Vikas Swami, Vice President, KUKA Robotics India Pvt Ltd, explains, “For volumes, robotics can play a major role as they can offer complete assembly lines for batteries where online inspections can be added with the help of artificial intelligent (AI). Additionally, lightweight aluminium alloys will be used to reduce BIW mass and these materials will have to be welded, rivetted or glued by using special technologies including laser which are best implemented using robots.”
Companies like KUKA are already offering new joining solutions which include composite welding, laser welding, battery assembly lines and standalone cells. “Mobile robotics along with human robot collaboration is introduced in assembly lines to take out workforce from shop floor logistics and use them in more productive work where their cognitive skills can be better used,” informs
Back to the Drawing Board
It is not just manufacturing, but even vehicle designing will need a different perspective for EVs. Electric cars must be designed from ground-up; simply retrofitting existing car bodies with new batteries and components would not do. The design process for the electric vehicle is different as the driveline architecture, power source and vehicle dynamic parameter requirements are completely different from internal combustion engines (ICEs). Some of major components required for EVs are high voltage traction batteries, AC/DC motors, torque converters, power electronics and control modules like inverter/controller, DC-DC converter, BMS, chargers etc.
Manoz Kumar M Tirupati, Chief Engineer (Automotive Systems), Tata Elxsi, elucidates, “Compared to a modern electric drivetrain, ICE is far more complex. It requires a crankshaft with counterweights to translate the linear motion of the pistons into rotational motion, a flywheel to smoothen the power output, a starter motor for cranking, an alternator to charge the battery, a cooling system, an exhaust system and a host of other gadgets that an electric motor doesn’t need. An induction motor, which produces direct rotational motion and uniform power output, is smaller, lighter and far beyond NVH performance, and does not need a complicated transmission to connect it to the drive wheels.”
Vehicle electrification has been increasingly recognised as the most promising road transportation solution for both the global energy crisis and increasingly stringent requirements related to environmental protection and vehicle safety. However, the biggest challenge for the electrification technologies is that it requires to maximise the energy efficiency and effective integration of power electronics, without sacrificing performance, cost-efficiency and safety.
“Electrification of automotive systems presents significant design challenges too, specifically related to drivetrain systems, chassis design and layout, multi-disciplinary power management and optimisation, system integration, and vehicle dynamics and control. Electric vehicles are complex mechatronic systems; their design requires holistic consideration of the vehicle and tyre dynamics, powertrain, electric motors and batteries, and control and estimation modules,” says Manoz Kumar.
Owing to firmer emission regulations, ideal fuel efficiency numbers and the drive towards creating a sustainable future, the automotive industry has been undergoing a huge transition and electric vehicles is a part of this change. Additionally, the demand for hybrid electric vehicles has been at its peak due to rising fuel prices. There has been an increasing demand for HEV/EV solutions in the market.
Tata Elxsi has been extensively working in various aspects of the electric vehicles space especially in powertrain development, from program management to calibration and software development. Tata Elxsi also partners with leading OEMs and suppliers in green initiative programs. Manoz Kumar elaborates, “Our hybrid vehicles enable customers to develop clean automotive solutions in the areas of requirement engineering, technical consulting, algorithm development, model-in-loop testing, software-in-loop testing, and production level ECU prototyping, hardware-in-loop on the component level, integration, and system level validation. Tata Elxsi has successfully created methods and techniques to provide architectural solutions and incorporate safety integrity functions in compliance with ISO 26262.”
Electric vehicles face three rudimentary challenges across the world – long charging times, range anxiety (limited driving range) and high upfront cost. To overcome this, various models of charging like fast charging and battery swapping are being mooted across the world. But for a country as vast like India fit-for-all solutions may not be practically possible.
“For a country like India, with a diverse transportation system, different energy solutions for different applications need to be considered. For example, personal vehicles (2-wheelers) with low-usage – usually not more than 30-40 km per day- which includes fixed and predictable routes like commuting to office, school, etc, needs only occasional charging and can make use of home charging pods,” explains Yuvraj Sarda, Senior Manager (Business Development & Strategy), Sun Mobility.
On the other hand, vehicles used for commercial purposes like delivery and bike taxis, have a daily usage of about 60-150 km with unpredictable routes and not enough time for charging. In such a scenario, he says, battery swapping will be an ideal choice as it would aid in quick replacement of battery resulting in minimal down time.
The same logic applies to other modes of transportation like three wheelers (3W), four wheelers (4W) and buses. “Applications such as personal cars, vehicles (buses, vans) used for staff transportation, fixed-route last mile connectivity etc can be powered by fast charging stations and for applications such as auto rickshaws, taxis, goods delivery and public transport buses, battery swapping technology is more ideal. Whatever the mode of charging, it is necessary to ensure that cost economics are viable for the end user,”opines Yuvraj Sarda.
Through its smart mobility solution, Sun Mobility – whose co-founder is Chetan Maini (who pioneered the EV revolution in India by developing the country’s first electric car Reva) – aims to make mass adoption of EVs a reality by offering a faster, more convenient and a cost-effective way of ‘refueling’ infrastructure. “The innovative approach of separating battery from the EV (at the time of purchase) and offering it on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ model is unique and creates a compelling value proposition to an electric vehicle user. By creating batteries to be swappable and enabling it to be swapped in a few minutes through a network of interchange stations is revolutionary technology in EV ecosystem,” elaborates Yuvraj Sarda.
Sun Mobility’s energy infrastructure solution for EVs (buses, 3W and 2W) consists of smart batteries (which are standard across multiple vehicles); Quick interchange stations (which manages the batteries & its charging and enables a quick swap of these batteries); Smart network that is an IoT-based cloud platform connecting all the batteries and stations to enable seamless (interchange) service delivery; and Plug-n-Play kit that allows EV OEMs to integrate swappable batteries quickly through a standard dock (where battery is placed).
EVs creating new business propositions
India is at a tipping point in electric mobility. The Government of India’s initial bold moves towards its target of going completely electric by 2030 has spurred the electric vehicle (EV) ecosystem. Yuvraj Sarda elaborates, “Sectors such as energy and mobility are coming together. Also, the growing shared mobility sector is a low hanging fruit that is getting a lot of attention from the government and private sector. And, as the pieces of the different segments start to unravel, exciting and new opportunities are opening up for companies and entrepreneurs in EV manufacturing, charging infrastructure, battery solutions, and energy solutions, to name a few.”
The contribution of the automobile industry to the national GDP is expected to grow from over 7 percent at present to 12 per cent in the coming decade. “Over 45 per cent of the manufacturing GDP stems from the automobile industry. Coupled with a global growth rate of 60 percent in EVs, India has the opportunity to become a global player in the space and truly make a transformation,” opines Yuvraj Sarda.
Get ready for green mobility
EV is the buzz word today as the demand pressure on gasoline is too much. Processing and logistic of gasoline is quite high so it will be used where other energy sources cannot be used. Emphasis is on alternate energy source for vehicles which is non-polluting and can be generated locally. “If we can increase battery life after one charge to last 200-250 km, it would be ideal situation. Additionally, recharge time needs to be brought down to 15-20 minute. High vehicle density in India would demand this,” says Vikas Swami of KUKA Robotics.Country like India needs economical commuting solution. So EV market will grow exponentially provided vehicle cost is not too high. Vikas Swami says, “EV industry would bring new vehicles on road as well as inside the manufacturing plants (shop floor logistics), airports, hospitality sector, etc. Hence, there will be growth opportunities for every industry sector related to EV manufacturing.”
Environment awareness is gaining among the citizens, who are willing to join the government’s initiative to address the pollution issues. Electrification is leaving its impact on many of the industrial activities and automotive sector will surely follow this trend. “Today, for example, everyone is buying only the electric fork lift which is used inside the factory. Railways is undergoing electrification and replacing diesel locomotives. This is a revolution, which is not being noticed by media and outside market. This reflects that the industry is slowly revolutionising towards green mobility! Same way the transport sector will also catch up with the change in battery technology. Green mobility is not a dream, but will soon become a reality,” opines Kamath.
While the digital and electrical revolution in the automotive industry is encouraging, it also places a lot on the shoulders of automakers and their engineering partners to deliver the best and do it ahead of time.
– Anand Bhade,President – APAC Sales & Global Marketing & Communications, Tata Technologies
The knowledge, expertise, infrastructure, manufacturing cost and capital investment for processing equipment for induction of aluminium part is still not explored well in India and this will happen as the volume increases.
– V V Kamath, MD, Fronius India Pvt Ltd
Lightweight aluminium alloys will be used to reduce BIW mass and these materials will have to be welded, rivetted or glued by using special technologies including laser which are best implemented using robots.
– Vikas Swami, VP, KUKA Robotics India Pvt Ltd
Electrification of mautomotive systems presents significant design challenges too. EVs are complex mechatronic systems and their design requires holistic consideration.- Manoz Kumar M Tirupati, Chief Engineer (Automotive Systems), Tata Elxsi
For a country like India, with a diverse transportation system, different energy solutions for different applications need to be considered. Whatever the mode of charging, it is necessary to ensure that cost economics are viable for the end user.
– Yuvraj Sarda, Sr Manager (Business Development & Strategy), Sun Mobility
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