Conveyor technology for internal transport in the field of e-mobility

E-mobility and intralogistics belong together. Hybrid and electric vehicles are on the advance, overtaking cars with combustion engines in Germany from 2030. The EU-wide CO2 reduction rules require this change. E-mobility needs efficient automotive and battery manufacturers as well as suppliers. Germany is already the second-largest market for electric cars after China. The German automotive industry is facing a huge upheaval, which it must master in terms of innovations in the field of e-mobility and the integration of these vehicles into the electricity and transport infrastructure.

Intralogistics

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Production and intralogistics for the electromobility sector
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Intralogistics in the automotive industry

Whether they are manufacturers of components and products, parts suppliers or carmakers, all industrial companies involved in the manufacturing process in the automotive sector are characterized by highly complex logistics processes. Even the smallest change or deviation in intralogistics can have a serious impact on efficiency in the production process. Innovative transport systems use computer-aided information systems and artificial intelligence (AI) to make the flow of materials and information efficient.

In the field of vehicle manufacturing, the automation and self-control of conveyor technology plays an essential role. A car consists of 20,000 to 40,000 individual parts made of different materials. The production of the cars requires lean logistics, i.e. a cost-effective internal material flow with minimal inventories.

The conversion of production to electric vehicles presents the automotive industry with completely new challenges. Changes in the assembly and supply plants are necessary, the production of the required high-performance batteries, but especially the replacement of the drive are added.

Conversion of production for e-mobility

The focus is particularly on the production of power electronics and batteries. The latter are at the heart of e-mobility and pose a particular challenge to development and production.

In production, products ideally control assembly lines autonomously. Autonomous transport systems based on algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are indispensable here. Intralogistics with self-controlling objects forms an optimal basis for the necessary conversion of production in the direction of e-mobility.

Space-saving transport systems that ensure a smooth and efficient flow of materials and information from the warehouse to the end product, which are easily convertible, offer a competitive advantage over the competition.

The intelligent transport system montrac® from montratec meets these conditions. It increases flexibility in production and production volumes can be specifically adapted to actual demand.

Simplified assembly of e-cars

Electromobility requires extensive adaptation of production environments. Electric cars and vehicles with internal combustion engines differ essentially in the powertrain and power electronics. The e-car does not need an alternator, a starter or fuel and exhaust systems. The powertrain in particular comprises more than 1,000 components in the case of the internal combustion engine, whereas these are reduced to just a few hundred in the case of the e-car.

This eliminates complex and labor-intensive assembly steps and simplifies production. Car manufacturers can concentrate on assembling the relatively simple electric motors.

The simplified assembly process allows the automotive industry to increasingly use robots or automated equipment. However, the production of e-cars requires new manufacturing processes at the same time. These include winding, impregnating or sealing cables, and more extensive quality control of the installed electrical systems.

Production of electric instead of combustion engines

The conversion of production to electrically powered vehicles not only affects the assembly of the individual components, but the components themselves that are to be assembled also change. Internal combustion engines require complex casting and machining processes, whereas cylinders, crankcases, camshafts and linkages are unnecessary in the e-car.

They are replaced by components that are easier to produce. A stationary stator, a rotating rotor and electromagnets convert the electrical energy into mechanical energy.

Currently, electric motors are still produced in low volumes with low productivity or in highly specialized and very inflexible transfer lines, according to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

To support industry in the economical and variable production of electric motors, KIT 2020 initiated the AgiloDrive project. The goal of the research project, which is funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economics, Labor, and Housing, is an agile production system based on modular product- and production-specific technologies. AgiloDrive aims at advancing the economic and flexible production of electric motors of different variants, technologies, and quantities.

Production of power electronics

Power electronics is the key component of every electric drive. It forms the basis for the successful transition to e-mobility. Batteries are one thing, but only the successful use of power electronics ensures an efficient and reliable e-car. On the one hand, power electronics controls the electric drive and enables reversing, and on the other, it establishes the connection between the battery and the electric motor.

The simplest solution would be to use a commutated DC motor with brushes. This is contradicted by high maintenance requirements, low efficiency and a short service life.

Brushless DC motors are therefore used in electric vehicles. These require an inverter, usually a three-phase inverter, which supplies the motor with three-phase current that is variable in frequency and voltage. The interaction between the electric motor and the battery is handled by mini-computers. One challenge here is the constantly increasing demand for power while at the same time reducing weight.

A DC/DC converter, similar to the alternator in a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, is also required to produce the voltage for the low-voltage electrical system. The air conditioning, power steering, lighting and infotainment system are all connected to this.

Another component is the onboard charger. The traction battery needs direct current for charging, which is usually only supplied by gas pumps on the highways. Urban charging stations or the charging point at home usually only supply alternating current, which first has to be converted by the installed charging unit.

Technological progress and the constant further development of all system-relevant components require innovative production and flexible intralogistics. The manufacturing and conveyor systems must be easy to change and adapt. State-of-the-art production facilities alone are not enough for implementation; corresponding automated, modular and maximally flexible conveyor technology is needed.

Automated conveyor technology in battery production

It is an open secret that the development and production of batteries in the field of e-mobility are in a mess in Germany. Asia is the undisputed pioneer, and the German and European automotive industries are falling into a dangerous dependency. This is because Asian manufacturers have experience in production that German producers have yet to acquire.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI in Karlsruhe examined the question of which factors are important for competitive battery production. It was found that a key point is the geographical proximity to the respective customer. This is prompting more and more Asian manufacturers to expand battery cell production capacities in Europe. This even outweighs the disadvantages of higher manufacturing costs at European locations.

A competitive advantage for German or European companies in the future could be batteries with higher energy density and, fast charging capability, with lower production costs at the same time and the use of renewable energies in battery production. Currently, high labor costs are still allocated to research and development. Further optimization and automation of manufacturing and intralogistics processes should significantly improve the competitiveness of German companies. The focus is on developing technologically superior batteries at a competitive price.

The production process of traction batteries must take place in a clean and dry environment with a maximum of 2% relative humidity. Furthermore, the wearing of antistatic work clothing and protective measures against electrostatic discharge (ESD) are required in battery production.

This also applies to the conveyor technology automation used. The conveyors must guarantee safe and efficient transport of the battery cells. montratec has the necessary experience. The montrac® Cleanroom Shuttle MSH4 CR transports products in cleanrooms between different production steps.

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Conclusion

Conveyor technology for in-plant transport in the e-mobility sector is becoming increasingly important. In order to be able to compete with Asian manufacturers in battery production as a global player, cost-effective and efficient manufacturing and innovative intralogistics solutions are needed. The use of integrated transport and process solutions with intelligent control is indispensable.

The modular monorail system montrac® ensures optimal process chaining. From batch size one to high-volume production, it supports the production and in-plant transport of components in the field of e-mobility in the automotive industry.