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Spearheading Electrification for Industry

The world of transport is undergoing the biggest change since the early 20th Century when the combustion engine pushed petrol powered vehicles to the forefront of automotive technology. This is due to the rapid move towards electric vehicle (E.V.) production and the parallel reduction in petrol-powered vehicles. Ford, for example, have announced that they will phase out most of the cars it sells in North America, with the exception of the Mustang and an as-of-yet-unannounced vehicle.

However, electric vehicles are not a new development at all, having first appeared back in the mid-19th Century. However, while an electric vehicle held the land speed record until around 1900, the short range and high cost of these early electric vehicles saw them lose ground to the later combustion engine vehicles. Sales of electric vehicles peaked in the early 1910s but, by 1912, the cost of an electric car was almost double that of a petrol car. While electric vehicles continued to be used for certain applications, such as milk floats and golf carts, it seemed as if the heyday of E.V. was over.

This is all set to change as electric vehicles are moving to the forefront once more with the last two years seeing global investment in E.V. technology reaching nearly $1 billion. This investment has seen a number of developments, including JCB developing the world’s first electric digger, Schiphol airport in Amsterdam running 35 electric buses to ferry passengers around, Volkswagen announcing a $25 billion investment in E.V. over 16 sites, and the Chinese government targeting the production of 7 million electric vehicles by 2025.

As investment in E.V. undergoes a dramatic rise, the model for car ownership may also be set to change in the light of E.V. and driverless technology. In addition, concerns over the environment and emissions are also pushing forward E.V. development, such as with the move from diesel to electric buses and construction vehicles allowing operators to continue to work in built-up environments without adding to air pollution.

In the realm of construction vehicles, Caterpillar are producing a 26-tonne excavator with a 300 kWh battery pack, while TYM of Korea and John Deere are both working on electric tractor concepts.

This drive towards electrification is not just confined to the automotive industry as aerospace and power generation are also becoming increasingly involved. For example, Rolls Royce have been working on progressing electric technology in the aerospace sector, while Airbus are investing £225 million to develop greener flights including the development of the E-Fan X alongside Rolls Royce and Siemens, and Boeing and Safran are working to produce the 12-seater Zunum Aero by 2022. Elsewhere, the ship-building industry is also investigating electrification, with Norway leading the way in developing an electric-powered fleet. 

All of these technologies will also need support from the power industry, with questions to be answered with regard to energy generation, storage and supply to power this next generation of electric vehicle technology.

However, before we can reach the point where electrification becomes the norm, there are a number of challenges for industry to overcome.

One of the primary challenges faced by those promoting E.V. is one of scale. For example, to move the UK fully away from combustion technology would require 2 million engines being replaced with battery units. With each battery unit requiring 10,000 welds, this equals a staggering 20,000,000,000 welds. Furthermore, each of these welds needs to be correct or else the battery unit will fail.

In addition to these challenges are those related to light-weighting of components, process improvements, and welding development, to name a few. Further to this are questions around power generation and storage, recharging, and safety with, for example, incorrect laser welding of the batteries liable to lead to fire.

The Advanced Propulsion Centre have produced a roadmap to determine the areas where developments need to occur. These include enhanced modelling and design tools capabilities, leveraging advanced digital and sensing technologies, improved surface treatments, improving the material characteristics of metals, polymers, hybrid and multifunctional materials, improving forming technologies, more efficient joining processes ,improvements to the environmental impact of vehicles in their production, use and end of life, and developing new manufacturing methods to reduce takt time, enable more complex geometries and reduce manufacturing steps.

TWI capabilities and expertise are able to match this roadmap to provide support for industry as we move towards an electrified future. Support can be provided in areas including weld development and knowledge transfer, process improvement, new and dissimilar materials, light-weighting, tooling, cylindrical prismatic and pouch cells, safety procedures for battery production, pre and low volume production as well as cross-industry interaction.

TWI are already working with a number of large companies and SMEs in this sector and have created strong relationships with bodies that are driving the change to electrification forward. With these links bringing together experts from around the world, TWI are in the perfect position to help promote and develop the future of electrification for automotive, aerospace, power, and beyond.

Avatar Nick Edge Business Development Consultant

Nick Edge had been working with TWI for over 30 years before joining the company in 2018 as a Business Development Consultant focusing on joining and the electric vehicle (EV) industry.

Nick has worked in many industries, but particularly the automotive industry in the UK, USA and around the world. He helped OEMs and tier 1 suppliers to develop new parts using friction welding and other joining techniques as well as working on the testing of EV power trains.

His primary focus is now on the changing materials and joining techniques needed for the revolution that is happening in the automotive market.