Schaeffler AG
Electric motors photo collage

Consortium Designs Agile, Digital Production System for Electric Motors

Jan. 12, 2022
Electric traction motors are essential for hybrid and all-electric powertrains. New research promotes flexible and digitalized production.

Automotive manufacturers have their marching orders—find a way to drive the future of electric vehicles.

It’s a tall order that requires an overhaul of the automotive production system. But it is one that Schaeffler’s Automotive Technologies Division is strategically preparing for.

The German manufacturer of rolling element bearings for automotive, aerospace and industrial uses, is leading a group of 17 partners—including scientists from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)—in a three-year project that will develop an agile and digitalized production system with a modular product concept for innovative electric cars.

Bringing academia and industry together, the consortium will develop a solution to the question of how electric motors can be manufactured flexibly and economically. The AgiloDrive2 research project will focus on ways to make electric motor production more flexible, sustainable and affordable on the basis of data-based production technologies, agile process chains and intelligent control architectures, noted Shaeffler’s press release.

The findings of the AgileDrive2 project will be translated into scalable electric motor production at a state-of-the-art plant currently under construction at Schaeffler’s Automotive Technologies Division in Bühl, Germany.

Agile Production

The AgileDrive2 project was preceded by AgileDrive, an 18-month pilot funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economics, Labor and Tourism and in collaboration with the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT). The initial phase used digital twins (virtual simulations of the real-time digital counterpart) to develop modular structures for electric motors and their production. Two demonstrators were fabricated as proof of concept for the implementation of a novel agile production system.

Electric motors come in many configurations and their topology may depend on the type of electrified powertrain or technical specifications, such as winding type, installation space, torque, continuous output and operating behavior. Schaeffler has the ability to offer electric motors that extend across all degrees of electrification for hybrid modules, hybrid transmissions and all-electric axle drives with a wide output range extending from 20 to over 300 kW.

“We are responding to the variety of versions and inconstancy in quantities with an agile production method, which we intend to develop and validate mutually in the AgiloDrive2 project,” explained Thomas Pfund, president of the E-Motors Business Unit at Schaeffler, in a press note.

The goal is to develop a versatile production system following a product/production co-design principle that will promote a close cooperation between product system and production system development. “Instead of rigid production lines, we will be looking to highly flexible, digitalized and efficient technology modules, which are easily scalable, permit flexible configurations and interlinking and can be established on a software basis,” said Pfund.

Plug & Produce

The research team will focus on developing a modular machine structure, which permits the reuse of production equipment in an efficient and sustainable way. Digital twins will permit efficient production planning and accelerated commissioning, while AI solutions further increase product quality, and digital qualification methods facilitate and expedite employee instruction.

Schaeffler noted that the culmination of standardized machine connections, hardware and software interfaces and cross-manufacturer communication standards should assist in accommodating the rising complexity and permit the rapid integration of systems in accordance with the “plug and produce” approach.

Not only will these agile approaches facilitate the operation of production systems at demand-based operating points, but they will also enable cost-reducing economies of scale through data-based process adaptation across different product series and technologies, explained Professor Jürgen Fleischer, head of the wbk Institute of Production Science at KIT and scientific project manager at AgiloDrive2.

Sustainable Mobility

The AgiloDrive2 project—consisting of the wbk Institute of Production Science, the Institute of Electrical Engineering (ETI), and the Institute of Product Engineering (IPEK) of KIT, as well as industrial partners—is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) with $18.57 million (€16.4 million) at a total project volume of $38.3 million (€33.7 million) over the next three years.

The project is expected to bolster international competitiveness of the German automotive industry by integrating electric mobility at both technical and economic levels, as well as to propel the industry toward sustainable energy and mobility.

The complete list of participating partners are KIT, Schaeffler, e-mobil BW GmbH, 4D GmbH, Braun Sondermaschinen GmbH, Carl Zeiss Industrielle Messtechnik GmbH, FormiKa GmbH, Gehring Technologies GmbH + Co. KG, Koob Testsystems GmbH, KUKA AG, LTB Bachofer GmbH, Magnet-Physik Dr. Steingroever GmbH, pro-beam systems GmbH, SCHUNK GmbH & Co. KG, Siemens AG, STAHL GmbH & Co. KG, TRUMPF Laser GmbH and WAFIOS AG.

This article appeared in Machine Design.

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