Electrical storm on the automotive industry horizon
With the EV becoming mainstream, supply chains must react
If you were a horse in the early 1900s, you’ll have likely had an empty diary. The automobile was rapidly taking over the roads and putting horses, and related industries, out to pasture. History seems to be repeating itself a century on, with the electric vehicle (EV) promising to make the internal combustion automobile a thing of the past. But are supply chains equipped to cope with such dramatic market changes? Here, Aleiya Lonsdale, head of marketing for the largest engineering event in the UK, Advanced Engineering UK discusses the challenges the automotive supply chain face.
Over a century ago, Henry Ford lit the touch-paper on the automotive industry. His idea of a moving assembly line, where cars are constructed quickly from prefabricated parts, allowed for faster and cheaper production of the Ford model T. His goal was to create a vehicle cheap enough that the line workers could afford one, paving the way for private vehicles and the bustling, car-centric world of today.
Over 100 years later, the EV is quickly becoming commonplace on the roads. Simultaneously, billions of pounds are tied up in automotive and affiliated industrial economies. Marrying these two seemingly incompatible issues falls to the supply chain.
Capacity is key
EVs differ from regular automobiles in many ways, some more obvious than others. Foremost is the replacement of a fuel tank with battery packs, and the internal combustion engine (ICE) with electric motors.
Currently, battery capacity is a major selling point of individual EVs, akin to fuel efficiency in ICE cars, as it directly impacts the range and performance. Unlike fuelled cars, recharging an EV from empty can take a long time, so a reliable battery and lengthy range is crucial.
Supply side, we’ve seen different solutions to this problem from different OEMs. Tesla, for instance, ensured availability of its battery packs by using generic, commonly produced and readily available Panasonic 18650 lithium-ion (Li-ion) cells — the same found in many e-cigarettes.
Furthermore, Tesla has invested heavily in centralised manufacturing facilities, coined “Gigafactories”, where it produces a differently dimensioned, higher energy density and efficiency 21700 Li-ion cell. This newer cell, co-developed with Panasonic, has pushed the range of Tesla EVs past 300 miles, which is comparable to the range of many petrol vehicles with a full tank.
Taking advantage of emerging markets
It’s easy to become dejected when hearing of these steps that EV OEMs are taking to secure their supply chains. After all, not every business can make such massive investments into infrastructure and proprietary manufacturing deals. The common theme between those examples is the reduction of supply uncertainty through, which is something that smaller enterprises can certainly aim for.
For instance, besides the battery packs, there are few other EV parts that require novel processes or exotic materials to produce. This uncovers a vast market of third party replacement parts to any enterprise with the wherewithal to seize the opportunity.
A further contributing factor to consider is the stark reduction in complexity between ICE and EV drive trains, meaning that as the EV market matures, the spares and repairs industry will be even bigger and livelier than that the huge maintenance industry ICEs enjoy today.
This is an exciting time for engineering — such huge changes don’t happen very often. The key to success during such times is to keep a close eye on the landscape, converse with peers and competitors and develop a roadmap that switches your ICE focused business over to managing EVs.
The best place to achieve those goals is at the largest engineering exhibition in the UK – Advanced Engineering UK. With an impressive amount of board-level decision makers in attendance and hundreds of exhibitors, as well as focused forums and speakers talking on the composites, aerospace, connected manufacturing and, of course, automotive industry, Advanced Engineering 2021 is the place to be this November. Sign up to exhibit or visit here.
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