Founder Günter Schuh sees e.Go production as an example of a precision factory. (Photo: Next.e.GO Mobile)
Factories that are the size of a store and not dozens of football fields. Factories that do not have assembly lines, but are made up of highly automated cells connected to each other via driverless transmission systems. Factories that produce high elasticity, Not in the strict cadence of Henry Ford, the factories referred to as precision factories – about which opinions differ slightly in the automobile world.
For example, a representative of the Automobile Industry Association notes that these plant concepts are not suitable for mass production requirements. Gunter Shu sees it differently, as he did during Car production summit 2021 advertiser: “We are so used to the auto industry that it has overcapacity, overproduction, and capital intensity that it forces us to trace development cycles through capital expenditures.” This is not good, which is shown at least in the Corona pandemic. Schuh is Professor of Production Methodologies at RWTH Aachen and founder and former managing director of electric vehicle manufacturer e.Go Mobile, now operating as Next e.GO Mobile.
Blockbuster vehicles became the exception
Schuh sees three reasons why the auto industry needs to rethink production: “The number of blockbuster compounds will go down. Only 10 to 20 percent achieve this status, and the large remainder will have to do much smaller amounts at the peak, at the peak line, and over a lifetime.” He quickly adds that his assessment could be wrong – it seems like an understatement.
The two other reasons, in Schuh’s view, that speak in favor of rethinking are the longer life cycles of vehicles: on the one hand, because of updates, as we know them from the mobile world, on the other hand because of new driving concepts and the associated opportunity that vehicles will have a smaller environmental footprint. “The car of the future will live 50 years or more, because the electric car The machine is indestructible.” If you adapt a car with it, “Then you get completely different vehicle structures, and that opens up the possibility of having microfactories.”shoes say. In his eyes, this means farewell to the existing architecture of the self-supporting body, because “big tool-making, body-body-building, paint-line – that doesn’t work with precision factories”.
Not surprisingly, Schuh sees e.Go production as an example of a precision factory. The models feature an aluminum frame construction that achieves a high degree of inherent rigidity. The outer part, made of thermoplastics, is fixed directly to the frame. Both procedures significantly reduce tool costs. Subsequent painting is also not necessary.
Access live micro factories
The British startup Access has also committed itself to the concept of precision factories. The first factory was built near London, where all-electric delivery trucks are produced. A second plant in South Carolina makes all-electric buses. The mini-factory in the United States required an investment of only $46 million. For comparison: Converting General Motors’ plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, to electric cars alone, consumes $2 billion. According to Michael Abelson, CEO of Access, his company’s two plants are designed with an annual capacity of 1,000 buses and 10,000 delivery trucks in two shifts.
Access is also based on new concepts in vehicle design. Composite materials instead of steel is the motto.. Glue or mechanical joints instead of welding. Thanks to flexible production, the vehicle design was adapted to this at a very early stage Customer-specific requirements can be taken into account, as they are common in the commercial vehicle segment, such as the size of the battery or the type and number of doors.
At the beginning of 2020, Hyundai and Kia have a strategic one with reach Partnership to develop electronic commercial vehicles Closed, mainly for the European market. Hyundai launches the equivalent of 80 million euros and Kia 20 million. Shortly thereafter announced his arrivalThat the startup will produce more than 10,000 vehicles for UPS Parcel Service by 2024. There is an option to deliver another 10,000 vehicles. The agreement is accompanied by a minority share of access from UPS Ventures.
Another US startup, Local Motors, used precision factories for production. Among other things, Local Motors manufactured independent pods and shuttles. But at the beginning of 2022, the money ran out and the company went out of business. E.Go Mobile also had to file for bankruptcy in 2020, but was bailed out by a new investor. Critics may object that, in light of these developments, no one has yet demonstrated that precision factories function economically in the long run. But this would be a bit short-sighted, because in both cases it was not production that was responsible for the repayment difficulties.
Quick reaction to fluctuations in demand
India’s technology consultancy LTI notes that precision plants can provide an answer to key requirements in automobile production: adaptive products, rapid innovation with adaptive processes, smart products, and flexibility in the supply chain. “On average, an OEM takes five to seven years on an assembly line to complete the production chain of a new line design or productWrite to consultants. On the other hand, precision factories allow for demand-driven work.
It’s no surprise that start-ups initially figured out the concept of precision factories for themselves: says Petra Voyth-Forster, Head of the Automotive Business Unit at IPA’s Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing and Automation Engineering: “Due to the lower investment costs, the barrier to entry to electric mobility drops significantly, particularly when it comes to specific markets such as last mile or city cars, where the quantities are not huge.” Anyone who starts from scratch also has the opportunity to approach things differently. “If a well-known OEM has a paint line and a printing shop, they have to use them to their maximum potential. Accordingly, they design the products in a way where technologies are traditionally used.”
No opportunity for assembly line
However, in the eyes of the mechanical engineer, the concept of precision factories is also important to OEMs. ‘I don’t believe in the future of the assembly line’According to Foyth-Forster. The future belongs to standard production systems because they can produce many more variants than a line. In addition, future automobile production should become more scalable.
“Manufacturers have also realized this, for example Audi with modular assembly in Geyer and Ingolstadt, Mercedes-Benz with plant 56 in Sindelfingen, Porsche with broken solid chains in production Taycan or Daimler trucks in a newly conceptualized one plant in Beijing.” It is true that the lines in existing factories can not always be completely redesigned for economic reasons, but in pre-assembly and In the sections one can act more flexibly, leave the line and use driverless transport systems. “This is how freely accessible process units that combine a high level of automation and scalability are created”Foyth-Forster says.
On behalf of Acatech, IPA will soon publish experience implementing cyber-physical matrix production systems, which it has created in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU. It deals with the question of how widespread normative systems are now in various sectors. “In the automotive and electronics industries as well as among power tool manufacturers, the matrix production approach has already reached a high level of maturity”summarizes Foith-Förster. “But it is particularly high in the semiconductor industry.” Now this branch of the industry cannot be compared with the automobile industry, “But comparing semiconductor production to machines or to building the shell is more appropriate — and could provide impetus.”