This decade is expected to see mainstream adoption of electric vehicles. This guest article by Himanshu Jadhav explores how Automation, assisted by industry 4.0 solutions, can help EV makers build advanced electric vehicles on a large scale with necessary safety measures in place.
On January 29, 1886, a fine gentleman named Carl Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle powered by a gasoline engine.” The patent – number 37435 – may be regarded as the birth certificate of the automobile. Since then, the internal combustion engine vehicle has immensely evolved over the decades to fit its powertrain much more efficiently.
Approach towards EV manufacturing
The challenge lies in fitting the powertrain in an electric vehicle efficiently. EV design and powertrain fitment is an intricate affair that needs vehicle design considerations from ground up rather than a ‘fill-in’ approach that looks to fit an electric powertrain in an ICE vehicle body. Industry leaders in the EV manufacturing sector advise against drawing parallels between the assembly processes for EVs and IC engine vehicles. Unfortunately, the common business model of manufacturing electric vehicles in India involves importing the EV components from countries like China and US, and assembling them into the vehicle bodies used for IC engine vehicles.
Unique challenges with EV manufacturing and battery assembly set ups
1. When it comes to EVs, it is important to note that even though the overall number of components is fewer, the procedure to assemble these individual components is complex. The way operations are to be managed for manufacturing EVs need to differ from their IC engine counterparts.
The EV components by nature are sensitive parts. While assembly, each component has to be handled with utmost care. e.g. Ensuring that there is NO STATIC charge present while assembling the parts is essential. Even the operators who are working in EV manufacturing set up need to be ‘grounded’ by using ESD bands and ESD shoes (ESD = Electro Static Discharge). The testing facilities and the charging stations used in EV are HIGH VOLTAGE machines and need high level of safety measures to be implemented.
2. The components that go into an EV require utmost caution when being assembled together. Any kind of deviations or errors in the assembly process might pose a risk to the safety level of the vehicle, and might as well hamper the process security of the assembly setup.
e.g. During Li-ion battery pack assembly – While tightening the busbars, each battery pack has close to 180-200 bolts. Even one bolt either not tightened or tightened with less torque can cause a short circuit. Sealant application between the cells or to join the top and bottom halves of a pack, when not applied in the right quantity or in the right place can lead to leakage and water ingress.
Similarly in the PCB assembly, small parts, thermal pads etc need to be ensured via camera systems to ensure that no deviation occurs.
The need of automation & Industry 4.0 solutions
Since there is a lack of proper regulation when it comes to setting up these facilities, the onus is on the manufacturers to ensure that they build facilities that provide the required standards of safety and process security. However, we have observed a significant lack of competency and experience when it comes to building secure manufacturing setups for EVs and battery packs, especially among new companies who do not have an existing business with set standards and rigid controls in place. Though FAME 2 is trying to push the capital in, but lack of guidelines for setting up factories and the lack of experience and expertise pose a serious threat.
For a country like India, availability of manpower might not seem like a problem. But since most of the labour is available on a contractual basis, the liability of training every batch of workers to the required standards puts OEMs in a highly difficult position.
There is also an uncertainty of requirement in terms of volume from the market, and the flexible manufacturing setups that are required to meet these changing demands are unavailable. In case of a product recall, these setups limit the scope of effectively tracing the defects that are causing the recall.
How automation can help
Automation, powered by the solutions of the 4th Industrial Revolution is set to play a big role in the future of EV manufacturing. Some examples are given below:
– For critical components like PCBs that include numerous parts, usage of pick to light racks at the assembly station will ensure that the right parts are picked in the right sequence.
– For operations that require bolting, using an automated system that will feed the bolts and tighten them in the required sequence and torque, will eliminate the possibilities where a manual operation might have caused errors.
– Solutions like operator guidance systems for assembly stations, data analytics, and vision systems for inspection make sure that the assembly process is seamless, and vastly reduce the margin of error.
The above approach has been put in practice and has resulted in evident success in many cases within the Indian EV industry. The idea is to have a more HUMAN centric approach, make the existing workforce more efficient and ensure that we have solutions which avoid errors in process.
The market for EVs is rising and will continue to do so. If we want to stably sail on this wave of electric vehicle production, becoming self-reliant will be our biggest asset. We have the innovative abilities to make solutions to eradicate our specific issues and not ape the west or our neighbors. Our challenges are unique and so should be our solutions.
Automation need not necessarily mean high costs. Automation is also not a solution ONLY for increasing productivity. In India, in our current scenario, manual flex lines, with automation where product quality is vital, with low-cost digital solutions to control process security, is in our opinion the way forward. The extent to which these solutions can be used for our benefit, is limitless. As OEMs in India start adopting Industry 4.0 enabled automation setups, we move closer to realise our ambitions of becoming atma-nirbhar.
About the author
Himanshu Jadhav, CEO- Jendamark India. Headquartered in South Africa, Jendamark has been in the automation space since 3 decades. Jendamark India has been a pioneer in the Indian EV Industry since 2017-18 and has set up several battery pack lines, motor lines, drivetrain, Inverters and MCU/VCUs lines.
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