Increased yields can help drive emobility uptake!

The benefits of renewable energy sources such as water, wind and solar power are well known, and electric cars are not a new concept.  However, to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, which will be exhausted in just one century, efficient ways of mass producing the cells need to be established.

The electric motor can be up to four times more efficient than the combustion engine.  Given the finite nature of fossil fuels, the uptake of electric cars or emobility as it is now called is inevitable.  However, what does this mean for automation technology?  Steve Sands, Product Manager at Festo GB, reviews the current situation.

eleccarFossil fuels are expected to be depleted by 2112 and a report by WWF says that in Great Britain one in 17 cars by 2020, and one in six by 2030, must be electric if they are  to meet emission targets and bring an end to a dependence on oil.  This means that 1.7 million electric vehicles  will need to be put on the road by 2020 and then treble take-up of the technology in the following decade if it is to meet its climate change targets.

However, there were only 1,052 claims on the British government electric car subsidy in 2011 and one of the barriers to the adoption of electric vehicles is their cost.  Despite government grants the vehicles are still expensive, constrained in supply and there are too many good conventional alternatives.

For electric cars to compete against Britain’s fleet of 31m fossil fuel cars they need to be more affordable.  Consumers will only accept emobility suitable for daily use when the batteries allow a sufficient distance to be travelled and their cost does not increase the vehicle price compared with an equivalent petrol or diesel model.

Expensive batteries
Currently between 30 and 40 per cent of the cost of electric vehicles is down to the battery.  Battery production manufacturing costs are high and there is a lot of research into alternative materials and processes.  For now, one way to reduce cell costs is through increasing efficiency in automation.

The problem is that battery lithium-ion production is still predominately a manual process with a large number of individual steps.   During the battery manufacturing process, two battery cells are bonded by a foil.  Each cell is bonded to a copper plate and several double cells are combined to form a battery pack.  With conventional automation processes the cells can only be gripped in certain places using vacuum generators. This means that reliable holding of the cell is not guaranteed.

The handling of sensitive lithium-ion cells is a major challenge for battery manufacturers as the cells can be easily damaged or contaminated during the manufacturing process.  If we are to eventually have efficient mass production, we need to set up technologically flexible electrode and cell production for the manufacture of battery prototypes with a high degree of standardisation and automation.  Mechatronic solutions which integrate expertise from different areas of process and factory automation and transfer it to the latest technologies in battery production look promising.

Air bearings as a solution
ads-tec, a company which develops automated production systems for high performance lithium energy storage devices first developed a production method for automating the bonding, feeding and handling of cells on a laboratory scale.  The aim was to provide production facilities that would allow the fast, low cost production of cells and battery systems.

festoemobilityEngineers worked with Festo to develop a new front-end solution for handling lithium-ion cells, with an air bearing.  The ATBT air bearing was initially designed for use in the solar or electrical manufacturing industry.  It produces an evenly distributed layer of air on its fine surface, which allows delicate objects to glide smoothly, enabling the reliable contactless transport of sheets of glass and delicate film.

Festo’s experts have now applied the technology to battery production, by making use of a reverse effect.  Instead of ‘blowing’ air, the air bearing draws a vacuum which is distributed over the large surface.  Their ATBT suction pad has been used in a battery bonding prototype machine, where it is ideal for handling, clamping and holding the delicate cell packs during production

FT01354As the new air bearing grips the entire surface of the battery plate, the bonding process is no longer prone to stress fractures caused during production.  It is proving to be an effective solution for efficient automation processes and increasing productivity.

Despite their higher costs the level of acceptance for electric cars is growing worldwide.  This applies in particular to the emerging markets of China and India, where mobility is also rising.  92% of people in India and 88% in China are willing to consider an electric car if buying a new car within the next five years.  In Britain and France this figure is only 57%, but the number is rising and production innovation will help reduce costs and bring forward the emobility revolution!

Wireless NVH test solutions to offset growing clout of second-hand test equipment market

Environmental noise applications poised to drive the market over the next 5 years

The economic downturn of 2008-2009 had a significant impact on the global noise, vibration, harshness (NVH) test equipment market revenues, with the market experiencing considerable decline in 2009.

The major contributor to this decline was the automotive market – the largest end-user for NVH test equipment. However, going forward, the automotive industry is once again anticipated to provide growth opportunities.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Analysis of the NVH Test Equipment Market, finds that the market earned revenues of $809.3 million in 2010 and estimates this to reach $1,053.8 million in 2015.

Environmental noise applications are expected to drive the market over the next 5 years.

“Limiting environmental noise has grown in importance over the past decade, especially in Europe,” notes Frost & Sullivan Research Associate Nikhil Jain. “With extensive research published on the harmful effects of environmental noise on people, government agencies globally have introduced legislations regulating the amount of environmental noise, supporting continued growth in this segment.”

Although the Asia Pacific NVH test equipment market is mature, it is relatively less mature than North America and Europe. There is still significant growth potential in this region. China and India accommodate the two largest populations in the world. Their expanding population has triggered demand for key consumer electronics such as mobile phones, washing machines and refrigerators, among others. It has also boosted demand for automobiles.

“This demand will translate into significant investment in R&D from consumer electronics and automotive industries to develop innovative products that capture the market,” elaborates Nikhil. “These R&D projects require investment in NVH test equipment as well.”

The biggest restraint to market expansion is expected to be the ever-increasing second-hand market for test equipment. This restraint is expected to have a significant impact on the global NVH test equipment market in the short-term.

“The second-hand test equipment market received a huge boost during the economic downturn as there were significant budget cuts and end users grew increasingly price conscious,” explains Nikhil. “With NVH being a key test criterion in most product development lifecycles, end users invested in relatively low-priced second-hand equipment.”

With advancement in technology and the projected reduction in the price of NVH test equipment over the long-term, this restraint will have a progressively lower impact.

“The advent of wireless NVH test solutions is set to change the outlook of the industry,” concludes Nikhil. “The investment being made by NVH test solutions vendors to develop feasible wireless NVH test solutions is enormous and the adoption of these wireless solutions is set to offset the second-hand market.”

Testing of electric motors for automotive applications

For its test benches used in both laboratory and in production, Unus International chose the turnkey MEROBEL solution.
UNUS International manufactures DC motors 12 – 24 – 48 V mainly used as servomechanism equipments for the automotive and the industrial automation industries.
Founded in the 70s in Padova (I), UNUS  moved in 1995 to Rival di Pianiga (Venice), employs currently about 60 people, with a production of more than 2,000,000 pieces per year.
Including the main following automotive appliance motors and gear motors
– Windows, sunroofs, sunshades, mechanisms
– Seats movement and adjustment
– Steering column;
– Implemented automatic gearbox
The global product range includes also additional motor based equipment for other industries, such as, control of sliding doors, overhead, gates and automation in general.

Technical skills and flexibility are the company main values, allowing lower time to be spent in designing, prototyping and manufacturing the initial samplings of new products. This organisation ensures a fast response to a wide range of market needs, with full management of the time-to-market issues.

“Our mission is to offer a product tailored to the needs of the customer, for which the technical level and quality are a crucial issue” said engineer Massimo Melato, Unus International’s General Manager. “At the starting point are our policies on quality and continuously renewed R & D, but also design, production and business organization in general, with the constant target of improving customer satisfaction.”

“Our excellent results, achieved in the domestic and foreign markets with high-tech content products, confirm that we are working in the good direction, while we are continuously improving both our competitiveness and our quality. By the way, UNUS’ motors and gear motors are used as first equipment by major German car manufacturers as well as by the most important automation systems manufacturers”

The strategic importance of testing
Among the reasons for its success, and in addition to the company technological skills, are the high reliability and quality of its production.

The company is among the 100 successful Italian companies mentioned in the 3rd Eurispes report. To ensure such level of excellence, products testing (during production, but also in the laboratory during the design period), gets an absolute strategic importance.

Specialized test benches have been especially set-up for testing 100% of the motors dedicated to automotive industry. “This is primarily for motorized windows, seat moving, canopy opening, adjustable steering column and tendon movement,” says Eng. Melato. “We are currently developing a motor designed to operate the compressor for the pneumatic suspension of the car. The related test benches were not designed for a particular customer’s application. UNUS has collected all directives from many car manufacturers and has developed versatile test benches able to meet all those specifications.
“Usual solutions found on the market are generally intended to satisfy the widest possible range of applications,” says Eng. Melato, “but in the other hand they are not fully matching the specific needs and tasks we need them to play. Having built the test benches in our own company and having developed its control software by ourselves means they are targeted to our requirements or,  rather, the real needs of our customers. “

In the manufacturing process, each motor is tested, both regarding the main working parameters and the noise level. “To proceed with these tests, we have currently 4 testing cabins equipped with MEROBEL brakes,” he says. “The test cycle is 5 and 10 seconds duration, depending on the type of motor, with a daily production of about 8,000 pieces. “

The other test benches are located in the laboratory –where 5 systems are equipped with MEROBEL brakes- in order to check the reliability of the motors and gear motors, through lifetime and fatigue tests.
For such processes, the testing cycle duration is much longer. Some endurance tests, with long cycles and aging simulation through heat cycles in climatic chamber, may take up to 60 days.

These are therefore two very different applications from each other.
“In the laboratory, the tests are mainly dedicated to simulate the working cycle of the motors with different load cycles (ie, with different torque levels) and different environmental conditions (including thermal shocks, temperature range from -40 ° C to 90 ° C and different values of relative humidity) for a certain number of cycles or until the motor’s end of life,” according to Melato. “Then, we use a well-defined duty cycle, according to the specifications of customers”. During the motors test duration, each single parameter is constantly monitored and recorded (Current consumption, speed, torque and temperature).
When the motor does not meet the qualifications or does meet a default (eg an overheating, a premature wear of the brushes or the collapse of some component), it is removed for an analysis of the trouble reasons and for applying the needed improvements. After modification, the test is fully repeated for a second time, which leads to get the requested motor quality.

The unique goal is for the motor to meet all customer’s specifications and once it has entered into production to get zero waste.

The same procedure is also used once a year for products tests, in order to check that nothing has changed over the time.

Robust and reliable EMP Brakes – User’s friendly closed loop controllers
To simulate on the test benches the variable load that the motor is supposed to meet during his life, Unus chose a complete solution based on MEROBEL components, with the help of the company’s local subsidiary ANDANTEX SpA.

The chosen components were EMP brakes (type FAT120), torque sensor (type TRS50), and a closed loop controller (type DGT300).

“ANDANTEX advised us about the MEROBEL brakes to be used in this application as well as about the control unit and the various parameters to be set according to our specifications, A true partnership was established with ANDANTEX about the supply of the brakes all along the application development. In particular, sharing expertise with our customized software designers, was crucial to get the final test systems fully matching our needs. “

The wide range of solutions offered by MEROBEL includes high-tech actuators such as EMP brakes and clutches, digital controllers, sensors and transducers. The specific know-how acquired by the company allows to offer optimal solutions for almost any kind of variable torque application system, according to its specific requirements.

MEROBEL EMP (ElectroMagnetic Particles) Brakes and Clutches range are made of two concentric rotors, the outside and the inside ones, separated by a gap where are located the magnetic particles.

Variation of the magnetic field in the gap (created by a variable DC current coil fed) leads to a variable “fluidity” of the magnetic particle, and leads to a smooth and variable mechanical coupling between the two rotors (variable torque).
This specific technology guarantees a stable torque, reproducible and independent of the speed of rotation, as well as easily adjustable with a low DC current level.
Among the main features of MEROBEL EMP brakes and clutches, are the proportionality between to the applied current and the provided torque, the independence between torque and speed, the bidirectional operation, very low wear and noiseless operation.
In addition, MEROBEL EMP brakes and clutches are offering low maintenance, fast response time (10 to 50 ms), low electric power consumption, linear response, very easy remote control features, and easy integration in any type of test systems.

“We have been very pleased with the MEROBEL products and the support from ANDANTEX” concluded Eng. Melato. “We had first the MEROBEL Brakes installed at the production test benches.  And even if the requests were quite higher, we have now extended the use of these brakes to the laboratory test benches with great success”.