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What does e-mobility mean for progressive die stamping? Here’s our perspective.

February 25, 2021

E-mobility and battery electric vehicles are a hot topic lately. According to a recent issue of Today’s eMobility, major automakers have announced or begun $11.6 billion in plant investments in 2020 to support electric vehicles (EVs). And then there’s GM’s recent announcement of their intention to eliminate tailpipe emissions from their new light-duty vehicles by 2035. And in daily life, battery-electric and hybrid vehicles seem to show up in more and more streets, parking lots, and garages around the world.

With the potential to turn the auto industry on its head, not to mention the countless suppliers, OEMs, vendors, and workers that support it, manufacturers need to look ahead and plan for the consequences. In the post, we’ll share our take on electric car basics and the implications for progressive die stamping.

The Cars of the Future are Here Now

The shift away from internal combustion engines and toward electric vehicles is in full swing: it’s not a matter of if or even when anymore. While a handful of hybrids and other alternative fuel vehicles have been on the market for years, auto OEMs are starting to ramp up design and production on a large scale. But will consumers buy them?

Range Anxiety Dissipates

What’s often called range anxiety still holds many potential customers back. After all, who wants to buy a vehicle that will need frequent recharging and has very limited options for a “fill up” away from home?

But as battery life improves, and charging infrastructure continues to expand, that anxiety is lessening. The Edison Electric Institute, which tracks electricity use, reported an 81 percent increase in EV purchases from 2017 to 2018. What’s more, as the technology takes hold in the marketplace, costs are coming down and reliability improves. Many models use lithium-ion batteries, which have a higher capacity and longer life. The bottom line is that with more options for point-of-need charging and more time between charges, relying on a battery electric vehicle for daily and long-distance travel is realistic for many drivers.

Electronics Expand (but need protection)

While electronics, sensors, and internal monitoring are hardly new, they will continue to be critical for thermal monitoring of batteries, and keeping cars connected to their internal communications and the larger environment (sometimes called Vehicle-to-Everything or V2X), for example:

  • An onboard sensor receives data and sends a signal that causes an action, like an indicator light to alert a driver that they are drifting into another lane, turning wipers or lights on when rain is sensed, or even taking control of steering or acceleration.
  • Integrated GPS and mapping apps assist with tracking and navigation and get real-time updates from connectivity to local infrastructure.

These innovations make driving safer and keeping track of traffic and conveniences on the go far easier, but only when these communication systems are working correctly. More electronics in the same or smaller physical space means PCBs and ancillary parts will become smaller and densely packed, generating more heat and more electromagnetic radiation. Shielding to minimize the negative effects of interference will only become more critical.

Parts are Changing (but also staying the same)

An electrified vehicle’s powertrain has far fewer parts than that of a conventional vehicle, as this Congressional Research Service report explains in detail. Most notably, the drivetrain, multi-speed transmission, engine cooling, exhaust, and emission control systems are gone. As a result, the supply chain for many of these components will change drastically as parts are redesigned or eliminated entirely. Some estimates say EVs use only 3,000 to 10,000 parts per vehicle, compared to 30,000 in traditional powertrains.

Materials used in electrical vehicles also differ from those with internal combustion engines. For example, aluminum is a popular material because it is lighter and reduces vehicle weight (which also improves battery performance).

In the realm of small to miniature progressive stamped parts, there’s still a need for clips, pins, terminals, and connector components. In addition, shields for electronics and thermal regulation components (e.g. heat sink plates) within and around high-speed computer circuitry and infotainment systems are standard equipment. And ancillary components, like key fobs, door locks, and miniature antennas, still call for stamped parts.

The Picture is Still Developing

While these changes are here to stay in the big picture, the fine details are still developing. Reporting from McKinsey notes there is great variety between models with no single architecture/platform evolved yet. Different OEMs are trying different approaches, including native vs. non-native vehicle platforms, which impact the configuration of and space allotted for battery cells (and the resulting driving range and cabin space). Variation is also high around electric vehicle systems like battery thermal management (i.e. heating and cooling of the battery), powertrain architecture and integration, and user interface and infotainment systems.

As with past iterations of automobiles, over time we’ll see more standardization as certain technologies prove out and others lag behind. We anticipate a steady increase in onboard devices and the components required to keep them operating smoothly.

So for progressive stampers, does it always come back to EMI shields, tabs, clips, and tiny pins and brackets? In some ways, we can say yes because those part functions are needed no matter what type of vehicle they go into. But the specific technologies that these parts support change, and that’s what drives new and smaller designs, tighter tolerances, specialized materials. The challenge for progressive stampers is to prepare for these changes with durable tooling for high strength materials, larger presses with longer beds for complex, multi-stage parts, and design expertise to create stampings within tolerances. If this sounds like what you need from a stamper, please get in touch today!