The e-mobility offensive of a turnkey supplier
Mastering the challenges of the transition from combustion to electric drive technologies – insights from GROB, an award-winning electromobility supplier
Within five years of establishing a Research and Development Team specifically to address the e-mobility sector, GROB won the award for best supplier in the field of electromobility, given by the Volkswagen Group for its comprehensive expertise and performance in the e-drive project. “Our company has previously been recognized for many outstanding achievements of our employees,” said German Wankmiller, Chairman of the Board & CEO of GROB, at the award ceremony. “But we have never received an award in the ‘e-mobility’ category before. This award is one that honors us in a very special way, as this business segment is also relatively new for us.”
The Case for Identifying and Seizing Opportunities at an Early Stage
Electromobility is gaining momentum, but the markets have not responded to the required changes in a consistent manner. GROB though, thanks to the inherent strength and experience of making highly productive manufacturing and assembly lines, has decided to rise to this new challenge. According to company officials, the GROB Group champions a uniform procedure and sales structure, closely coordinated with the headquarters in Mindelheim.
Since Europe and China are among the forerunners in electromobility and the proportion of e-drives in China for the next few years has been laid down by legislation, investments in this sector are high. With its expertise as a turnkey supplier, recognized by the automotive industry globally, GROB has already mastered all the processes and technologies required to deliver system concepts for reliable and cost-efficient series production. No surprise, then, that the company is already regarded as the first point of contact in the electromobility sector – the first extensive orders from the automotive industry stand as testimony to this.
The market entry strategy
Some ten years ago, when GROB introduced universal machining centers to establish a new, third business sector, the market’ familiarity with the existing G-modules provided the ideal basis for success, not least because GROB, as a turnkey supplier in the system business, enjoyed an excellent reputation in the market; unlike in the electromobility sector, where technology calls for new working methods, hence different approaches. Although established processes in existing sectors are considered the standard and basic model, it must be remembered that e-mobility is a relatively new area for the automotive industry too. Thus, to successfully master the challenges of the transformation from combustion to electric drive technologies, all market competitors are having to reposition themselves in this sector. At the present time, projects are being set up and implemented only in close contact with the automotive industry and selected suppliers. On that basis, a project team – comprising planning, innovation and sales management – has been established to create the best possible solutions for the customers.
The paradigm shift towards electromobility in the automobile industry for GROB is made particularly clear by a newly created “New Technologies” business unit in which the company`s complete technological electromobility expertise is concentrated.
From the initial idea through to series production
Five years ago, in response to the increasingly progressive pace of technological change with vehicle powertrains, GROB established a Research and Development Team focused solely on electromobility. Close consultation with renowned representatives from the automotive industry soon revealed a high demand for mass production equipment in this sector, with the focal point the being on two core areas, the electric motor and the battery.
To accelerate the set-up and development phase, the company consolidated its knowledge of winding and inserting technology and, in early 2017, acquired a renowned mechanical engineering partner for the production of electric motors – DMG meccanica, renamed in 2018 to GROB Italy S.r.l. In addition, a dedicated, ultra-modern development and application center for electromobility was constructed at the company’s Mindelheim site.
In close collaboration with the automotive industry, engineering processes and methods for the series production of high-efficiency electric motors and extremely compact battery modules with a high power density are being developed and trialed here on over 2,500 m² of space.
“We are currently working on several projects for electric drives in the international automotive industry,” says German Wankmiller . He goes on to explain: “Thanks to a team of specialists and development engineers, we can realize each and every one of these projects. As a general contractor, we are already able to handle large orders and offer machines and systems for electric motors, battery modules and fuel cells.”
For stator production in particular, there are various manufacturing methods for inserting copper wires into the stator slots, wave winding technology, the hairpin method and the fan coil technology. In addition, GROB Italy S.r.l. covers the inserting technology and needle winding. The new machine portfolio combines the entire manufacturing process for an electric motor, including the various methods of wire winding and forming, assembly and contacting. More so, GROB supports its customers, from the initial idea to the system concept for prototypes through to large-scale series production. In addition to production systems for e-machines, the company has also been focusing on assembly systems for energy storage systems. A technical laboratory for battery cell production is currently under construction, which will provide the basis for technical implementation and enable the timely provision of additional large-scale production systems for battery cells for the European market.
Investment and Growth
On the basis of its many years of experience in developing production and assembly lines for the automobile industry, GROB continues to invest heavily in fuel cell technology and other new innovative solutions. This is evidenced by its investment in an in-house testing laboratory with an electrical test stand, a geometric measuring laboratory, a CT machine, a laser welding system, and an X-ray machine. This allows a direct test of the various processes with the highest technical requirements and immediate optimisation. The high and positive market response shows how successful this strategy has been for the company.
The company has supplied VW Salzgitter with a rotor and stator production line, and VW Kassel with a line for the assembly of the components, and thus the production of the finished unit, for the production of the modular electrification kit (MEB for short), which is very important for Volkswagen, as it represents the future platform for electric vehicles of the VW Group. All machines for this project were designed and produced in Mindelheim. The order covers complete production/assembly lines including high-grade automation solutions, posing an enormous challenge to all the divisions involved. Due to completely new assembly processes, the innovative rotor and stator manufacturing processes and the high proportion of purchased parts used on the line, the requirements for this project differed significantly from the company’s previous core competencies. The information gained during the implementation of the VW projects was of great benefit to the engineers, facilitating a continuous improvement process and resulting in successful implementation.
Another important milestone in GROB’s e-mobility offensive is a brand new production plant in Pianezza, Italy. The foundation stone of GROB`s fifth plant for the development and production of machines and automation solutions for e-mobility was laid on March 12, 2019 and the opening is planned for spring 2020. All these successes show that GROB, with its extensive range of products in the field of electromobility, has established itself as a reliable partner of the automotive industry when it comes to versatile solutions.
GROB generates today 25% of its turnover from this new business segment, with this number certainly set to rise