Annual Report 2020

Next-generation electric

The market for electric vehicles is booming—from pedelecs and passenger cars through vans, they are appealing to more and more customers. Now, with MAHLE’s support, the next generation of drives is already in the starting blocks— for electric vehicles that will be even more efficient and even more suitable for everyday use. The company is continuing to expand its international development network for this purpose. We take a look inside three locations that are pioneering the future.
Die nächste Generation E

From niche to mainstream: In the pandemic hit automotive markets, the electric drive has made significant gains almost everywhere around the world. For instance, electric passenger cars have doubled their market share in Europe to around 4 percent. Pedelecs were so popular in 2020 that, for some models, customers were prepared to accept delivery times of several months—something that used to be the case only for exclusive sports cars. At the same time, large logistics companies announced plans to speed up the electrification of their vehicle fleets. In recent years, MAHLE has already helped to usher in generation electric’s leap forward. With motors and the associated power electronics, the company is increasing driving pleasure and propulsion efficiency—not only for battery electric vehicles but also for hybrids of all performance levels. Added to this are electric auxiliaries, actuators, and valves—for steering assistance or controlling air conditioning circuits, for example. And last but not least, thermal management systems keep cabins warm while batteries and powertrains stay cool. These also include electric coolant pumps that provide cooling for drive motors and batteries in both battery electric and fuel cell vehicles.

Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement. That’s why the technology supplier pooled this essential expertise for the future in the Electronics and Mechatronics business unit in 2020. The unit’s development network is already working on a generation to come, which promises to offer an even better fit with people’s lives and with the requirements of logistics specialists. The most important objective is that using an electric vehicle should be just as flexible as using an equivalent with a combustion engine. For example, instead of simply making batteries larger and larger, MAHLE’s engineers are primarily focused on increasing their charging speed.

In the future, it should be possible to feed enough electricity into the cells of a battery in 15 minutes to cover a cruising range of 500 kilometers. This will be achieved by means of two technological innovations. First, a new-generation battery will prevent heat from accumulating in the battery. The battery cells will no longer only be cooled from below via a plate; instead, they will be embedded in a matrix, which will circulate coolant around the cells from all sides. By using this technique, known as immersion cooling, much more heat can be dissipated in a short time, paving the way for unlimited, ultrafast charging. Second, MAHLE aims to play a role in raising the voltage level of the entire powertrain of future electric cars to 800 volts. Doubling the voltage means that double the electricity can flow into the same conductors in the same amount of time.

So that all customers around the world can benefit from these advantages, MAHLE combines the knowledge of thousands of engineers across all its locations. They pool their expertise in mechatronics and electronics to create a constant stream of new innovations. How? That will be revealed on a visit to three locations.

Our proximity to major automotive manufacturers in the region helps us to keep our fingers on the pulse.
Dr. Armin Messerer,
location manager and head of the global Mechatronics business, MAHLE in Kornwestheim/Germany

Precision work in Kornwestheim

Kornwestheim on the outskirts of Stuttgart / Germany is the location of MAHLE’s new command center for its global mechatron-ics network. Here, around 100 engineers work in close dialog with colleagues from German, Spanish, Slovenian, Japanese, and Chinese locations, for example, on solutions for various types of drive with a focus on the electric vehicles of the future. “Our proximity to major automotive manufac turers in the region helps us to keep our fingers on the pulse,” says Dr. Armin Messerer, location manager and head of the global Mechatronics business segment. He views the 800-volt technology as a global megatrend in the automotive industry. Customers in Asia have since joined German premium manufacturers in showing a great deal of interest. From a technical perspective, adjusting the voltage level is anything but trivial. “We have to pay attention to every single detail in order to prevent unwanted voltage flashovers and short circuits,” Messerer explains. This is as much about the chemical processes as it is about the materials used. Sometimes, even a coat of paint is decisive in determining dielectric strength. All this has to be tested with state-of-the-art equipment.

Meanwhile, the portfolio for an 800-volt world has come a long way. The highly compact and very effectively cooled 800-volt traction motor developed in-house by MAHLE is ready to be launched. The elec-tric air conditioning compressor for this voltage level will go into series production next year. In recent years, the Mechatronics team has successfully brought other electric auxiliaries such as electric coolant pumps and fan motors in the 12 V, 24 V, and 48 V range into series production at the MAHLE plants in Slovenia, Japan, and China.

The degree to which each cog needs to mesh with the next in order to turn the electric car into a convincing alternative for many people can be seen in the ex-ample of an electric fan drive recently de-veloped by MAHLE. Simply transferring this part from a combustion engine into the electric world would not be a good solution. That’s because a combustion engine emits a lot of heat, especially when driven hard at full speed. By contrast, the electric drive’s high degree of efficiency means it produces much less waste heat. However, if the vehicle is being charged with 400 kilowatts or more, the stationary electric vehicle’s fan drive has to work very hard—and that is something you would rather not have to hear. A new, extremely quiet model currently being worked on by MAHLE engineers in Kornwestheim aims to address precisely that.

An eye for detail: Roberto Almeida e Silva is Head of R&D Automotive Drive Systems.The three experts work in close dialog with colleagues from ­ German, Spanish, Slovenian, Japanese, and Chinese locations on solutions for various types of drive.Bernd van Eickels is in charge of development in Actuators and Auxiliaries at MAHLE.
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In the design stage, it was particularly important to us that we replicate the reality of the road on the test rig.
Neil Fraser,
head of development at MAHLE in Aschheim/Germany

Systems testing in Fellbach

When your aim is to make sure that everything that belongs together fits together, it is not enough to develop individual components – however perfect they may be – and then put them through their paces. Neil Fraser, head of development at MAHLE Powertrain in Germany, proudly shows us around the new test center, which was commissioned at the end of 2020 in Fellbach, also near Stuttgart. “We don’t just have the systems expertise for a complete electric axle drive – we can test it too,” says Fraser. For this, the test rig – which looks like an astronautical engineering laboratory – comprises a type of setup that can only be found in a few other places in Europe. The test specimen, that is to say, the electric axle, is tensioned between two electric dynamometers. They stand in for the wheels and thus simulate the entire driving resistance for an electric drive with a power output of up to 840 kilowatts. A small but important detail that results from this setup is that the two dynamometers operate entirely independently of each other, which means that the different rotational speeds and torques resulting from cornering can be recorded. “In the design stage, it was particularly important to us that we replicate the reality of the road on the test rig,” explains Fraser.

This also includes the power supply to the test specimen, which is ensured via a battery simulator. This battery simulator can be operated like a lithiumion battery. Algorithms stored in the simulator thus reproduce the actual behavior of a real vehicle battery. The test rig as a whole can simulate temperatures between minus 30 and plus 130 degrees Celsius. The test cycles to which the electric axle is subjected are in turn derived from numerous prototype trials previously carried out by MAHLE with real drivers. These often involved vehicles with combustion engines, but Fraser sees no contradiction here: “On the contrary. After all, we want the switch to an electric car to entail as little adjustment as possible for the driver.” Since MAHLE also sells drive development as a service, vehicle manufacturers can hire the test rig by the day. “When they do so, we’re able to run almost any test cycle they bring with them,” promises Fraser.

The new test center in Fellbach near Stuttgart has been in operation since the end of 2020. Jakub Lasica and Neil Fraser oversee every detail from the control room.On the test rig, a lot depends on voltage and current.As the test rig engineer, Jakub Lasica makes sure that every test runs smoothly.
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Many Chinese customers expect more from us than just excellent individual components.
Kun Hu,
General Manager, MAHLE in Shanghai/China

Proximity to the market in Suzhou

When it comes to sales of purely battery-powered vehicles, China still leads the way. So it is only logical that MAHLE’s electronics and mechatronics initiative should also lead to new investments in China and that the country should be a source of momentum for the company’s European locations. A new development center in Suzhou—a megacity with a population of some 10 million people around 100 kilometers northwest of Shanghai—will thus be commissioned in 2021. Its construction was already completed at the end of 2020. Up to 500 engineers are expected to work here in the future. “A clear course toward electrifi cation has been set in China,” explains Kun Hu. The responsibilities of the general manager of MAHLE China include the development of MAHLE’s new business segments in this important market. “In terms of registration numbers, cars with battery electric or hybrid drives are set to dominate in just a few years.”

Systems development is one of the focal points in Suzhou, as is the establishment of regional development expertise in electronic and mechatronic products. “Many Chinese customers expect more from us than just excellent individual components,” says Hu. “We need to be able to develop and validate complete electric drives—and it should be done on site here, in close dialog with the customers.” According to Hu, these customers—above all, Chinese automobile manufacturers—are just as ambitious when it comes to technology as the long-established European brands. “The subject of 800-volt technology is as important in China as it is elsewhere.” With the difference that a supplier is expected to provide complete solutions, including thermal management. “We have the know-how in the Group, and now we’re bringing it here,” says Hu.

Suzhou and Kornwestheim are separated by over 8,800 kilometers as the crow fl ies. And yet, MAHLE’s electronics and mechatronics pioneers around the globe share a common goal: to make the next generation of electric vehicles even more suitable for everyday use.

The future home of hundreds of engineers and new ideas: the MAHLE research and development center in Suzhou/China.
We need to be able to develop and validate complete electric drives and it should be done on site here, in close dialog with the customers.
Kun Hu,
General Manager, MAHLE China