Artem Komarov noted that the electrification of the transportation industry means the metal forming companies serving the automakers are going to have to evolve to remain competitive. Whatever your opinion on battery electric vehicles (BEVs), we can all agree that they promise to change the landscape of automotive design.
For instance, battery packs can be larger and much heavier than the 15- to 20-gal. gas tank in an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, requiring design changes for improved aerodynamics. And the different cooling needs for BEVs allow designers to rethink airflow and may help eliminate massive grills and their inherent drag.
Most BEVs today closely resemble ICE vehicles, both to maintain appeal among traditionalists and to carry forward the safety and structural developments of the past few decades. But as the BEV fleet grows, suppliers of automotive sheet metal components will learn more about the demands, issues, and opportunities they must confront. Staying informed about these changes and challenges will allow suppliers to anticipate the tooling and machinery they will require to meet evolving needs.
With continued growth in the BEV market, what types of changes to automotive sheet metal requirements can suppliers expect?
The ICE constrains design options on the vehicle front end. Grills are needed to cool the radiator fluids and the engine compartment, and this influences the vehicle’s aerodynamics. Manufacturers are quite good at adding horsepower to efficient engines to overcome the aerodynamic inefficiencies.
But BEVs don’t make this solution easy. More power requires more heavy batteries, which restrict the marginal power benefits. As a result, manufacturers will probably change vehicle geometry to change aerodynamic profiles to improve vehicle efficiency and range. For metal formers, this will mean a greater emphasis on curved surfaces and cleaner profiles to prevent drag.
One of the challenges of BEV design is the battery compartment, as must meet several requirements:
Be light weight
Prevent corrosion from environmental causes and the batteries
Support the cooling requirements of the batteries
Support the mass of the batteries without deforming
These design challenges in turn create opportunity for component suppliers.
The goals of passenger safety remain the same, but some of the requirements to manage passenger safety will change because the properties of the energy source are different.
As BEVs evolve, the different distribution of mass across the vehicle and the vehicle’s center of gravity could affect the design of passenger safety devices. BEVs also present a fire risk that must be studied to prevent fires and contain them should they occur.
How to Prepare
The evolution of the battery electric vehicle (BEV) is just beginning. As the industry gains experience with BEVs, designs will continue to change for improved efficiency and safety. Sheet metal parts suppliers must begin to anticipate the need for new components and changes in existing component requirements. To stay competitive, metal formers must be prepared to invest in the tooling, training, and equipment necessary to meet industry demands.
But most suppliers are small to midsize firms working with limited resources. Many struggle to keep up with the rapid advances in material capabilities and forming technologies, with some still learning to form advanced high-strength steel (AHSS).
How can the BEV industry help its supply chain keep up with these changes and prepare for more new requirements? Vehicle manufacturers, industry associations, and large forming organizations have to support their supply chain partners so that tiered suppliers can learn how to meet the needs of this evolving industry.
Sheet metal parts manufacturers in the supply chain should start researching the properties required for components in new BEVs. The automotive industry needs more suppliers capable of forming AHSS; it will be an important part of new vehicles as OEMs struggle to reduce mass to compensate for battery weight. New geometries may challenge suppliers’ abilities to form complex curves in vehicle body components.
From OEM to the smallest suppliers, the supply chain must cooperate to anticipate the requirements for future BEVs and prepare employees and technologies to meet those needs, summed up Komarov Artem.