Monthly Archives: August 2016

Launches of fuel cell cars

Toyota has been the first to declare its hand with full details of its contribution the Mirai. People listen to Toyota because it is way ahead as leader in EVs overall with sales about four times those of number two according to analysts IDTechEx. It was right to say that affordable pure-electric cars using batteries were not ready for prime time and right to persevere with hybrids. It knows about pure electric vehicles: it is global leader in pure electric forklifts.
However, Toyota is wrongly reported as “betting the shop” on fuel cell cars. Indeed, a managing director of Toyota Satoshi Ogiso has joked that their Chairman Mr Takeshi Uchiyamada, who was behind the hugely successful Prius hybrid during its ten wilderness years and is behind their fuel cells, is now a Don Quixote figure.
Fuel cell rollout projects across the world are actually extremely cautious and modest. For example, the European HyFive program involves Toyota, BMW, Daimler, Honda and Hyundai. It only aims to get 110 fuel cell vehicles on the road by contributing $45 million.
Progress is still slow, following the invention of the fuel cell in 1839 and Honda having arguably the first production fuel cell car the FCX Clarity and the Toyota FCEV Highlander appearing in 2008, only tiny numbers being deployed. Indeed, IDTechEx puts fuel cell cars at only 1% of all hybrid and pure electric cars sold worldwide in 2024.
Franco Gonzalez, EV analyst at IDTechEx explains, “Fuel cells will not be competitive with conventional engines in up-front cost for at least 15 years. Indeed, they need very expensive new hydrogen fuelling infrastructure in addition.”
He continues, “The Germans may achieve that and the Californians are sprinkling 100 across the state by 2017 but that still means frequent diversions into further grid-locked roads to find the stuff. Fuel cells could eventually make sense for fleets such as forklifts and buses because providing their hydrogen refue?ling is trivial, given their fixed routes. Indeed, fuel cells are in about 8000 forklifts in the USA where hydrogen is cheaper. Reduced cost of ownership and no local pollution could become market drivers in closed systems”.
“While it is commendable that fuel cell car production costs have tumbled to the order of $100,000 each, that is still a long way from being competitive. Therefore we are not surprised that the Toyota Mirai fuel cell car, costing a premium $57,000 in the USA and £63,104 in the UK before grants, is constrained to test levels of only 700 worldwide in 2015 despite initial orders for 1500. Only about 2,000 units will be very expensively made in 2016 and approximately 3,000 units in 2017 – then only tens of thousands in the 2020s, says Toyota”.
“So far, compared to a regular car, the fuel cell car offers bottom end range of only 300 miles, unimpressive acceleration and fuel cost, probably a poor resale price and diversion to refuel with the hydrogen from non-sustainable sources (just as electricity and gasoline to charge cars usually comes from non-sustainable sources). The Toyota Mirai is very much a work in progress with its poor headroom in the back due to passengers sitting on the large hydrogen tanks. Many find it ugly due to the huge air scoops at the front for the extra radiators cooling the fuel cell”.

The automotive industry information

Large investments have been made by automakers, this been noticed in many areas. These investments include opening new plants and refurbishing older facilities. The auto industry has long been on the cutting edge of manufacturing technology. However, industry investments don’t just include investment in high technology such as robotics, but also, literally the nuts and bolts of the auto industry. A general increase in manufacturing around the automotive sector has been noticed as well. This includes such staples as steel production, plastics and the key metal forming component. Secondary markets, such as the tier II metal forming industry have picked up over the last several years. Metal stamping, roll forming and carbide die production have increased. In the area of tool and die the auto industry has long since taken advantage of metal forming technologies such as tungsten carbide dies. Tungsten carbide is three times as hard as steel and is used to form many parts such as axles, tubing and a wide variety of other components. Of course, this includes the cold forming of nuts and bolts. One carbide die supplier has reported a six fold increase in orders for April, 2016 alone. The end result of this is an industry wide increase in manufacturing productivity and capacity.

Basically, manufactures continue to invest in their supply chains as well as design and technology. The tier II metal forming industry suppliers relationships were severely strained after the 2008 recession. When the recession hit the industry put greater demands on their suppliers for cheaper parts. Even worse, several key automotive companies were unable to payoff large debts they incurred to the vast array of suppliers forcing many suppliers to close their doors. However, these supply chains have been strengthened in recent years, to the benefit of the industry. It would be great if we could say that the tier II and tier III suppliers have been guaranteed a profitable place in manufacturing but unfortunately it is all still on a case by case bases. Supply and demand still rules the day after all.  Overall demand for all of these products is still questionable but the industry remains hopeful. After all, there is a lot riding on it, everything from rubber to steel and the processes to make these raw materials into a commodity, things like tool and die, robotics and of course the labor force, all depend on it.

We have now reached the time to see how well we understand the lessons of the recession. Did we learn anything about manufacturing over the previous years and expand our knowledge?

Will the auto maker’s realize the short sided mistake of trying to eke out every penny from their supply chain or will they construct mutually beneficial relationships. It is better to depend on a pool of competitive suppliers than it is to starve suppliers or attempt to bring it all “in house”. For example, GM or Toyota isn’t going to advance tool and die as quickly as the whole tool and die industry, they need to rely on the tool and die suppliers to advance their own craft and focus on designing and manufacturing better cars and trucks. Perhaps only Ford Motors only realized this, and it allowed them to weather-the-storm. How about controlling their long term obligations to their work force while rewarding talent and hard work by their employees?  Platform-based manufacturing is a growing concept that is gaining popularity in Detroit as well as their competitors in Europe and Asia. The industry is trying to create a common vehicle designs that can be modified to replace the multitude of vehicle models all over the world. This gives automakers the opportunity to standardize manufacturing procedures and parts, increase the size of their facilities, and be able to respond more quickly changes in demand from the consumers in the global market. In the end, the whole process of rolling out models from plants across many countries and supply chains gets simplified, assuming your systems can support these transitions.

Japanese manufactures have been enhancing this concept since before they stormed the market in the nineteen eighties (a concept they learned from the Americans after World War II and ran with while the US ignored their own brain child). They now use these concepts, basing 65 to 75 percent of their manufacturing on a world platform. The US companies have been lagging slightly behind in platform-based manufacturing. Why not have a standard carbide die to make your mufflers with a set amount of cobalt and tungsten worldwide? With the immense recovery costs associated with coming back from being on edge with automotive obscurity, investments are primarily being focused on platform-based assembly models. It has been estimated US auto makers are actively planning to shift up to 70% of their production to platform-based vehicles by the middle of by 2018. This isn’t loosing focus on things like carbide tooling, it’s standardizing it! To go back to our carbide die example, this means laying out a global strategy for what die makes what part. Does tungsten carbide die with 13 percent cobalt make better mufflers than one with 20 percent? If so than let the die makers know and standardize it globally. This is what makes the nuts and bolts, and the nuts and bolts matter more than ever.

There is good news for up and coming manufactures, they will not need to reinvent the wheel. The earlier companies had to make up their own manufacturing processes.  Now they can just copy the flexible manufacturing style of major auto companies. New manufactures can avoid the large expense and lengthy process of development cycles that early adopters have had to proceed through. Modern “next generation” manufacturing execution systems offer new levels of flexibility and agility in production, so the smaller car makers can emulate this type of production strategy without the multi-billion dollar investment it took to come up with these techniques in the first place.

BSIV expected to change the game play

In layman’s term, engine of a commercial vehicle is synonymous to the heart in a human body. Everybody knows that it needs to stay healthy with appropriate rest time, also considering the base load and the peak load. Yet, it is one of the most abused organ too. Similar is the case with the “engines” – irrespective of the category of commercial vehicle.

Further, engine development is a process which has never stopped since it’s existence. It’s a cult community of geeks, designers, manufacturers, integrators and testers. Process seems simple – create hypothesis, develop, validate, iterate, re-validate, test, iterate… However, professionals follow this seemingly simple process and dedicate their lives to create dent in the sky with the “ New Engine Technology”.

Trucks and buses are predominantly powered by heavy duty diesel engines. However, Modern diesel engines are lighter and more powerful, fuel efficient and environment-friendly. Today there are two proven approaches to gear up for the change when India is staring at BSIV.

•    Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) after-treatment approach
•    Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) with diesel oxidation catalyst or open filter

Which approach to work upon is driven by a number of objectives “Overall cost over the service life of a vehicle and the closely related factor of efficiency in transportation.” However, most of us are aware that the later objective in India through the lens of on-ground practical efficiency was being managed by “Overloading” against OEMs recommendations.

In today’s time, the focus is also on further reduction in fuel consumption, e.g. by means of downsizing and downspeeding or evaluating alternate fuels. These changes affect component stress in the valve train system. To keep the engine affordable, components should be kept simple. Further complexity comes into play with the combustion chamber and maintenance of temperatures, charge cycles and electrification. To top it all, service life requirements need to be taken care of, considering how price sensitive the Indian market is.

So primary question is in the hands of engine R&D experts. When they begin, they first have to choose the approach to develop on. Answer comes from the market itself, which market is the engine being developed for? What is the outlook of the buyer? Has the buyer started to attach higher importance to overall cost of ownership? What is the infrastructure of the country?

In India, fuel cost is said to contribute to almost 50-60 per cent of operating costs, and SCR delivers better fuel efficiency compared to cooled EGR + DOC / open filter. This moves the needle favour of SCR in the Indian context, especially when viewed through the lens of lower risk on engine durability, emissions durability and better fuel economy. Is BSIV expected to change the game play? This is out there for industry professionals such as yourself to debate & decide and also charter the next course of action with the “Indian Automotive Heart AKA engine”