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The latest in EV, eBike, and AGV motion systems

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Apr 21,2023


We recently asked several industry experts about the trends they’re seeing in the design and use of electric vehicles (EVs), scooters, eBikes, and autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs). Here’s what those experts had to say.


Ian Blasch | Senior director— business development • Jabil
James Gallant | Director of operations • ISL Products International Ltd.
Jarod Garbe | Automotive industry segment manager • Festo
Chris Gottlieb | Director — drives and controls • Kollmorgen
Lawrence Lin | EV batteries business development manager • Festo
Robert Luchars | V.P. of business development • ECM PCB Stator Technology
Matt Mowry | Product manager — drylin linear bearings • igus Inc.
Biren Patel | Business development manager — mobility solutions • maxon
Bruce Rose | Principal application engineer • CUI Inc.
Dave Schellenberger | Manager — automotive products business unit (Americas) • Microchip Technology
Yoshitaka Umeno | Global market manager — medical and robotics • Kollmorgen Corp.

Gallant: We spec in our dc motors and gear motors into these types of EV, eBike, and AGV applications and devices. For motion control, customers typically request one of our incremental magnetic encoders be added to our dc motor/gear motor in these applications. For any of our BLDC motor solutions, an additional motor controller is required. We provide standard BLDC motor controllers. For customers who desire a fully customized motor controller, we provide technical support to their electronic engineers during the PCB design.

What are some new technologies being applied in mobile designs?

Rose: With input voltages supported from less than 10 Vdc to greater than 1000 Vdc, the dc-dc converters are used in small and low-voltage battery pack drones and bicycles through large and high voltage battery pack commercial buses and trucks. The ac-dc power supplies and the dc-dc converters are used in battery charging systems ranging from wall-plug-powered drones and bicycle chargers, to high-powered, fixed-installation chargers for cars, trucks, and buses.

More interesting than the numerous sensors in EVs is the power and communications technologies employed to enable the sensors and transfer enormous amounts of data from them. Power distribution in automobiles, trucks, buses, and aircraft is transforming to a similar situation as is used in data centers. It is becoming more common to have a 48 Vdc power delivery backbone employed with many branches and associated point of load dc-dc converters. The POL converters reduce the distributed voltage to the level required by each sensor or actuator. The weight and volume of copper required for power distribution is greatly reduced by implementing this topology.

Mowry: The more the EVs become autonomous, the more automation is being done inside the cab to make the experience better for the driver and passengers. We have seen new applications for our leadscrews in the automated opening of charging ports, power sliding windows in the back of pickup trucks, and linear systems that can change the position of the dashboard, steering wheel, or other parts of the interior to create more user space for the passengers.

Luchars: ECM’s PCB Stator electric motors are the central component for converting electrical energy to torque, horsepower, mechanical output, and forward motion in e-mobility applications. In fact, our coupling of printed circuit board, axial flux motor topology to a SaaS platform represents a new technology tool for electric mobility. ECM’s PCB Stator electric motors are lighter, faster, quieter, and achieve much higher efficiencies than conventional machines. We connect that to our motor CAD software, PrintStator, which offers unprecedented design flexibility. ECM’s SaaS platform takes discreet inputs: how much torque, power, and desired rotation speed‚ and converts those into a design for a custom PCB Stator used in axial-flux machines.

ECM’s motor designs in axial-flux air-core machines have maximum torque and superior power in a much smaller footprint. This presents numerous design and performance benefits for electrically powered applications, such as drones, e-bicycles, and certain marine vehicles. The most obvious upsides include reduced weight coupled to improved performance and greater battery efficiencies.

Schellenberger: Microchip Technology provides a range of semiconductor-based solutions for the e-mobility market. Our silicon carbide (SiC) solutions enable the high-voltage power conversion, regulation, and control necessary for propulsion in EVs, electric bikes, and scooters. Our AUTOSAR-ready digital signal controllers (DSCs) with a high-performance DSP engine and specialized peripherals result in stunning performance gains in digital power applications. Along with these core components, we also offer power management, connectivity, timing, and security solutions, among others, to help clients build a total system solution for E-Mobility applications.

In terms of sensing, LiDAR, radar, ultrasonic and camera-based systems lead the way for autonomous vehicles. Additionally, our inductive sensing solutions are key for motor control applications and position sensing for electric vehicles. On the drive side, the high-voltage systems needed for the propulsion of electric vehicles have created the demand for SiC MOSFETs and diodes that are capable of sustaining hundreds of volts.

How about the manufacture of components that go into EVs?

Lin: Consider how motion control is used in EV battery production. There are two operation environments in battery manufacturing — in a dry room (dew point < -20° C) before the prismatic, cylindrical, and pouch-style batteries are sealed — and in the ambient factory environment, where the sealed assembly cells are placed in modules. After the cells are placed in modules, they are secured in the module with adhesive, pressed closed, and placed in an EV battery pack for installation into the vehicles.

Festo Cartesian gantry robots are used for picking, placing, sealing, and pressing operations in the factory. Gantries, which are compact to begin with, use close to 100% of the work envelope, leading to a smaller footprint on the factory floor. Gantries require less guarding, which saves cost and space. The gantry motion is fast and accurate for the three-axis motion of picking and placing, sealing, and pressing.

To be competitive, EV battery OEMs must be better, faster, and offer superior systems in terms of performance. Festo developed the Handling Guide Online engineering productivity tool that reduces gantry design time from an industry average of two weeks to 20 minutes. With this free online tool, engineers enter basic application parameters such as mass, torque, and speed, and Handling Guide Online designs the optimum gantry. At the end of a design session, the engineer receives a 3D CAD drawing, a bill of materials, an estimated delivery date, and a quote for the cost of the system. With a 3D CAD drawing, the OEM can proceed with machine design while waiting for the gantry delivery and keep the project moving.

Festo delivers fully tested gantries, which are shipped as either quick-to-assemble kits or as fully assembled, ready-to-install systems. Each OEM receives a unique part number for the gantry for easy reorder and component identification. When the Festo gantry and control cabinet arrives, the OEM connects power along with the control cables and uses pre-installed function blocks to program the unit. The Festo Motion Control Package lets the OEM compress the standard commissioning time from one week down to one to two days.

Garbe: In EV battery production, there is enormous pressure for the rapid designing, building, and commissioning of automated machines for production. These machines must exhibit superior uptime, accuracy, data acquisition, and reliability. Along with growing consumer demand for electric vehicles, and the drive to be a market leader for automotive companies, the Inflation Reduction Act has spurred the industry to move even more quickly than before because of the tax incentives in the bill. There are immense production goals through 2030. The only way that auto manufacturers are going to reach these goals is through highly automated, reliable production methods. In electric-vehicle battery production, OEMs use linear-motion-based gantries for their accuracy versus six-axis robots. As a six-axis arm reaches farther from its base, the robots lose accuracy. A gantry maintains high accuracy within the entire work envelope. We find that OEMs in the battery industry do not want to buy components from multiple suppliers. Using numerous vendors complicates ordering in terms of time, inventory, and support for multi-component/multi-vendor systems and risks the components having interoperability issues.

Learning curves for programming and wiring also require higher internal resources. OEMs want their machines to be delivered and commissioned faster, reliably high performing, and easier to support. All of this leads to vendor consolidation. The Handling Guide Online reduces the delivery time of a gantry robot from an industry average of eight weeks down to three.

What are some recent developments specific to eBikes and AGVs?

Patel: maxon has developed a lightweight mid-mounted drive unit that provides support when needed and can be integrated into the frame. The Bikedrive AIR drive unit weighs only 1.9 kg and has a Q factor starting at 155 mm and freewheel technology which provides no noticeable resistance. This means that when pedaling backward and riding unassisted, there is no frictional force to overcome due to the motor. The low-profile drive unit allows racing, gravel, urban, kids, and mountain bike manufacturers to still use traditional frame designs.

For AGVs, maxon continues to develop integrated drives and has added to this offering with the release of the IDX 70. The IDX70 compact drives can easily be configured online and offer up to 87.5 Nm peak torque when combined with the 70-mm gearbox GPX70.

Umeno: Kollmorgen has provided many automation solutions to the production of batteries for EVs. Our success and expertise in supporting the large existing Asian market are being leveraged to support productions in Europe and North America. The coating process is critical in lithium-ion battery production. The manufacturers of coating machines rely on Kollmorgen’s direct drive technology to meet manufacturers’ requirements for a high yield.

Blasch: Jabil has developed a next-generation 3D camera with the ability to seamlessly operate in both indoor and outdoor environments up to a range of 20 meters. Jabil, ams OSRAM, and Artilux combined their proprietary technologies in 3D sensing architecture design, semiconductor lasers, and germanium-silicon (GeSi) sensor arrays based on a scalable complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology platform, respectively, to demonstrate a 3D camera that operates in the short-wavelength infrared (SWIR), at 1130 nanometers. The camera operates in the shortwave infrared, 1130 nm, greatly improving the signal-to-noise ratio used to calculate depth.
First, by targeting 1130 nm, the camera takes advantage of a gap in the sun’s solar spectrum, lowering the background noise impacting the ToF signal. Second, the magnitude of the signal can also be increased, as laser eye safety thresholds are higher at 1130nm than at either 850nm or 940nm. The result is a 3D camera capable of operation in bright sunlight, extended operating range, and better depth accuracy.

The key implication is that robotic platforms are no longer restricted to indoor operation. Given the high cost of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and other autonomous platforms, increasing their utility, safety, and reliability benefits everyone in the industry. Route planning to avoid obstacles like windows or open bay doors, is no longer an issue.

Our goal, in collaboration with many component suppliers in the market, is to create low-cost 3D sensors enabling forklifts, AMRs, agricultural equipment, platforms in support of aircraft operations, and more whose performance is indifferent to environmental conditions. The use of 3D cameras at 1130nm can also be installed on AGVs, especially for collision avoidance. The use of 1130nm should be considered for AGVs that may want to move along loading bays, between buildings, or completely operate in outdoor environments.

Gottlieb: Kollmorgen is a key vendor for AGVs; we improve efficiency in manufacturing and warehousing without making significant investments. Market trends are for more direct-to-consumer shipments, and warehouse management strategies enabled by the most efficient tools will lift the winners to market share. Kollmorgen Motion Control sells into the drones and EV market as well. Our products fit the bill on direct drive technology, drive accuracy and speed, and quicker time to market with consultative engineers.

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