Dive into the World of Zero Tests, Zero Prototypes, Zero Downtime

Optimizing Energy Consumption in Electric Vehicles

Energy demand is set to increase with the use of electric vehicles. Manufacturers need to optimize energy consumption in their vehicles to reduce the impact on energy supplies. One way is to decrease overall weight by reducing body and trim mass. Hervé Motte at ARRK - a company specializing in Prototyping, Tooling and Low Volume Production - explains how, by taking a different approach, they achieved 30% mass saving. How did they do it?

Friday, August 2, 2019
By Mathilde Chabin

Why are composite materials important for the electric vehicle market?

Overall weight reduction is key to optimizing the energy consumption of electric vehicles and to increased autonomy. Several projects have led to a reduction in structure, body and trim mass, but few have targeted powertrain mass.

At ARRK, we have worked on reducing powertrain weight. We looked at optimizing the weight of the typical two-stage electric transmission by substituting the aluminum housing material with materials of lower density. When doing so we had to consider all requirements to be satisfied. Carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic materials provide a good combination of mechanical properties and fast manufacturing processes, but attaining the stiffness needed to reach the durability and acoustics expectations for the gearbox - especially at temperatures above 100°C - is challenging for this group of materials.

What are the challenges related to electric vehicle powertrain?

The functional complexity of electrical gearboxes is lower than conventional gearboxes because the number of gear ratios is much lower today. Conventional vehicles have up to seven gear ratios and electrical vehicles have only one or two.

What is most challenging for an electrical gearbox is the acoustics. Where you used to have a combustion engine that would drown the operational noise of the gearbox, you now have an electrical engine that is silent. This makes the gearbox acoustics dominant, especially at low speed. The sound of a transmission itself, usually a whining sound, is annoying for the occupant and must be managed.

Acoustic performance is also related to the production of thermal energy, or energy loss. Imperfect acoustic behavior generates thermal energy. In an ideal gearbox, there would be no deformation of the housing caused by the transmitted loads. But in real life, there is displacement of bearings of the shafts that leads to a change in position of the gears running on that shaft. The challenge is to achieve the same or better stiffness values with the new housing material as for the original aluminum gearbox. Axis deviation and axis inclination error of the intermediate and output shafts have to be on the same level or below the values for the aluminum housing.

Gearbox assembly

How was ARRK able to rise to this challenge?

In our gearbox project, we replaced the aluminum housing material of an electric transmission with fiber reinforced thermoplastic material. Our aim was to replace the housing material only – reusing all interior parts.

In the design we developed, an organo-sheet (carbon fibers fabrics with multi orientation, and polyamide thermoplastic matrix) is over-molded by a short fiber reinforced thermoplastic material (PPA with short glass fibers). Aluminum inserts, as bearing seats, ensure transmission of the bearing loads into the organo sheet and reduce the deviation of the gear mesh. Additional injection molding ribs and unidirectional tapes ensure the stiffness requirements.

ARRK P+Z (German entity) and ARRK Shapers (French entity) worked together to show the ability of the ARRK product development group to develop the parts, to build the tools, to set up the production process and to produce in a small series production size. ARRK P+Z was responsible for the engineering and ARRK Shapers set up the production process and built the tools and the prototype.

The engineering approach was simulation driven. Different types of simulations - finite element method, molding simulation, stamping simulation, optimization - were used. ESI provided simulation support with ESI’s composites manufacturing solution. Ultimately, the gearbox with the new material weighed 4kg, compared to 5.8kg with aluminum, so we achieved almost 30% mass saving. We demonstrated the capability of ARRK to design and prototype composites gearboxes, which outperform a standard aluminum gearbox.

Learn more about Innovating the Future of Mobility.

Image courtesy of ARRK

Mathilde Chabin

Manufacturing Solutions Director

Mathilde Chabin has 20 years of experience in the Virtual Manufacturing domain. As a mechanical engineer from ENSIAME in France, she started her career in the sheet metal forming space supporting automotive and aeronautic OEMs, worldwide, in migrating from traditional trial-and-error approaches to virtual methods and in getting the most out of manufacturing processes modeling. Always interested in the evolution of the industry, she moved to the composites world and led the composites product marketing activity at ESI for 10 years. She is now the director for fabrication & joining manufacturing solutions at ESI Group, which includes the sheet metal forming, composites, casting, welding & assembly domains.