What does electrification mean for supply chains?

Posted on 4 Mar 2019 by Maddy White

Electrification in transport is set to become the new normal, as automotive manufacturers scramble to keep up with the pace of this electrification and what this means for their supply chains.

In 2013, only 3,500 electric cars were registered in the UK and that number has now risen to over 195,000. These figures will only grow, with the British government recently introducing environmental legislation that will see a phasing-out of petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles by 2040.

Supply chains in the automotive sector are extremely complex, for manufacturers in the sector to shift toward electrification, as many including Britain’s biggest automotive manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover have pledged, it will mean a complete restructure of current supply chains.

Jaguar plans to sell original E-Types that have been restored and converted to run on battery power – image courtesy of JLR.

The Times reported yesterday that ministers are considering backing a £1.7bn factory to build electric batteries for Britain’s biggest car makers.

Talks are reportedly under way over government support for a shared factory, which could be the UK’s answer to Tesla’s huge battery facility in America’s Nevada desert.

The discussions are understood to involve Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Nissan and Geely. A shared factory would enable manufacturers to reduce the large investment cost that would arise if each business were to build their own factory.

Domestic battery production could be essential if the industry is to switch to electric vehicles, largely because of the costs and risks associated with transporting batteries.

Big benefits for component manufacturers

This also follows groups like the Manufacturing Assembly Network (MAN), which is made up of eight sub-contract manufacturers and a specialist design agency, already supplying components to ten projects focused on battery development and electric motors.

“A single electric car can contain anything between 70 and 150 electric motors, which makes it a very exciting opportunity for parts manufacturers,” explained Rowan Crozier, CEO of Brandauer and chairman of the Manufacturing Assembly Network.

“What we need to do as SMEs is to make sure we are at the forefront of this sector and invest in the skills and technology we are going to need to produce the components electric vehicle manufacturers require.”

Case study: The need for electrification skills

The Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME) is a collaboration between Unipart Manufacturing Group and Coventry University.

Stock - 4ir skills employee engagement recruitment workforce staff employee - front office and back office.
Skills will be crucial in advancing electrification.

It is part-funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and brings together partners in academia, industry and R&D in a ‘live’ manufacturing environment.

“I think there is a need for more AME-style operations in more locations and in different subject areas. If we take for example the shift toward electrification of vehicles, we all know that there aren’t the people with the skills that can sustain the growth of those supply chains.” Director at the AME, Carl Perrin, told The Manufacturer.

He continued, “How do we ensure we have those skills? I am looking at how we can build organisations similar to the AME, built on the principles of collaborations, businesses and universities working together to address those types of skills gaps in that working environment.”

Electrification… in the sky?

Not only are there plans for electrification on roads, but in the sky too. Rolls-Royce revealed plans earlier this year to build a zero-emissions plane expected to hit a target speed of over 300mph by 2020.

Rolls-Royce is building a high-performance electric aircraft - image courtesy of Rolls-Royce.
Rolls-Royce is building a high-performance electric aircraft – image courtesy of Rolls-Royce.

If the electric aircraft hits its speed goal it will be the fastest all-electric plane in history.

It will also reportedly have the most energy-dense battery pack ever assembled for an aircraft, providing enough power to fly 200 miles on a single charge.

Its 6,000 cells are packaged for maximum lightness and thermal protection. An advanced cooling system can withstand the extreme temperatures and high-current demands during flight.

As governments across the globe look to introduce emission reduction strategies, automotive and even aerospace manufacturers are now taking steps to develop electrically-powered vehicles on mass. But the key questions remain; will enough electrification skills be available, and can supply chains keep up with this growing demand for electric vehicles?