Hybrid and Electric vehicles, by design, introduce many new electronic components into the bill of materials and account for up to 30% of the vehicles total cost. Years ago, Toyota was the only manufacturer with a hybrid car in mass production, but Toyota’s policy of integrating the supply chain into their own structure and utilizing only local factories made it impossible to develop sub-suppliers specializing in these new components. In 2011, all car manufacturers have one or several projects based on HEV technology. This requires the development of a complete supply chain focused on these new key elements for electric power.
Batteries, from the beginning, received the majority of attention and focus since they represent the single largest cost in these new power trains. Alliances and joint ventures have been created between car manufacturers and standard battery manufacturers with targets of lowering costs, reducing weights and improving energy output. All battery manufacturers are looking closely at the innovations, patent applications and movements of their competitors. The companies who are quick to market with any advantages or improvements in battery technology and performance will see greater profits – a very hard challenge for an industry that has suffered from a lack of innovation for more than 20 years.
A full electric car has a bill of materials with an average of one third of the number of components than a gasoline or diesel powered automobile. The number of components required for the power train, by itself, is reduced to the battery, electric motor, charger and power converter. The main costs and margins are now focused on the battery and the electric motor set rather than in the internal combustion engine. Automotive companies are getting involved in developing these key elements on their own as a key strategy to control and keep in house these larger value-added components.
Tier 1 suppliers are looking for other elements in the powertrain to realize profits and these include the power converters and battery chargers. These elements transfer the energy in the powertrain from the battery to the motor, charge the battery and generate the low voltage power network to feed the car’s electronic systems (lights, entertainment system, heating, etc.). The basic technology used in these power converters is very well known as, in large part, the converters are switched mode power supplies with small form factors and high efficiencies. High efficiency power supplies have been developed for many years for use in other markets including UPS systems, solar panel generators, wind power energy and industrial motor drives. Companies producing converters for these applications, including Eaton and Bosch, can become new Tier 1 suppliers for these HEV platforms. Their challenges will be in having to design and manufacture the converters for onboard installation and to be qualified for use in automobiles.
In the same way, electronic Tier 1 suppliers for gas and diesel powered automobiles are already transforming themselves to develop and manufacture power converters and battery chargers. Lear, Valeo, Delphi and Continental are excellent examples of these Tier 1 suppliers and each now have converters and battery chargers in their product portfolios and many will be in new HEV cars to be launched in the coming years.
Key electronic components used in these new HEV power assemblies are commonly utilized in the industrial markets and include high power switching semiconductors, high energy capacitors and high power transformers and inductors. In the automotive marketplace, electrical and mechanical constraints are dictated by the size and volume available for the assembly, cost targets and required efficiency ratings. Component manufacturers (Tier 2) have to adapt their business models to meet the demands of this new potential market. The heart of the component technology is already well known and in use in industrial applications but the new requirements of HEV make it necessary for a complete reinventing of these components.
Infineon and Semikron are two power management IC manufacturers who have focused on the HEV market for the last four plus years. Both have launched automotive qualified semiconductors ready for integration into HEV converters and have dedicated departments to support car manufacturers and to develop R&D kits and application notes for their MOSFETS/IGBT’s. Their target is clear: to make completely off-the-shelf parts available and to reduce the overall costs of their automotive customers.
In addition to the active components used in the converter, there are many required passive components that have been the focus of Tier 2 suppliers. One such classification is inductive components including power transformers, power chokes, current sensors, EMI filters and auxiliary signal transformers. These types of components are commonly used in industrial applications but have never been before installed in automobiles. PREMO is a Tier 2 inductive component manufacturer that has experienced a major transformation in their business model due to this evolution. Four years ago, Premo anticipated the future needs of the automobile market for these types of components. Over this four year period, Premo’s know-how, expertise and inductive components portfolio for industrial applications has led them to be able to deliver standard, agency-qualified solutions for automotive customers.
Onboard battery chargers for plug-in vehicles introduce a new technology challenge for these companies. The charger connects the automobile to the domestic power network, merging the requirements of the industrial world with the automotive world. The charger must comply with all EMC requirements from these industrial standards while, at the same time, fulfilling the lifespan, environmental, robustness and safety requirements of the automotive market. PREMO is the first Tier 2 component manufacturer to make available to the HEV market a complete off-the-shelf EMC Filter for battery chargers with complete AECQ-200 qualification. This filter is delivered in a single aluminum box with connectors, simplifying the assembly operation for the charger manufacturer.
Opportunities are in the air. Even with the conservative numbers the automobile manufacturers are predicting for HEV unit sales in future years, the component suppliers will need to initiate a complete conversion and re-tooling of their factories to reach the capacity and output that will be required to support these programs. The production of several hundred thousand EMC Filters of the type required for battery chargers is not a simple task and no manufacturer has ever built one previously with the productivity and automation level required by the automotive market. This is a very big challenge for component companies who may be used to having a high operator workforce for their industrial customers.