(Blog from Indy) 2011 SAE Powertrain Electric Motors Symposium - the epilogue

  • 24-Mar-2011 08:59 EDT

SAE Magazines Senior Editor Lindsay Brooke

5:00 p.m. Wednesday March 23, Indianapolis: I always say, you can judge the effectiveness of any professional conference by how much of the audience remains during the last hour. No matter how riveting the final panel, the attendees are usually yawning by 3 p.m. By 4 p.m. people are bailing out and the place is looking pretty empty. Who can blame ‘em? Even if you handed out cash, some people would still leave early.

So it was surprising to count the empty seats during the last hour today and realize about 80% of the E-motors Symposium audience were still in the room and (appearing to be) paying attention when the final remarks were made. I attend technical conferences pretty regularly, and I was fairly shocked (and delighted) by the low attrition rate of this event. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

This afternoon’s session kicked off by Grzegorz Ombach of Brose Group looked at challenges for high-volume production of e-motors, including material and manufacturing tolerances. Clearly, not all e-motors are created equally, which blows the general perception (including that held by many of my media colleagues) that electric machines are just commodities. The middle ground in the off-the-shelf vs. in-house design and manufacturing debate was discussed by Tibor Murtinger, Electric Machines Product Manager at Robert Bosch. He detailed a “construction kit” approach Bosch has developed that uses interchangeable components to build a range of traction motors for different applications.

The “kit” approach might have potential for smaller OEMs, emerging players, or low-volume niche applications. But the importance of controlling an e-motor’s design, engineering, manufacturing, and supply chain was hammered home by Pete Savagian, General Motors’ Engineering Director of Hybrid Systems and E-Motor Release. He dug deep into the constituent elements of a traction motor and noted how critical things like precision bearings, laminated electrical steel, copper wire, winding technology, cooling strategies, and manufacturing process controls are to GM.

Savagian then walked the audience through the details of GM’s “20/60/20” strategy on e-motors. That is, GM intends to design/build in-house 20% of its electric machines used for vehicle propulsion by volume; it will design 60% of motors but will trust suppliers to build to print; and it will allow 20% of its e-motors (mostly for niche and low-volume applications) to be designed and built by suppliers.

“Internal design and manufacturing keeps us close to the fundamentals of electric machines,” Savagian asserted.

For me and others I spoke with, this event was an extremely useful immersion into e-motor design, materials, manufacturing, and market challenges and opportunities. Job well done, I’d say.

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