OPINION > Electric vehicle fasteners, tools & supply chain
Optimas on the role of fasteners in electrification
Fasteners are small in stature but are an important part of the electrification movement, writes Optimas Solutions Director of Marketing Stuart Katz...
The ‘electrification of everything’ is at the heart of efforts to transform from brown to green energies. The electrification movement, including initiatives such as low carbon cities and electric vehicles, is hurtling forward with the help of large and small manufacturers. Globally influential companies such as Tesla and Cummins are on the frontlines of the transformation with investments in technologies that accelerate the future of electrification in the automotive sector. A significant part of this transformation comes from fasteners and understanding how best to apply this technology is extremely important to the vehicle electrification movement. Often not the highest priority, fasteners are about 1% of the cost to produce but 50% of the product’s build of materials (BOM).
What Sectors Are Leading Electrification?
There are three main sectors where electrification is being prioritised:
- Industry – Agriculture, construction, and mining manufacturers of heavy equipment such as tractors, excavators and loaders
- Buildings – Residential water heating, residential and commercial space heating and cooling systems
- Transportation – Components such as batteries, as well as vehicles in municipal fleets, electric cars, personal electric vehicles (PEVs), such as scooters
The industrial sector requires electrified equipment that can maintain the power and stamina needed to run for many hours of demanding work. Meanwhile, the building sector is looking for better efficiency ratings and performance for things like heating and cooling equipment. The sector that has seen (and will likely continue to see) the most growth opportunity is the transportation sector. Here, it’s all about vehicle distance and range – how far can a vehicle travel on a single charge?
Manufacturers will design, engineer and build the municipal fleets, PEVs, stoves, furnaces, boilers, and other electrified mechanical products of the future through innovation and strategic partnerships and fasteners will be a big part of that movement.
Fasteners – An Important Component of the Electrification Movement
Product designers and manufacturers won’t need to become an expert in fasteners. However, they will need to better understand what the options are, and how they affect the weight, cost, timing, and performance of a product in development. Knowing more about the fasteners available can help:
- Reduce cost and weight
- Increase design efficiency and stay on schedule
- Improve product performance through better engineering
There are hundreds of thousands of fasteners and thousands of fastener suppliers. It can be hard to know what fasteners and partners are best for an electrification project. While the considerations below focus on vehicle development, in particular, they still apply to other types of electrification projects.
There are six areas of consideration when choosing fasteners for an electrification project:
- Assortment & Availability
Increased demand for electrification has created an opportunity to adopt a new fastener selection strategy that includes the option of smaller-sized fasteners. Smaller fasteners can provide opportunities for weight reduction. For example, by decreasing the body diameter of fasteners, such as an M8 fastener into an M6 fastener, the volume of material needed for production is reduced, which can lead to a weight savings of up to 30%. Utilising smaller fasteners can also mean a reduction of installation space-leading to smaller and lighter products overall-plus a reduction of raw material costs. An effective fastener partner can offset the reduction in size by helping companies select fasteners that have the greater tensile strength to maintain the required clamp load in a joint.
With greater electrification, comes a greater need for insulation. A fastener partner should help in the selection of insulating materials and finishes that help guard against the potential hazards that come with electrical components. Electrical insulation helps prevent breakdowns and short circuits which can mean controlling the free flow of voltage between 400 - 1500 volts. Thermal insulation should be considered part of the initial electrical design due to the enormous heat generation inside battery cells.
Using materials like aluminium, magnesium and titanium within the fastener selection process can help reduce weight and increase distances in vehicles or increase hours of usage of equipment on a single charge. Understanding the material properties of fasteners and principles of joint design allows engineers to troubleshoot potential pitfalls of proposed changes. This helps a manufacturer make the best material choice and realise their benefits. When replacing common materials (like steel) with weight-saving materials (like magnesium or titanium), designers should take into consideration that there will be some re-engineering involved to address the potential changes in mechanical properties. Simply changing the geometry of the fastener can reduce weight by as much as three percent. Removing material from the fastener can also save money because manufacturers will use less raw material and reduce waste.
Geometry matters because a shallower head can enable manufacturers to save weight per fastener – leading to significant efficiency gains. Examples of this are Mortorq Super Drive, designed by the Phillips Screw Company, featuring the MORTORQ Super® and External MORTORQ Super® drive systems (among others). These newer drive systems provide even greater torque delivery to fasteners than the traditional Phillips design. The geometry of the unique, curved ‘wings’ provide full contact of the driver to the recessed walls which results in lower loading per mm2 when torque is applied. Beyond offering higher torque transfer, the design also results in a shallower recess depth. Other options include clinching, flow-drilling screws for metal and thread-forming screws for plastic. The geometry of all have proven to be effective at joining dissimilar or thin materials and maintaining joint strength and integrity while reducing weight.
Electrified non-ferrous products, especially those with larger motors, require an uninterrupted flow of electric current. Introducing a ferrous steel bolt into an electric field can disrupt it and impede the flow of current. Manufacturers can improve the efficiency of their electrified products by incorporating non-ferrous, anti-magnetic fasteners that do not interrupt electric current.
Assortment and Availability
Today, it can take up to 24 weeks to get a fastener from one end of the supply chain to the other – and that’s for commonly-sourced or standard fasteners. Electrification projects that require specialty fasteners can take longer. Manufacturers can cut down lead times by sourcing from a partner with a robust portfolio of parts and that has the buying power to meet the many challenges of a project. Consider a supplier with a specialty focus on fasteners for electrification projects or one that can manufacture parts themselves.
Electrification of machines is no longer a trend – it has become a global movement that is expanding the possibilities for industrial manufacturing. The fastener sector, too, has re-thought how it designs, engineers, and manufactures parts for those industries that are now a central part of the electrification movement. So, even some of the smallest components in an EV or other industrial product should be a critical part of an electrification strategy.
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