Modular car architecture has revolutionised the world of electric vehicles (EVs). It employs a common set of components, structures, and interfaces to create multiple vehicle models, substantially simplifying the production process and reducing costs.
Key to this revolutionary approach is the Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB), a strategy adopted by Volkswagen Group. The MEB uses a groundbreaking technique involving Flowdrill Friction Drill holes, setting the standard for future EV manufacturing.
The MEB is a vehicle platform explicitly designed for electric cars, optimising space, range, comfort, and convenience. It forms part of Volkswagen's vision to transition from combustion engines to battery electric vehicles. The company pledged US$48 billion towards electric-vehicle battery supplies and outlined plans for 16 factories to build electric cars by 2022. Only three factories were up and running in 2022, so we’ll watch this with interest.
Volkswagen's strategy has piqued the interest of other leading vehicle manufacturers. Notably, Ford Motor Company has entered into a strategic partnership with Volkswagen, aiming to launch an electric vehicle in Europe using the MEB platform.
Modular platforms offer numerous advantages. Firstly, they facilitate cost reduction through shared components across multiple models, leading to economies of scale and lower production costs. Secondly, they speed up the time-to-market for new vehicle models by reusing existing components, reducing design and development time. Thirdly, modular platforms simplify the production process, streamline assembly lines, and minimise supply chain complexity. Finally, modular platforms enhance design flexibility, allowing manufacturers to easily adapt the platform to create vehicles of different styles, sizes, and features.
The MEB platform uses Flowdrill holes, a technique that forms robust threads in metal by using a specially designed drill bit. This process provides several advantages. It eliminates the need for separate components like nuts or inserts, which simplifies assembly and reduces weight.
Furthermore, the use of Flowdrill holes has specific benefits in the production of EVs. Due to the fewer moving parts in EVs – approximately 20 compared to 2000 in conventional vehicles – manufacturers have more room to pack hardware components, allowing for a spacious interior with a flat floor. This method offers more available space for battery modules, reducing unnecessary weight and improving efficiency. The more efficient the vehicle, the greater the driving range.
Despite these advantages, some drawbacks are associated with using a modular platform. Design limitations can arise, as the modular platform needs to accommodate various models and configurations. This limitation might result in a vehicle that is less optimised for specific performance or design requirements. Additionally, the risk of reduced differentiation among products exists. As vehicles built on the same platform might share similar design elements, manufacturers could face difficulties differentiating their offerings from competitors.
Modular car platforms, particularly the MEB platform using Flowdrill holes, hold immense potential for the future of EV production. These systems offer cost reduction, design flexibility, and streamlined production, contributing to the rapid rise of EVs. However, car manufacturers should be aware of potential drawbacks, including design limitations and the potential for reduced differentiation among products.
As the adoption of EVs continues to grow, and the advantages of modular platforms become more evident, manufacturers are likely to invest further in this technology. Ultimately, the extent to which they can balance the benefits and drawbacks of this approach will determine their success in the competitive EV market.