Episode 28: Opportunities for Finishers in Today’s Ever-changing Automotive Landscape

electric vehicles

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Darrick Gula

Darrick Gula, North American regional OEM manager, MKS Atotech. 
Photo Credit: MKS Atotech

Production levels and demand for electric vehicles (EVs) are on the rise. What opportunities and challenges are in store for finishers working in the automotive space? In this installment of On the Line, Products Finishing catches up with Darrick Gula, North American OEM manager Atotech product line, and Brandon Lloyd, global product manager for paint support technology with MKS to hear about the ways chemical suppliers are helping to innovate in today’s ever-changing automotive landscape.

Brandon Lloyd

Brandon Lloyd, global product manager, paint support technology, MKS Atotec.
Photo Credit: MKS

Can you talk a bit about how EVs differ from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and how many of the parts (particularly engine parts) will differ from those in traditional vehicles?

DG: The obvious main difference between the two is the propulsion system. We lose the ICE, the transmission box, differentials or transfer cases, fuel and exhaust system and the conventional powerful cooling system. Components that require finishing that will go away include valve train, fasteners, piston rings and injection manifolds. We lose the fuel supply components like tanks, hangers, brackets, fasteners and fittings, as well as the conventional cooling systems, fasteners, fittings, brackets, etc.

EVs will add battery systems, cathode and anode current collectors, anode lead tabs, PCBs, connectors and busbars as well as battery modules and enclosures,  high-voltage current delivery busbars and connectors. All these parts will need new technologies to drive costs and weight down along with driving efficiency and smaller packaging. The electric motor has been relatively the same technology for years, but when the automotive sector starts mass-producing components, we observe that they will engineer them to be less costly, more powerful, reliable, smaller and more efficient. This will take new technology which may require different surface finishing and new materials. We see several separated cooling and heating loops, ensuring the temperature is perfectly adapted for the most efficient battery and e-motor working conditions, as well as a long and reliable lifetime for these most important components.

What does all of this mean for the coatings that are used for these parts?

DG: As mentioned above there will be additional requirements depending on the function. Fasteners will be required to be electrically conductive, whether for high voltage or grounding, they will have cleanliness requirements, and multi-material galvanic corrosion issues. Components may require electromagnetic shielding, grounding capability, or extreme heat resistance properties. With rising costs of EV batteries and other headwinds, it will be very important to find efficient high performing processes and manufacturing techniques to meet the requirements of these components. There will be additional needs for current parts to become “multipurpose,” meaning that they may be required to satisfy multiple functions while reducing complexity — less weight and lower costs. This can include using newer lightweight materials while needing an additional coating to perform certain functions or create additional properties.

BL: Thinking about Darrick’s statement of components providing multiple purposes, the battery housing or enclosure is exactly that. Not only is it providing a protective casing for the battery assembly, it additionally offers structural support for the vehicle as well. Since the lower part of the battery is exposed to the road environment, like the majority of underbody structural components, it needs to provide a similar level of corrosion protection as well. As a result, many of the OEMs are implementing similar or identical performance requirements already in use. However, if we consider that the housing is intended to contain the battery, especially in the case of damage or failure, additional requirements like dielectric resistance and thermal resistance are being included in performance specifications as well.

Can you talk about some of the work that’s being done by chemical suppliers to find the right solutions for processing parts for EVs?

DG: We are working closely with various OEMs and Tier 1s on engineering and design improvements using various surface finishes and processes to improve performance, efficiency, and costs. Not every OEM or Tier 1 has a large team of experts in the area of surface finishing, and partnering up with them to help find solutions will be very important. Using our technical centers and development production lines along with extensive material science labs we are able to test, develop and find new opportunities utilizing various materials and surface finishes. 

It seems that we’re at a point where the industry hasn’t completely converged on ways to approach various processes for EVs, which seems to imply there is a lot of room for innovation and collaboration.

DG: Correct, with the requested high speed of product rollout and the race to release new EVs to the market, there are currently not many “standards” that are aligned on how to make these components. Traditional automobiles had decades of development and have settled into very defined processes and standards. As we know in the past the automotive market wasn’t known for high-paced frequent changes. Reliability and quality requirements have always been very important to carefully track changes and create a level of high-volume repeatable results. Any finisher knows this with the current processes of PPAPs and current production requirements, as looked at from the OEMs, changes can be risky. We see the automakers racing to release the first generation of product to the market. Get a good reliable product out quickly to satisfy the fast, early growth of the market. This may mean that the initial product may not be as optimized as possible. But in the second and third iterations of the product development, there will be a lot of work upfront to look to simplify designs, improve reliability, efficiency and performance all while driving down costs.

One thing that cannot be ignored — automakers need to produce profitable products along with satisfying the needs and desires of the customers. For EV adoption rates to continue to grow past this first phase, this will all have to happen. And current raw material price increases and demands for limited materials, as well as new processes in recycling and reuse, will be very important in possibly driving further opportunity for finishers. The ability to recycle and to create appropriate life-cycle products is also in-line with the increasing understanding of the need to develop, produce, drive and recover vehicles and the corresponding parts sustainably. This is common sense, in society, end-customer, OEMs, tiers and the further industry including the chemistry experts.

BL: In addition, another bottleneck we are seeing in this EV race is limited production capabilities at the applicator level. Since there are many new parts with varying geometries and performance requirements, there are not many applicators set up to plate or paint them. We have already seen this lead to some delays from OEMs on their delivery timeline for new models and likely will continue to be the case. It is apparent that the number of applicators that have the capacity and capability to produce EV parts, especially some of the large battery components, will need to increase in the coming years.


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