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Case Study: Powering an EV from an industry outsider

No-one needs reminding just how quickly the market for electric vehicles is growing. This opportunity has led to many businesses beyond the mobility space looking to get in on the action. Our client, already a household name in home and lifestyle products , happened to be one such business. The final product would be a luxury 7-seater EV boasting a 600-mile range on a single charge and a futuristic design.

What was the main goal for this project?

The focus for this project was supporting the client in integrating their power distribution unit (PDU) with their battery.

“It’s a pain from a manufacturing standpoint to have a separate component for your Power Distribution Unit… If you can make it part of the battery, it’s one less thing to assemble, so it makes your production lines simpler.”

High Voltage Systems Engineer

Our client didn’t have the in-house resource to meet their desired timeline with this project, so they contacted FutureMotiv where we assigned High Voltage Systems Engineer to lead a team of CAD designers to integrate a high voltage PDU into the front section of the battery.

What were the key challenges faced and how did we overcome these?

The space constraints represented the most significant challenge during this project.

“There were a lot more contactors than you would normally expect in a PDU…11 or 12 where you would normally expect four or five…and we had to integrate these into a very small space.”

In fact, fitting it in would have been easy. The challenge is fitting it in a way that the bus bars don’t end up contorting, and you don’t end up having to wrap these bus bars around each other or thread things through each other.

All the while, our team are thinking ahead to manufacturing and how the components can be designed and arranged in a way that not only works for a prototype vehicle but is optimised for production lines too.

“We have to design this assembly so it can drop into the front of the battery on the production line…be bolted on, plugged in, and go.”

A keen understanding of available manufacturing processes helps our engineers make the right calls on the most efficient way to combine the different elements and how to package them.

“I made the plastic casing that held it all together a relatively complex shape because there are manufacturing processes available that will allow that to be pretty complex…. I’m going to sacrifice complexity there to keep everything else simple, and cheap.”

Another unique challenge with EV design, particularly in regards to the high voltage systems, relates to the safety considerations. During the manufacturing process of an EV, you’ll have permanently live components within the system which could seriously harm an individual coming into contact with them. Placing the right safety parameters around these helps to minimise the risk.

On this particular project, we dealt with this by utilising a second lid on top of the first one. This second lid would provide enough access to change the fuses without exposing the operator to the potentially live voltage inside.

How did we go about achieving the project goal?

This process starts with designing the top level architecture. We examine the space provided, the system architecture and the line diagram of what the client is looking to implement.

This can begin with something as simple as a scrap piece of paper, jotting down a basic layout that we expect will fit into the space, and considering what we’d have to do to make these components fit together.

“You’re having to think simultaneously. Electrical engineering, systems engineering, materials engineering, and manufacturing engineering all at once….

It all goes in from the very start to produce an approximate layout that makes you think ‘I can take this and refine it into a product which at the end should be pretty close to nominal in terms of functionality and manufacturability for low cost.’”

With the client’s CAD team coming from a background of low voltage home goods, there was a natural knowledge gap in regards to designing and optimising a high voltage system for an electric vehicle. In this case, our lead on the project started by teaching our client’s internal team best practises in designing this type of system.

 “The actual brunt of the work was done by the client’s internal team, but they didn’t have a deep understanding of what they were doing. They’d only just learned the basics….

My role during the process then, was as an overseeing engineer. I’m making sure they’re not doing things that are either impractical or don’t work, and sometimes I’m coming up with ideas.”

What were the outcomes and why did this client opt to work with FutureMotiv?

We fulfilled our role within the project of supporting the client in integrating their PDU with the battery ahead of a working prototype and production run.

FutureMotiv’s parent company, RLE International, had already been involved with this project on mechanical work for chassis structure, so when the client realised they’d also need support on electrical systems, it was a natural fit to bring in FutureMotiv.

We have a strong reputation for working quickly and efficiently which particularly suits the needs of startup EV projects where the time to market is crucial to commercial viability.

Why should people come and work at FutureMotiv?

Here’s what our team had to say.

“Every single one of our projects is challenging.

The advantage of being at FutureMotiv is that you get a nice spread of varied projects, which are exciting and help you learn to be a better engineer.

You’ll learn additional skillsets and see different customers doing things in wildly different ways.”

We hope this has been an informative and interesting read, and if you’d like to learn more about the work we do, check out the rest of our website or follow us on LinkedIn.