Quaker Houghton
The automotive industry is rapidly transitioning to EVs, which presents new challenges for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to remain competitive. To build EV components more efficiently and sustainably, manufacturers should consider an often overlooked but crucial factor to their productivity: industrial process fluids.

Electrifying Progress in e-Mobility Manufacturing Through Process Fluid Solutions

Jan. 10, 2024
Mobility is changing fast, and automotive component manufacturers must meet rapidly growing demand for affordable, advanced EVs. Fluid solutions are important for improving productivity, lowering costs, and maximizing efficiency.

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence data, the production of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) nearly doubled year over year, from 4.9 million vehicles produced in 2021 to over 8.7 million in 2022. It further forecasts, BEVs and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) will constitute 59% of the overall automotive market by 2029.

Despite supply chain disruptions and weak overall auto markets in 2022, the global electric vehicle (EV) market experienced rapid growth. The automotive industry is rapidly transitioning to EVs, which presents new challenges for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to remain competitive. To build EV components more efficiently and sustainably, manufacturers should consider an often overlooked but crucial factor to their productivity: industrial process fluids.

Automakers are increasing their EV-related investments and announcing big goals for EV production. Several large car manufacturers have committed to all-electric lineups in the next 15 years. Automakers that have embraced an EV strategy and increased their EV production have seen overall sales grow despite the turbulent market conditions. This indicates that EVs will continue to drive business growth for automakers and component manufacturers if they maintain efficient and cost-effective production methods.

Challenge for EV component manufacturers

For OEMs and component manufacturers to stay competitive in this rapidly changing industry, they will need to transition their operations from manufacturing internal combustion engines (ICE) to accounting for EV, hybrid, and sometimes all three types of vehicles. They’ll also need to work to meet ever-higher expectations for lower costs, shorter lead times, and more sustainable manufacturing processes that reduce waste and emissions.

To meet these expectations, OEMs must solve various technical challenges in three key areas of EV manufacturing: battery production, lightweighting, and eliminating noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Manufacturers must find efficient methods for forming battery casings while maintaining the highest degree of cleanliness. To get the greatest possible driving range from the battery, major structural components should be as light as possible. That means working with different materials, new component designs and concepts, and near-net-shape manufacturing to improve downstream production. To maximize the performance quality and driving experience of the EV, manufacturers also need to eliminate noise and vibration by improving surface quality and cleanliness.

Making progress with process fluids

To meet these challenges, component manufacturers invest in new machines and processes to optimize their production. While doing so, they should recognize the importance of process fluids. Transitioning to new equipment and operations is a perfect time to take a closer look at the industrial fluids needed for each application — because choosing the right fluid can significantly impact the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of an operation.

Industrial process fluids play a critical role in various metalworking applications, like diecasting, forging, forming, metal removal, heat treatment, and cleaning. The right fluid technology partner also can provide advanced solutions like coatings, surface treatments, and porosity sealants to enhance the quality and longevity of components.

When choosing process fluids for EV production, failing to look at the total cost of ownership with process fluids can lead to major missed opportunities. Finding the optimal fluid solution not only will reduce the total cost of ownership, it also can play a transformative role in the EV manufacturing process. Here are some key EV applications where fluid solutions can significantly enhance the process. 

Lightweighting vehicle structures

To illustrate just how important process fluids can be, consider the trend toward mega casting. By diecasting entire automotive structural parts as a single piece – such as a rear underbody or battery casing – manufacturers can streamline manufacturing processes, eliminating whole assembly processes and material waste while providing a lighter-weight structure for the vehicle. Die-release lubricants have a critical role to play in this process, but not all lubricants are the same. By switching from water-based lubricants to electrostatic, water-free die-release technology, manufacturers can greatly improve the cycle time, efficiency and sustainability of the process, with no wastewater or effluent, no need for compressed air to blow off the die, and less energy usage overall.

Aluminum plays a major role in vehicle structures for EVs because of its light weight. However, this nonferrous metal is extremely malleable, so manufacturers need effective heat treatment solutions to harden their aluminum components. The right quenchants can help to optimize performance and reduce costs in this hardening process.

Eliminating NVH in e-motors and transmissions

For e-motors and transmissions to run quietly and smoothly, the surface quality of each component is paramount. Achieving this with machining finishing operations requires advanced fluid solutions like high-quality mineral oils, synthetic oils, or ester-based oils. Choosing the right process fluid with stronger lubricity not only will enhance the surface quality of the product; it also will reduce the need for rework and improve production rates, energy efficiency, and operating costs.

Cleanliness is important so that oils and residues will not interfere with subsequent manufacturing processes. Here, component manufacturers can significantly improve their process time and total cost of ownership with low-residue, longer-lasting spray and immersion metal cleaners. These fluids offer good oil-splitting characteristics for effective metal cleaning, improving downstream processes.

Optimizing battery can production

When forming battery cell casings or housings, a high-performance metal-forming fluid can provide a wide range of benefits to improve production. Battery manufacturers can easily apply these fluids by spray or rolling to enhance the lubricity, die life and release of the shell from the die to reduce the rejection rate and improve overall efficiency.

Cleanliness is also a critical factor in the production of EV batteries. Minimizing residues and enhancing the compatibility with downstream assembly processes are keys to success. But without the right process fluids, this demanding process can be resource- and time-intensive. Manufacturers can optimize their cleaning processes with fast-acting cleaners that minimize process time and provide long system life for fewer refills. They can enhance the sustainability of their cleaning operations with fluids that enable low-temperature cleaning. The result is a faster cleaning process that creates less waste and uses less energy.

Advancing the future of mobility with the right fluid technology partner

Mobility is changing fast, and automotive component manufacturers are tasked with meeting rapidly growing demand for more affordable, more advanced EVs. Fluid solutions are an important piece of the puzzle for improving productivity, lowering costs and maximizing efficiency. But OEMs aren’t left alone to figure out which solutions will bring them the performance they need.

Partnering with an expert fluid technology provider, such as Quaker Houghton, will give manufacturers the assistance they need to find the optimal solution for each application. But the right partner will deliver value that goes far beyond process fluid products — they will collaborate closely with manufacturers to provide technology and services in areas like operating solutions, fluid management, and industry 4.0. With an expert fluid partner, EV component manufacturers can meet today's and tomorrow's challenges by improving the efficiency, sustainability, and profitability of their overall production.

Pascal Rival is the Global Director e-Mobility for Quaker Houghton.