The evolution of automobility

The automotive sector is currently undergoing the deepest transition since the invention of the internal combustion engine. New forms of competition, new consumer expectations, and the urgent need to mitigate climate change are forcing a rethink of every aspect of the car.

The electric vehicle (EV) is changing the way cars are designed and manufactured as well as what they are designed to do. It’s also changing who makes cars. Car manufacturers used to be able to rely on the high level of capital expenditure needed to set up a car plant as a moat to market entry. This is no longer the case. EVs are simpler to make, so it is easier for newcomers operating within sophisticated supply chains to enter the market with new ideas about how things could be done more efficiently.

As governments find ways to meet their global climate change targets and cities introduce more stringent regulations to improve air quality, the demand for EVs is on the rise. Recent research by Goldman Sachs shows that EV adoption is expected to double to 16 percent by 2025, reach 33 percent by 2030, and cross the 50 percent threshold soon after 2035. This rate of adoption is key to helping combat climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have the potential to cut carbon emissions from the road transport sector by up to 70 percent by 2050 the closer we get to mass conversion to EVs powered by renewables on the world’s roads. With transport contributing up to 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, of which over half is produced by road-based passenger transport, EVs can play a significant role in the fight against climate change, bringing fundamental change to industry and wider society.

“The automotive industry supply chain is changing due to a paradigm shift in the technology and global challenges we face,” explains Remo Schwerzmann, Head of Grinding & Dispersing at Bühler. “This offers new opportunities as electric powered cars need smart solutions to increase the range of the car and improve reliability, safety, and comfort through sustainable energy solutions.”

One person at the center of all this change is Corsin Battaglia, Head of Laboratory Materials for Energy Conversion at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa), where he and his team develop new materials and processes for next-generation batteries, in collaboration with industry. He is very aware of how fast things are changing and what this means for industry players. “It’s a very dynamic industry, and the speed with which electric mobility is gaining momentum drives innovation at an unprecedented level,” he explains.

Die-casting shifts the scale

It is not just how automobiles are powered that matters to the climate; it is also how they are made. Manufacturers are therefore also focusing on cut-ting production emissions by moving away from steel and shifting to making cars out of aluminum on ever-larger die-casting solutions.

Aluminum has several significant environmental advantages. It has the potential to be net zero if it is produced using renewable energy sources such as solar or hydroelectricity. It is also a highly recyclable material, meaning that the larger the aluminum parts used in the car, the greater the potential for recycling once the vehicle is scrapped. As component parts have become larger there are also environmental savings when it comes to car assembly. Larger parts mean fewer robots needed to bolt components together, so factories can be smaller, less energy is used in the manufacturing process, and fewer components need to be transported to the assembly plant. Aluminum is not just more efficient in sourcing and production, it is also lighter, which has an environmental advantage when it comes to battery range.

To produce the larger and more complex car components that are increasingly being demanded by the market requires increasing the size and locking force of die-cast machines. Bühler is working with its die-casting customers to meet this challenge. Over the past four years, Bühler has developed its Carat die-casting solutions to include the 560 and 610, and the more recent 840 and 920. Each iteration of the Carat range has meant customers being able to produce ever larger and more complex structural parts for their vehicles in one shot.

“The idea is to build the complete car out of three parts – a front underbody, a middle casting for the battery case, and then a rear underbody. We are replacing all the individual parts that must be glued or welded together with one single casting,” says Cornel Mendler, Managing Director Die Casting at Bühler. “There are many advantages. It makes recycling easier, it requires fewer robots, and it means the footprint of the assembly line can be reduced.”

At the heart of every EV lies the electric battery. Making up around a third of the price of the overall vehicle, the race to drive down the cost and improve battery performance is key to the evolution of the EV market. And as the demand grows for batteries that are smaller, weigh less, produce more power, charge faster, and last longer, the production specifications of each battery manufacturer need to be more stringent. Each battery component must be of the highest quality and consistency.

It’s a very dynamic industry, and the speed with which electric mobility is gaining momentum drives innovation at an unprecedented level.

Corsin Battaglia, Head of Laboratory Materials for Energy Conversion at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa)

Battery performance relies on the quality of the battery slurry or electrode slurry that will ultimately coat the anode and cathode that generate the electric current. Made up of nano- and micro-scale particles of lithium metal oxides, graphite, silicon, conductive additives, and polymer binders, the battery performance depends on the proper grinding and dispersal of these constituents according to the strict manufacturing parameters set by each individual battery manufacturer.

Bühler specializes in two key stages in this process: the wet grinding of the raw materials for the anode and cathode active materials, and the mixing of the electrode slurry. “While we only supply a small part of the entire value chain, we are actually deep in the industry because it is only when the slurry is mixed to the strictest parameters that high battery performance can be achieved,” explains Schwerzmann.

robotic arm robotic arm With megacasting, automobile manufacturers will no longer need to weld or glue together scores of different components as they do today.

Transforming the mixing process

Historically, battery production has been based in Asia, where battery slurry was mixed in large vats involving the labor-intensive cleaning of each vat after each production cycle. Using vats also runs the risk of batch wastage if a testing sample fails laboratory quality controls.

Leveraging its knowledge around the continuous production of high-tech, non-food products, 10 years ago Bühler produced a continuous battery slurry mixing solution using twin-screw mixers. One of the main benefits of continuous mixing is the ability to automate the process and have it running 24 hours a day with no need to interrupt production to clean equipment. Continuous mixing also eliminates the risk of batch wastage. Bühler launched QuaLiB which provides a real time data flow of production parameters. This data can then be continuously monitored and tightly controlled to improve process safety, product quality, and overall yield.

“When it comes to the mixing of the slurry, we have years of in-house knowledge about how to fine-tune the required properties and how to execute a production plant,” explains Schwerzmann.

In a market where each increase in battery performance means a competitive edge, the ability to fine-tune production parameters in this way is key.

Scaling up battery production on an industrial scale is crucial to achieve climate targets. A daunt-ing challenge especially in Europe, where research institutes, car manufacturers, and governments are trying to make up for lost ground and build a self-sufficient battery industry from scratch. Bühler’s continuous mixing technology enables researchers to accurately calculate the parameters for industrial battery manufacturing by running trials on a smaller and far less expensive scale.

charging station charging station The mass conversion to electric cars powered by renewables has the potential to reduce CO₂ emissions from road traffic by 70 percent by 2050.

From automation to autonomy

How they are made, how they are powered; the automotive industry is working at full speed to find ways to meet our mobility needs more sustainably. The next revolution will be in how they are driven. Here the focus is on connectivity and automation.

From driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control to conditional automation, where the vehicle analyzes and interprets complex traffic scenarios and makes appropriate decisions, to full automation, where the vehicle makes real-time decisions in any driving condition or environment – the journey to toward autonomous driving is already well underway.

At the core of these changes are the sophisticated optical sensors needed to make this technology work. An optical sensor is the “eye” of the car. A prominent example is LiDAR (light detection and ranging) sensor technology, which is at the forefront of this transition with its ability to send out a laser beam that can scan its whole environment and, in doing so, calculate safe distances.

Microchips are the other key technology that will increasingly play a role. As we move toward autonomous driving, they must be powerful enough to process and analyze vast quantities of data from multiple sources and make complex real-time decisions in a wide range of scenarios.

self driving self driving Today the car is designed so that the driver can observe the environment. In the future, the car itself will be able to “see” by fusing LiDAR and RADAR sensors as well as cameras covering all possible drive situations and distance ranges.

These systems can only work effectively if they can filter out irrelevant information and focus on what matters, just like a human driver. To do this requires coating the sensor, or, in more advanced systems, coating the microchip itself with filters. Bühler Leybold Optics specializes in the manufacture of thin film vacuum coating equipment and also the corresponding coating processes that can meet these stringent requirements.

“In the future even more optical technologies will be implemented in cars on the way to fully autonomous driving,” explains Dr. Steffen Runkel, Head of Optics at Bühler Leybold Optics. “Today, the car is designed so that the driver can observe the environment well, in the future the car itself will be able to ‘see’. This will be done by fusing LiDAR and RADAR sensors as well as cameras covering all possible drive situations and distance ranges.”


The idea is to build the complete car out of three parts – a front underbody, a middle casting for the battery case, and a rear underbody.

Cornel Mendler, Managing Director Die Casting at Bühler

Improving sustainability all around the car

With every aspect of the car in transition, new technologies and new materials are coming into play. For example, reducing the weight of the vehicle means not just shifting from steel to aluminum, but also using thinner glass substrates for automotive glazing. And with the shift to EVs, the focus is on using energy as efficiently as possible to maximize battery performance. This means not just moving to lighter-weight vehicles, but also finding better ways to control cabin temperature, for example through solar-controlled and low-emission glass and using electrochromic coatings to shade interior spaces for both comfort and privacy.

Last but not least comes the look of the car. Chrome plays a significant role in the aesthetics, but the process of applying it has many drawbacks. Vacuum coating technologies provide a clean and sustainable alternative for metalizing 3D plastic components and trim parts. In comparison to classical electroplating, vacuum coating processes drastically reduce water and energy consumption and fully eliminate harmful chemicals. As for the coatings on the exterior, by producing these on highly efficient bead mills ensures minimal energy is required for maximum effect.

As the car industry transitions from the internal combustion engine to the EV, and as old conventions are questioned and new approaches developed, Bühler’s aim is to support customers with solutions that enable them to drive forward change and to play their part in providing sustainable mobility to people the world over.


aerial shot aerial shot Norway is playing a pioneering role in electromobility. Four out of five newly registered cars in the country are electric today, and the target is 100 percent by 2025.
In the future, even more optical technologies will be implemented in cars on the way to fully autonomous driving and alternative powertrains.

Dr. Steffen Runkel, Head of Optics at Bühler Leybold Optics

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