The Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles plant situated in Bengaluru follows the concept of frugal engineering to deliver the next generation electric car: Mahindra e2o | By Indira Rao |
Exemplifying innovation based engineering; the Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles manufacturing plant is one of its kind in the automotive industry. The company currently manufactures the ‘Mahindra e2o’, which was launched in the market in March 2013. “The product has been received well by the customers for its technology, ease of use, scale of economy offered in terms of fuel savings and tremendous contribution towards the environment being a green car,” asserts Chetan Maini, founder & CEO, Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicle Ltd.
Situated in Bengaluru, the plant functions on the philosophy of “Future of Mobility” that is based on five pillars of ‘C’ – Clean, Convenient, Connected, Clever and Cost Effective. It has also received a ‘Platinum’ rating, which is the highest rating, from the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC). Spread across 4.2 acres, the plant has 28 assembly stages and has an installed capacity to produce 35,000 cars per year and can accommodate various variants of e2o meant for the Indian and overseas market. “Such a high installed capacity in a smaller area is possible due to absence of any paint plant and welding shop inside the plant. And that is attributed to innovative product and process design which uses pre colored panels for the exterior of the car,” states Umesh Krishnappa, vice president – operations & business excellence, Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicle Ltd. The 28 stages are divided into two simple and straight trim lines. At every stage special purpose material handling equipment are provided to the operators. “This also enables for positional ergonomics of the workers so that they do not have to acquire uncomfortable body positions and posturing to avoid any injury or long term strain. A very good example of this are the two pentographs at stages 1, 2, 3 and 28 where the assembly is basically below the chassis and a sufficient height is provided for a comfortable assembly,” says Krishnappa.
The plant consists of state-of-the-art equipment needed to manufacture a car such as e2o. For example, it has a ‘Chassis dynamometer’ which is used to check the complete vehicle characteristics at the end of line. This equipment measures the vital functional parameters of the vehicle which has a direct bearing on the customer driving experience like the braking characteristics, torque, power consumption and efficiency of the vehicle at different speeds. “This equipment has the unique feature of giving power back to the grid while testing the vehicle, thus again demonstrating the energy conservation aspect of the green plant. The dynamometer besides conducting product tests can also be used for any road load driving cycle simulation like the Indian or the European driving cycle,” elucidates Krishnappa. The Electrical Check out Systems (ECOS) is a distinguished feature of this plant for producing the EV’s. It checks the complete electrical safety aspects of the vehicle and carries out around 110 checks for validating the hardware, software and communication interfaces and integration of the car in an automated manner.
The ECOS also ensures that the thermal aspects of the car in terms of battery terminal temperatures and other critical terminal temperatures are met in each car so that a reliable and durable product can be delivered to the customer. As a unique design feature the e2o does not use sheet metal exteriors but uses pre colored ABS body panels which are bonded to the high strength tubular chassis. This is useful for the ‘light weight’ aspect of the vehicle but also saves the plant from polluting paint plant.
“The process of bonding the exterior panels to the tubular chassis happens by a special purpose bonding machine which is a butterfly mechanism developed locally and frugally to ensure that sufficient pressure is only imparted on the exterior parts for a sufficient time. There is a special imported bonding agent that is used between the exterior parts and the chassis which ensures that a very strong life time bond is created to provide a sound structure with good aesthetics,” explains Krishnappa. The cars need to be checked for water leakages at every point and this requires water showers at different angles at a pressure of 1.5 to 1.75 bars. Mahindra Reva has installed a shower tester which is safe and automated and is 6.0 m (L) x 3.6 m (w) x 3.0 m (h) in size sufficient enough for the cars. The shower uses the water and makes it completely recyclable without any waste. Another energy saving feature, the plant uses only LED lighting. “So that defects do not go unnoticed while not causing any strain to the operator’s eye, a light intensity of around 300~350 Lux is planned. At the PDI stage an illumination of 1000 Lux is provided,” avows Krishnappa.
Electric vehicles are low volume products when compared with conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles and hence it is important that the ways of manufacturing the product are frugal without any compromise on the safety, performance and reliability of the vehicle as well as that of the plant equipment, machines and personnel. This surely requires high levels of innovation both at the product and plant level. “At the plant level, Mahindra Reva has demonstrated a very innovative yet frugal mindset to build the green plant and at a cost which is purely a benchmark not only amongst the plants in the Mahindra Group but also in the industry,” professes Maini.
There are many demonstrative features with extremely careful planning which has made this possible and they are: Using natural sunlight in the plant thus cutting down the energy needs of the plant drastically. This has been made possible due to usage of innovative architecture in the front and rear of the plant. The special article uses special purpose Polycarbonate material in layers which allows maximum light to be transmitted inside while insulating the heat to travel inside. The plant is also naturally aspirated and does not use any forced air circulators on the top. “This has given rise to huge savings in cost without compromising on the air quality and air changes per hour. The special reflective coating on the top helps in reflecting the heat and a minimum air change of 15 air changes per hour is maintained,” states Krishnappa. In addition, the aerodynamic design keeps the whole plant cool and comfortable. There are several rooms at underground levels like the pump, compressor etc. where innovative light piping method has been used. This uses inexpensive material like acrylic in special shapes so that the solar light falls on it, thus providing sufficient light inside.
One of the main concerns that people have about electric cars is of travelling far without the battery running out. Anticipating this, Mahindra took far reaching pioneering steps during the development stage itself to address the issue. “The feature introduced by us to address this problem is known as ‘Revive’ and is a patent of the company. In the event of a user getting stranded in between due to low or no state of charge, the user can simply send an SMS or press the button ‘Revive’ on the smart phone and within minutes the user will be provided with a charge remotely which will enable him/her to travel another 10 to 12 km,” exclaims Krishnappa.
The company has already installed charging points at all the important locations frequented by the customer like the airports, malls and public places etc. in the cities where the car is launched. Mahindra Solar has also commissioned a solar power plant as per Mahindra Reva’s design needs and also received a substantial subsidy from the government towards demonstrating sustainability. “This solar park doubles up as a store for finished goods stock and can house 60 cars inside it. The cars parked here are delivered to the customer charged with electricity generated by the solar park. Our ‘sun to car concept’ provides energy free for life. A user who uses the car for an average 50 to 60 km in a day can provide charge to the car free for life by using the company designed solar shed. These structures are offered to the customer to be installed in their homes too,” avows Krishnappa.
The entire manufacturing set up screams out that Mahindra Reva has been successful in breaking the myth that ‘green is not affordable’ by building a plant at a very frugal budget. Their future plans include manufacturing other versions of e2o and EV Powertrain kits for Mahindra vehicle platforms. With constant developments in going green the company is sure to bring about a significant change in the way the mobility is going to take shape in the near future.