Schaeffler presents new electric axle drives (e-axles). “E-axles are a central component of our electromobility strategy,” says Matthias Zink, Member of the Schaeffler AG Executive Board for Automotive Technologies. Until now, up to three drive components have been brought together in one compact unit for this purpose. With the so-called 4in1 E-axle, Schaeffler is now integrating thermal management into the axle drive in addition to the electric motor, power electronics, and transmission. Efficient thermal management ensures that a car drives further on one battery charge and charges faster. Also new are electric rigid axles for pickup trucks, so-called Beam E axles. Schaeffler will supply them to car manufacturers in the future, especially in North America.
E-axle with integrated thermal management
In electric cars, heat is a scarce commodity. For example, they lack the waste heat from the combustion engine to heat the interior. Range and fast-charging capability also depend to a large extent – especially at high or low outside temperatures – on whether the battery, for example, can be kept within a suitable temperature window. “Thermal management has a significant influence on the efficiency and comfort of the vehicle,” says Dr. Jochen Schröder, Head of Electromobility at Schaeffler. For this reason, the company already offers thermal management systems for all types of vehicle drives and is continuously developing them further. What is new is to combine the thermal system, which has so far mostly been considered separately, with the drive components of a classic E-axle. “This creates a highly integrated and compact overall system that requires significantly less installation space than non-integrated solutions,” says Schröder.
Since unnecessary hoses and cables are dispensed with, less energy is also lost in the form of heat. “The biggest advantage of the 4in1 system, apart from its compact design, is the optimization of the interaction between the individual subsystems,” says Schröder. This is because Schaeffler’s experts always consider both the thermal behavior of individual drive components, such as the electric motor or the power electronics, and the most efficient and comprehensive thermal management of the entire vehicle. For example, an intelligent control system ensures that excess heat from the power electronics and electric motor can be efficiently dissipated and used in the vehicle interior.
The supplier realizes further efficiency benefits with a new heat pump that uses the natural refrigerant carbon dioxide. Not only does it pollute the environment significantly less than conventional refrigerants, it also has physical properties that allow vehicles to be heated and cooled more efficiently. “Thanks to our 4in1 E-axis with integrated thermal management, we achieve even higher efficiency for the overall system,” explains Schröder. With an optimally designed system, up to 96 percent efficiency is possible. Every percentage point more in turn translates into a longer range.
E-drives from individual components to complete systems
With the 4in1 E-axle, Schaeffler is developing its most comprehensive drive system for electric cars to date. “Such highly integrated complete systems are interesting for both established automotive manufacturers and new players,” says Schröder. This is because they can shorten development times and save costs for complex new developments of the entire drive system. Nevertheless, the company continues to offer its customers individual components and subsystems for electric and hybrid drives, such as electric motors, transmissions, bearings or even thermal management.
The range also includes the combination of two or three drive components. Schaeffler is thus tapping into a particularly large market, especially since e-axles will be used in the future in everything from passenger cars to light commercial vehicles – both in vehicles with purely electric drives and with fuel cell drives. Even for commercial vehicles and heavy-duty applications, the supplier is developing appropriately adapted electric axles and components for electrification.
For the electrification of medium-duty pickup trucks, especially for the North American market, Schaeffler will develop and manufacture a so-called electric rigid axle, or Beam E axle. The electric motor, transmission, power electronics, and the entire rear axle will be connected together and delivered to customers as a ready-to-install unit. Such axles are then more than two meters wide. Schaeffler has already secured its first orders for electric rigid axles from automobile manufacturers. The company is thus entering a new market segment for electric axle drives.
Worldwide manufacturing network
Schaeffler manufactures the E-axle components at several locations around the world. The plant in Szombathely, Hungary, started operations in September 2021. The production location is the Schaeffler Group’s first pure e-mobility plant worldwide and is also a new center of excellence for the manufacture of components and systems for electrified drives. In addition, components for e-mobility and integrated electric axle drives are manufactured in Taicang, China. Another production facility is being built in Wooster, North America, where hybrid modules are already being manufactured today. In Bühl, the headquarters of Schaeffler’s Automotive division, the new global lead plant for electric motors is currently being built.