THE MODERN FAST TRACK TO SERIES PRODUCTION
Text: Thomas Masuch; Photos: e.Go / Thomas Masuch
From a prototype to mass production in two years: What sounds like a start-up fairytale is actually the reality Dr. Bastian Lüdtke is overseeing right now. As head of industrial engineering at Aachen, Germany‘s e.GO Mobile AG, Lüdtke is developing an urban-minded electric vehicle and simultaneously drawing up plans to produce up to 10,000 of them per year. Among other aspects, the tremendous pace of this project is being made possible by Additive Manufacturing and intelligent production techniques.
If everything goes according to the ambitious plans of e.GO Mobile AG, its first mass-produced electric vehicles will start rolling off the assembly line at its factory in Aachen in mid-2018. With its new model – dubbed the e.GO Life – the company is hoping to carve out a market niche for electric vehicles that are simple, stylish, and affordable.
Having been in business for just two years, e.GO Mobile has put itself on a remarkably fast track to series production. On the verdant periphery of storied Aachen, the company‘s sleek showroom on the RWTH Aachen Campus currently features two of its six drivable prototypes between an aluminum monocoque and colorful upholstered chairs. Visitors can appraise the fresh look and interior of the 11-foot-long, nearly six-foot-wide vehicle and even fill out a preorder form.
»Around 30% of our first prototype was made up of additive parts.«
A little over two years after its foundation, e.GO Mobile is already planning to commence series production of the e.GO Life in May 2018, with the first deliveries following in July. An estimated €30 million was invested in the company‘ s rapid development, and Additive Manufacturing has also played a prominent role. In the beginning, e.GO Mobile incorporated numerous 3D-printed plastic components into its prototypes, including part of the dashboard. »Around 30% of our first prototype was made up of additive parts,« Bastian Lüdtke recalls.
While this percentage gradually declined on the path to series production, it grew in terms of the manufacturing resources involved – support mounts and positioning aids, for example. 3D printing will continue to be a key manufacturing technique at e.GO, as well: Development has already commenced on its next prototype, a self-driving bus known as e. GO Mover.
700 PREORDERS PROVIDE A MOTIVATIONAL BOOST
Despite its young age, e.GO Mobile now employs 100 people and still has plenty of job offers open on its website. In other words, the company isn’t planning on slowing down its growth any time soon. It has quickly evolved from a start-up whose assembly operations and offices stood side-by-side into a midsize organization. e.GO Mobile’s employees have since moved into a freshly built complex on the RWTH Aachen Campus, and the atmosphere at the company has followed suit.
»We‘ve started operating like a growth company,« reports Christine Häußler, who oversees e.GO Mobile‘s public relations efforts. At the same time, she says you can still sense the same youthful spirit and high degree of creativity in the air. »Here, nobody says ‘that‘s the way we‘ve always done it’ because everything is so new,« Bastian Lüdtke affirms.
Meanwhile, considerable interest and the 700 preorders already received for the e.GO Life have led to a surge of motivation at this up-and-coming firm. In spite of all the market research and feasibility studies it performed, Häußler admits that »no one actually knew how well the vehicle would be received«.
According to Lüdtke, operating so close to other young companies and the research institutes on campus was »a huge help« in driving e.GO Mobile‘s development and refining its technology.
Additive Manufacturing has played a key role in constructing the prototypes. The light-gray section of the dashboard was 3D-printed, for example.
While this percentage gradually declined on the path to series production, it grew in terms of the manufacturing resources involved – support mounts and positioning aids, for example.
THE CHALLENGES OF SERIES PRODUCTION
In the Rothe Erde district of Aachen, construction is under way on a new factory centered on cutting-edge industrial production techniques. It will focus in particular on information logistics, which involves continuously monitoring and recording processes in order to make ongoing optimizations. »It‘s definitely going to make us a reference factory when it comes to Industry 4.0,« Lüdtke states. From his perspective as an industrial engineer, another advantage lies in »being able to eliminate interface problems through improved data continuity« – that is, no longer having to convert between different data formats. This also makes production more precise and leads to less post-processing work.
As work continues at the factory site, prototype development is always progressing back on campus. The assembly hall there is currently producing two or three designs every month, some of which then undergo trial runs at a track near Aachen. According to Lüdtke, the goal of e.GO Mobile‘s ongoing prototype production is to »keep improving our varying levels of maturity«. Besides testing the models’ long-term durability, this includes efforts to further optimize their insulation and reduce clearance gaps in their body shells.
ATTRACTIVE PRICES THANKS TO A NEW APPROACH TO VEHICLE CONSTRUCTION
The concept behind the e.GO Life is designed to make e-mobility attractive, especially in terms of its price. Starting at €15,900, this compact four-seater is looking to appeal to city dwellers and cost more than €10,000 less than a VW e-up!, Kia Soul EV, or Nissan Leaf (including batteries). It does have a range of just over 100 kilometers, however, which means the e.GO Life will indeed be limited to trips in urban areas in most cases.
As Bastian Lüdtke explains, his company was able to achieve a relatively low price thanks mainly to »a different approach to vehicle construction«. Based around an aluminum chassis, the vehicle‘s outer shell (including the roof, doors, and hood) is made of plastic rather than sheet metal. »That means our production operations don’t require expensive metal presses and similar tools,« Lüdtke points out. Since its plastic body components can already be produced in the right colors, there’s also no need to paint the e.GO Life. Customers can choose from a variety of base colors, and further detailing can be added in the form of foil patterns.
In addition, the e.GO Life eschews the typical high-voltage unit in favor of a 48-volt Bosch drive system weighing just 810 kilograms. »For the battery and motor, we took Bosch up on an offer it had made us and collaborate on some further adjustments,« Lüdtke says, adding that the vehicle‘s lower voltage will simplify both production and eventual maintenance. He also reveals that it will be possible to plug the e.GO Life into a common household outlet and recharge it in five to six hours.
e.Go Mobile AG
e.GO Mobile AG was founded in 2015. In developing the e.GO Life for urban environments, the company based its work on the designs created by another Aachen-based firm, StreetScooter. This company, which was founded by Aachen professor Dr. Günther Schuh, produced concepts for both electric transport vehicles and an electric car designed for private use. Deutsche Post AG then acquired StreetScooter (along with its utility vehicle division) in 2014. Meanwhile, Dr. Schuh and several partners founded e.GO Mobile AG on the basis of StreetScooter‘s passenger car concepts. Along with the e.GO Life, development is under way on the e.GO Mover, a self-driving compact bus. Production of the e.GO Life is scheduled to begin at the company‘s new factory in May 2018. Günther Schuh is now chairman and CEO of e.GO Mobile AG, which currently employs around 100 people and plans to expand to 250 in 2018.