The electrification of vehicles is accelerating at a remarkable pace, and it’s only just getting started.
Last year, 5.8% of all vehicles sold in America were electric, according to J.D. Power. That may not sound like a lot, but that’s up from 3.2% only one year before. Some forecasts have that share hitting a third within seven years, and by a dozen years from now General Motors expects to be selling only zero-emission vehicles such as EVs.
And even that’s just the tip of the electrification iceberg, says Rose-Hulman alum Matthew Leach, vice president for new product introduction and innovation at the Essex Furukawa MagForceX® Innovation Center in Fort Wayne. “It’s not just cars—it’s trucks, planes, boats. It’s offroad vehicles, heavy equipment, aviation, research on electrification of regional flights, even maritime applications, from outboard motors to ferry boats.”
Leach and his employer have a powerful interest in this electrification trend. “At the heart is the drive motor or traction motor, and we supply a key component for the traction motors,” Leach says. That key component is the winding wire that’s central to converting electricity into the force that spins the rotors and puts the wheels in motion.
“With this push for electrification, motors definitely need higher efficiency—a higher kilowatt output per kilogram of motor weight,” Leach says. “That has pushed demands on our product.”
As Essex Furukawa established its initial innovation center in 2017, it sought university partners to get involved in various aspects of research and development. Leach received information about Rose-Hulman Ventures a number of years ago and established a relationship early on.
One opportunity that came forward has been development of an inline quality protection system to fully inspect 100% of the product emerging at high speeds from a continuous production process. “We established the scope of work with Rose-Hulman Ventures working with project managers and interns assigned to the project,” he says. “There were various iterations and we ultimately came up with a system we believe will be beneficial for us.”
It was a two-phase project, Leach says. “The initial phase with a less difficult scope we worked on first. From there we internally took over the development for specific products, but also used Rose-Hulman Ventures to help with some of the firmware.”
The partnership with Rose-Hulman Ventures has led to a lot of helpful development, including functional prototypes, he says. “It was a unique mix of seasoned professionals as project managers with highly intelligent skilled interns—very hands-on,” he says. “They had an ability with an onsite model shop to prototype this stuff.”
The Rose-Hulman Ventures approach offers a fresh look to challenges. “Ideas can come from anybody, any skillset. That is the good match there,” Leach says.
“They’re a great team to work with,” he adds. “Having very skilled and seasoned project managers in combination with interns is a good way to supplement projects for which you may not have all the skillsets inhouse.”