Bosch Celebrates The Launch Of Electric Motor Production In South Carolina

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In September 2015, a news story broke that has since triggered fundamental changes for many automakers and suppliers, most of whom are based in Germany. The first reports of what came to be known as “dieselgate” emerged when it became known that Volkswagen was cheating on diesel engine emissions tests. The scandal ultimately spread to other automakers and suppliers including Bosch. As the world’s largest automotive supplier, Bosch produced many of the components and software for those not so clean diesel engines. Like its automaker customers, Bosch has now pivoted heavily toward electrification including at its Charleston, South Carolina factory.

The Charleston plant is Bosch’s largest in North America and in early 2020, the company announced that it would wind down production of diesel components there. In a 200,000 square foot area of the same building, Bosch this month began production of electric motors that are now being delivered to Rivian’s assembly plant in Illinois for installation into the R1T electric pickup.

So far Bosch has invested more than $6 billion in the global transition to electrification and plans to spend more in the coming years as it continues to shift more production from components and systems for internal combustion and convert facilities. $260 million of that investment is going into the Charleston plant to retool and reconfigure as well as retrain staff. Over the past year, many of the staff have spent time at Bosch factories in Germany learning new processes and understanding the new equipment

The Charleston plant is now producing the major components for the Rivian drive motors including rotors and stators and completing final assembly of the electric machines. As with most motor production, the process is highly automated for the stacking of the laminate plates for the rotors and installation of the thick copper windings in the stator. Each Rivian R1 currently uses 4 of these motors while the delivery vans use two.

The first motor line that is now running will have capacity for about 160,000 Rivian motors annually which is enough for somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000 vehicles depending on the mix of R1 and van. Over the next three years, three additional lines will be installed to manufacture motors for additional customers. The building is being expanded by 75,000 square feet to accommodate the extra lines with the first of those scheduled to be operational by the end of 2023. During 2021, Bosch booked more than $10 billion in orders for electromobility products including motors, power electronics and other components.

Right now Charleston has about the same 1,500 staff it had producing injectors, but the expansion of motor production will add another 350 jobs. Currently about 450 of the staff are engineers and other personnel not directly involved in production with the rest split roughly evenly between skill trades like electricians, pipefitters etc and equipment operators but the latter category will grow as production expands.

Shifting from production of fuel injectors to electric motors was much more complex than simply removing old equipment and installing new machines. Finished injectors are a few inches long and way a few ounces. The electric motors weigh about 90-pounds each meaning far fewer of them can be put in each outgoing truck and parts coming in are much heavier than before. This led to some major reworking of how logistics will function at the plant. A significant amount of time has been spent running AI optimization models to figure out the optimum configuration of equipment, loading docks, on site parts storage and more.

Substantially more trucks will be going in and out of the plant every day delivering parts and carrying away motors than were required for fuel injectors. Bosch worked closely with local authorities to ensure that traffic wasn’t going to be an issue. Between the supply chain challenges of the past two years and changes in the size and weight of some of the electric components being shipped, this is all a contributing factor to the move to localize more production in the shift to electric vehicles. This is particularly important for companies building and shipping batteries which weigh upwards of 1,000-lbs, but even the injector to motor transition is impacted for Bosch.

The e-machines currently being produced are permanent magnet motors that feature magnets embedded in the rotor to create a magnetic field. The alternating current that goes into the stator winding interacts with that magnetic field causing the rotor to turn and move the vehicle. During braking, the momentum of the vehicle turns the rotor, which in turn induces a current in the winding which is fed back to charge the battery. This is known as regenerative braking.

Charleston isn’t the only South Carolina Bosch factory benefiting from the shift away from combustion. Another plant across the state in Anderson has been earmarked for a $200 million retooling that will lead to the production of hydrogen fuel cells by 2026. The fuel cell production will add another 350 jobs in Anderson.

The Bosch lineup of electric motors for light duty and commercial vehicles ranges from small 50-kW units up to 500-kW with support for up to 850 architectures. Bosch also produces motors with discrete and integrated reduction gearboxes at its various plants in Europe and China.

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