At the exhibition, Heller said that “electric powertrains will only require 20% of the machining capacity of ICE powertrains”. And German-Japanese machine tool giant DMG Mori cited e-mobility (electric cars), artificial intelligence (auto-driving) and the sharing economy (hire of vehicles not ownership), with DMG Mori Co president Dr Masahiko Mori saying that “the complete transportation system will change”. He added that 25% of the firm’s business is in automotive, with this expected to decline to 15% in coming years, but added there are opportunities elsewhere.

Asked about the impact on the grinding machine market, CEO of United Grinding Stephan Nell was a bit stumped, clearly not having given much thought to the subject yet, but suggesting there will be some losses and some gains – more electric motor shafts to grind, for example.

Family-owned German machine tool maker Grob, which is heavily focused on the automotive sector with 75% of sales here, had the biggest announcement at the event, launching its ‘Electromobility Division’and showing an electric Porsche on its stand, as well running a video of an electric motor winding machine. This reflects the company’s purchase in January of Italian firm DMG Meccanica – a firm that specialises in electric motor winding technology.

Now, before panic sets in, Heller said that it believes the ICE will “remain our main field of activity for at least another 10 years”. And gearbox maker ZF Friedrichshafen reckons that 90% of vehicles worldwide will still be equipped with an ICE in 2030, although 40% will be hybrid (combining both ICE and electric drive).

But anyway, there are those that see much potential. Laser maker Trumpf’s Marc Kirchhoff, head of automotive industry management at the company, sees the development of high volume production as one of the big challenges, saying: “Laser is the ideal tool here, based on its high level of productivity and flexibility.” And Dr Jens Standfuss, head of the joining business segment at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology (IWS) in Dresden, adds: “The use of laser extends across the entire process chain of electric car production. No matter whether it concerns battery manufacturing, electrical contacting, connections or the drive train – the power electronics and electric motor.”

There can be no doubt that there will be a wave of auto-related industrial change in the years ahead, but for the moment there appear only to be ripples.

First published in Machinery, November 2017