Connect for success
Production of the first transmission module for an electric axle drive was launched at the end of December 2017. It is thanks to the close collaboration between Schaeffler engineers from Germany and China that the project succeeded despite the tight schedule.
Michael Berger and Chen Peng are separated by about 8,700 kilometers as the crow flies. But the two project managers share a common mission: launching volume production of Schaeffler’s first electric axle drive for a Chinese customer. They talk on the phone almost every day and have seen each other in person dozens of times. “We have received very positive feedback from our customer regarding our collaboration,” says Berger, who assumed project management responsibility for the development of the electric axle drive at Schaeffler three years ago. He didn’t have any China-related experience, but he knew right from the start: “Ineed my Chinese colleague, not only as an interface with regard to the customer, but also to manage local R&D activities in Anting near Shanghai.”
Collaboration between the two teams in Anting and Herzogenaurach enabled Schaeffler to rapidly respond to customer requests. For instance, it allowed components to be analyzed on site within just two days following driving tests. The company’s best experts were involved in evaluating the results of such returns analyses. Software development was carried out on a transnational basis as well: While Chinese Schaeffler experts took part in the customer’s winter tests, Schaeffler Engineering programmers from Werdohl contributed their knowledge and expertise behind the scenes. They had previously developed the functional software, working closely with colleagues from Buehl, who were responsible for the gear shifting actuator.
We have received very positive feedback from our customer regarding our collaboration.
Collaboration was also particularly important in terms of production planning. After all, the axle drive envisaged for China is a high-tech product in every respect. It features a shiftable two-speed gearbox, which allows the electric motor to be used even at high driving speeds. What would place the highest demands on manufacturing precision in a “normal” car poses an even greater challenge when it comes to electric driving. If there were any audible noise, this would not be drowned out by the internal combustion engine. A large part of the production facilities had to be developed from scratch by Schaeffler’s own Special Machinery department, because the company had never before manufactured such a drive system. As a result, it was decided at an early stage: Production launch will take place in Herzogenaurach, and only when everything is running smoothly will the machines be relocated to the Taicang plant in China.
For Berger, working collaboratively does not mean avoiding conflicts for the sake of harmony, but rather ensuring that roles are clearly defined. “It is completely clear to me that our Chinese colleagues do everything they can to satisfy our customer,” he says. “But it is also important to keep an eye on the interests of the company as a whole.” In his opinion, there’s only one thing that helps in such cases: Reaching for the phone and developing a common strategy for action.