For twenty-five years, the Competence Center for Emission-Free Mobility (KEM) in Mannheim has been the pilot factory for Daimler AG’s vehicles with alternative drive systems. As a development partner within the company, KEM builds prototypes, produces small series and prepares series start-ups.
This closes the gap between vehicle development and large-scale production. Mainly, KEM focuses on introducing and integrating electric and other alternative drive systems into series production. At the same time, designing production lines with cutting-edge technologies is one of KEM’s core competencies. More than 50 engineers, master craftsmen and mechatronics specialists combine their extensive know-how to define new manufacturing processes for components of low-emission and emission-free vehicles such as battery packs or entire battery systems.
Dr. Frank Reintjes, Head of Global Powertrain, E-Mobility and Production Planning at Daimler Truck AG, said: “At Daimler Trucks & Buses, we are pursuing a sustainable business strategy with the aim of a CO2-neutral form of road transportation. This can only be realised using electric commercial vehicles with a battery or fuel cell drive. We’re constantly developing both of these technologies to series production. We will launch battery-powered trucks onto the market from 2021 onwards, followed by hydrogen drives by the end of the 2020s. But these vehicles will only prevail on the market if they are economically viable for our customers and if the necessary charging infrastructure is available. Here, we especially need our political representatives to put suitable framework conditions in place.”
The Competence Centre for Emission-Free Mobility has already been involved in the series start-up of the fully electric Mercedes-Benz eCitaro city bus, which has been manufactured in Mannheim since the end of 2018. Since then, battery modules have been pre-assembled into battery systems for the eCitaro at KEM. These are mounted to the roof and also installed into the engine compartment during the city bus’s assembly. Due to this expertise, series production of battery packs for the eActros scheduled from 2021 onwards will also take place at KEM.
As part of the future package passed in agreement with the works council in February 2019, an investment volume in the double-digit millions in the Mercedes-Benz site in Mannheim has been announced. KEM, which plays a key role in Daimler Truck AG’s sustainable corporate strategy, also benefits from this. For apart from its twenty-five years of experience, KEM’s new production hall with state-of-the-art equipment is a considerable advantage. In operation since 2016, the 15,000 square metre building houses the necessary equipment for vehicle-specific high-voltage applications as well as facilities for the production of hydrogen tank systems including high-pressure leak testing systems.
“It’s very important for us to rapidly implement innovations in the production of new drive technologies and to introduce them into series production. And that’s exactly KEM’s area of expertise and competence. Especially in the current transformation of the automotive industry, this is of utmost importance,” said Andreas Moch, Head of the Mercedes-Benz plant in Mannheim.
The Competence Centre was founded in 1994 for emission-free commercial vehicles and began solely as an experimental workshop for new drive systems. One of its first projects was the assembly of T1-model vehicles – the predecessor of the Sprinter – with electric drives in 1996. Over the past decades, its focus of development as well as production have been diverse and wide-ranging, based on the most recent events and trends. For example, its focus was primarily on natural gas drives in the early 2000s, while it has been shifting more and more to electric drivetrains and battery technologies in the past years.
Most recently, KEM has completed the assembly of eActros trucks for customer testing in a team effort with the Mercedes-Benz sites in Wörth and Stuttgart. Among other things, KEM took over the training and qualification of employees with regard to the new technology and its corresponding production processes.
As Georg Klohr, Head of the Competence Centre for Emission-Free Mobility, pointed out regarding the increasing relevance of alternative drives in recent years: “In the past twenty-five years, we’ve gained a considerable amount of experience with a variety of technologies. With this knowledge, we are very well positioned for the future. Already today, each Daimler vehicle with an alternative drive system also contains a piece of KEM’s expertise.”