SHANGHAI — A few years ago, automakers in China still heavily relied on manual labor to assemble electric axle drives.
That has changed dramatically as annual EV output topped 1.1 million in 2020, quadruple the number in 2015. The explosion has prompted auto companies to look for ways to automate assembly of e-axle drives, which combine electric motors, transmissions and power electronics in a single unit.
This has created opportunities for industrial automation companies. Among those at the forefront of this trend is Comau, a major supplier of powertrain machining and assembly equipment for automakers in China. The company's robotic technology has helped EV makers significantly expand output, said Wang Junwu, engineering director of Comau's powertrain assembly division in China.
By using its own proprietary technology and forming partnerships with other automation providers, the Italian company has developed robotized e-axle assembly lines for several major automakers producing EVs in China.
Comau also develops highly automated assembly lines for other electric vehicle components. Take the assembly line the company delivered to Geely Automobile Holdings — the largest private Chinese carmaker — in August 2020: It can automatically assemble permanent magnet motor rotors and reduction gearboxes. It can also integrate motors, reduction boxes and inverters into a complete electric axle unit.