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Despite the supply chain challenges of the pandemic, the EV industry has more momentum than ever. According to S&P Global, fully electric and hybrid vehicle sales in the U.S. doubled in 2021 from the previous year—a large part of this can be credited to the growing number of regulations and net-zero initiatives, and subsequently the growing number of EVs available to consumers.

However, this phasing out of the internal combustion engine (ICE) has placed a fork in the road for many automotive OEMs and their suppliers, sending a new shockwave through our supply chain. To remain steady in this evolving industry, many OEMs and suppliers adapt their capabilities, centralize their global footprint, and tap into strategic supplier partnerships.

In this article, we discuss:
  1. ICE vehicles vs. EV
  2. Evolution of brake rotors
  3. Seating components, safety-critical mainstays
  4. Current supply chain challenges and trends

ICE Vehicles vs. EV

The most apparent difference between EV and ICE vehicles is that, with EV, fuel and internal combustion engines are no longer needed. The two vehicle types rely on different sets of key components, and when it comes to making the cars run, EVs use fewer parts that require heat treatment.

Key Vehicle Components: EV vs. ICE

Existing ICE TechnologyEV Technology
• Engine
• Emissions control system
• Starter
• Water pump
• Exhaust system
• Gas pump
• Oil pump
• Generator
• Charger
• Battery
• Controller
• Motor

Without ICE systems, EVs require fewer fasteners, shafts, gears, and rods—all parts that are typically heat treated. But that doesn’t mean heat treatment is less critical for EVs. In fact, certain parts require additional attention on EVs when compared to ICE vehicles, and many safety-critical parts remain the same across both categories. Let’s begin our discussion with the differences in braking systems between the two technologies and what that means for heat treatment.

An Update on Brakes

Disc brake rotors have been a mainstream component among American car manufacturers since the 1970s. Working in tandem with the brake caliper assembly, these components are part of the hydraulic braking system found in internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles today. And even as internal combustion engines phase out, brake rotors are one of the few mechanical components that are here to stay—and one of several that need heat treating.

What is regenerative braking?

There’s no question that electric power innovations have completely revolutionized the way vehicles (and the automotive industry) operate. The regenerative braking system is just one aspect of this. Instead of relying on the conventional hydraulic system every time you press the brakes (which uses friction to decelerate), manufacturers have found a way to use the vehicle’s kinetic energy to put the electric motor into reverse, slowing down the vehicle and returning energy to the battery.

How conventional brakes are used in EVs

Although regenerative braking is more efficient, hydraulic braking still has one key advantage: stopping power. EVs today are equipped with conventional braking mechanisms for emergency purposes. The car defaults to the hydraulic system when drivers slam on the brakes.

The rust conundrum

Like all cars before the pandemic, EVs were sold according to available inventory. Meaning, they were produced in mass quantities to meet demand and held in dealership lots, ready for buyers. The nature of sitting in a lot for long periods, often exposed to the elements, can cause what’s called lot rot (the formation of rust). To prevent the deterioration of unsold vehicles, dealerships will sometimes take cars out for periodic maintenance drives.

But a new phenomenon started happening when EVs rolled onto dealership lots. Lot rot occurred much sooner on EVs when compared with other cars, and only on a specific component: brake rotors. Why is this?

EV brake rotors are made from the same metal (cast iron) and manufacturing processes as ICE vehicle brake rotors. However, EV brake rotors were being utilized far less often, only for emergency stops. These components are susceptible to rust even when the cars are regularly driven.

Are rusty rotors dangerous?

Contrary to what many believe, rusty rotors don’t necessarily increase the risk of brake rotor failure or diminish the brakes’ stopping power. And they aren’t currently considered a safety risk. But rusty rotors on a car can make it harder for dealers to sell.

The solution: corrosion-resistant rotors with FNC

To address recurring rotor corrosion, OEMs introduced ferritic nitrocarburizing (FNC) into the manufacturing process. FNC is a thermal process traditionally used for case hardening, and for brake rotors, it’s used to achieve corrosion resistance.

Safety-critical components

Like brake rotors, many automotive seating components (like mechanisms for seat recliners) are here to stay. Thermal processing is used to achieve stringent specifications that are put in place to keep drivers safe in the event of a collision.

EV seat components and the thermal processes used to make them crash-ready are identical to that of ICE vehicle components. To learn more about seating components, check out this guide: Thermal Processing for Automotive Seating Components: The Essential Guide.

Reshoring to overcome supply chain challenges

Before the pandemic, the automotive industry relied heavily on offshore suppliers. But the chip shortage, logistical delays, and ongoing supply chain issues have shown us that this model no longer works. We’re seeing a massive shift in car makers’ strategies to become strong drivers of EVs. Reshoring and securing strong domestic supplier partnerships have become an important part of car makers’ EV initiatives—such as Toyota’s goal for EV sales to make up 70% of sales by 2030, and Honda’s plans to do 100% zero-emission vehicle sales in North America by 2040.

How can we help drive your EV projects forward?

Automated processing, advanced contingency planning, and capacity for urgent requests are ways we’re prepared to help lessen the pain of supply chain fluctuation and introduce a new level of agility and reliability to your business. To learn more about how we can support your EV initiatives, connect with a Paulo expert today. 

Want to learn more about industry-leading heat treating for the automotive industry? Check out our Automotive & Heavy Truck Market page.

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