BAUMA 2019: 5 questions with our Head of Sales for Rail & Industrial Vehicles Felix von Borck

The world’s largest trade fair for construction machinery, building material machines, mining machinery, construction vehicles and construction equipment opens its doors in Munich today. We asked Felix von Borck what he is particularly looking forward to at bauma this year.

1. Why are you visiting bauma 2019

A trend towards low-emission and low-noise inner-city construction sites has started in the commercial vehicle sector. At bauma 2019, this can be seen in the products offered by vehicle manufacturers such as Hitachi, Volvo or Kiesel, which have started to introduce purely electric machines. This year, it’s particularly interesting that electrified mining machines have become a key theme under the heading „Sustainability in mining as an opportunity“. In this sector, we are already producing battery systems for excavators, wheel loaders and machinery.

2. What demands do mining machines place on battery systems?

Here, there are three keywords: reliability, longevity and safety. For trucks – which are in use for up to 18 hours a day – cycle stability and a high charging capacity are also essential.

In everyday operations, mining machines must reliably provide high performance in extreme conditions for long periods of time, whether that be in underground mines in the Canadian wilderness with daytime temperatures of -40°C or in open-cast mines in Dubai where it often reaches +40°C.

Meeting the necessary standards in these complicated sectors requires extensive experience and a high degree of product maturity. Few can offer this. We have been involved in the electromobility sector for nearly 30 years and the battery systems that we currently produce in large quantities have already been used in the field for the last eight years. At AKASOL, we have gone through many generations of this technology and therefore have had many opportunities to optimize our technology down to the smallest detail, in line with these extreme requirements.

3. What do these exacting requirements mean for costs?

The mining sector, and underground mining in particular, are application fields where companies cannot afford to cut costs. Consequential costs are given an entirely different level of attention here when compared to other sectors. Here, one battery may cost twice as much as another, but overall, its cost can reduce to a tenth or even a twentieth of that, due to its high availability and long lifetime.

A mine’s productivity is analogous to the value of the extracted minerals. Every hour that an employee cannot work, due to their vehicle not running or because of the need to extract diesel exhausts from the mine, adds significant cost. It costs companies their worker’s wages, but also the gold, or other mineral, which could not be transported out on the conveyer belt in that time.

In the case of underground mining, a certain amount of fresh air ventilation must be made available for every diesel-powered commercial vehicle operated. Providing the necessary amount of fresh air ventilation requires significant effort and energy. Additionally, legal requirements are increasingly being developed that serve to protect the health of workers – and thus also advocate for clean-running construction machinery.

4. How do electric batteries address the issue of safety in mines?

There are, of course, many safety precautions present in diesel-powered mining machines but as a new technology, electric battery systems attract a high level of attention. With our AKASYSTEM AKM 46 POC, there are two special safety features. Firstly, the battery cells themselves have a coating of active material to increase safety, as well as a ceramic separator. Secondly, our battery modules also contain protection against fire propagation. If one cell should catch fire due to overloading or an internal short circuit, and the electronics did not detect this – a failure which has never occurred among the thousands of batteries we have in commercial operation – then only two of the 180 cells built into the stainless-steel container would burn. The fire propagation protection is then activated, and further spread of fire would be prevented.

5. What will happen next with electrification in the construction machinery sector?

If, in the next few years, it can be demonstrated that electric commercial vehicles can work at least equally reliably as their combustion engine predecessors – and people realize that the full costs of a construction site do not significantly change just because the machinery has appreciably higher investment costs – then in three years at bauma 2022, presumably every manufacturer will have at least one electric machine in their range. Sales numbers, at least in Europe, will likely almost be in the double-digit percentage range.

High motivation to engage with electrification in the commercial vehicle sector comes from decreased fossil fuel use, cost savings and diminished emissions, as well as from the higher flexibility offered by performance extension and power distribution.

The only things which still slow the speed of this transition are the sheer complexity of these machines and the limited experience manufacturers have with batteries. AKASOL puts its 25 years of electromobility experience and ten years of battery system expertise at the disposal of all of its customers. We are thus able to help manufacture electric commercial vehicles and construction machinery that are at least as reliable as their predecessors. The electrified construction site is coming. It is possible. Manufacturers may lack the experience needed, but we provide that as well as the necessary product maturity.

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