Hencon leads vehicle electrification in aluminum industry
The world is in a sustainability transition. The realization that we will have to switch to alternative energy sources in the near future is also alive in the aluminum industry. But compared to the automotive industry, for example, the electrification of vehicles in our industrial niche market presents additional challenges. “Conditions in the primary aluminum industry are extremely difficult for electronics. Moreover, the requirements are extremely specific,” says Simon Arends, Sales Manager Europe. “But we have been able to successfully implement electrically powered vehicles for years, with increasingly stronger batteries and more application possibilities.” Hencon thus leads the development of electric vehicles in the aluminum industry. Serving Electrified Progress.
Since the beginning of this millennium, Hencon has been able to realize several successful implementations with 100V battery systems worldwide. Recently, a promising test has also been done with 700V components. Arends: “That is an important step in meeting the higher demands in the market and a step forward that will help us in the long run to be able to offer all vehicles not only conventionally but also electrically powered.”
Development before demand
“At the moment, the vast majority of vehicles delivered are still conventionally diesel-powered. But we will soon be supplying more and more electrically powered vehicles,” Arends expects. “More and more countries are working hard to reduce CO2 emissions. In addition to reducing fossil fuel consumption, we see a growing ambition to improve working conditions in the industry. Think of noise, vibrations and air quality. In order to be able to achieve all these goals in the future, Hencon is now taking up that gauntlet by actively developing alternative solutions. In this way, we want to ensure that as soon as those solutions are requested on a larger scale, we can directly facilitate our customers. – It will not be long – we are already seeing the number of investments in electric vehicles increasing.”
Serving electrified progress
The demand for electric vehicles is worldwide, with most completed electrification projects currently being located in America and in/around Europe. Often the investment decision stems from strategic objectives and in some cases, the electrification of the fleet is accelerated by grants. Hencon has been focusing on electrification for years. In order to further expand its progressive position, the company has often further developed the electrification of its range on its own initiative.
The challenge of electrification of the aluminum industry is often underestimated
The fact that the sector is in transition means, among other things, that not all vehicles can be supplied battery-electric yet. Arends: “A major challenge lies in applications that require high usage intensity, higher speed, greater distances or functions that require a lot of power. In all these cases, we pay extra attention to the entire process, the driving cycles and the associated power usage. By conducting thorough analyzes on existing diesel vehicles, we can properly advise the customer about the impact of electrification on its daily process. Filling the tank within a few minutes is no longer applicable with electrification. In order to assess the effect of the required charging times, we have to dive into the process together with the customer. To minimize a negative effect, we often get the question for battery exchange systems. Although our focus is not yet on that development, we certainly do not rule out this option for specific applications.”
Magnetic Fields Primary Aluminum Industry
The application of battery-electric driving systems in the primary aluminum industry presents Hencon with a second major challenge. The electrolysis process in this industry creates a large magnetic field that interferes with most existing sensors and other electronic components. All components used must therefore be able to withstand these heavy conditions. That technique is not yet fully developed in our market, certainly not in the limited volumes that Hencon needs. We test each new type of component under those specific conditions. Despite the thorough pre-selection, it regularly appears that a component is still unsuitable. This makes it difficult to select a suitable supplier who can provide the required customization with the adequate support.
AGVs and manually controlled solutions
“Hencon is committed to making the challenges above and the associated risks manageable as quickly as possible and to get innovative sustainable solutions operational. All to be able to support our customers in this in a timely manner,” says Arends. “Our wide range of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which are all electric, proves that we are at the forefront of this. However, the development for 700 volt driving systems did not arise from that AGV development. These vehicles usually drive at lower speeds and charge independently at any time. It is precisely the operator-driven solutions that have higher demands and more functions that require a higher voltage.”
Focus on electrical towing head
Current developments within Hencon focus on the manually operated Transporter; a standardized head that can be combined with a wide range of trailers for various applications. This electric towing head is currently being further developed. Next year it will be produced for one of our customers who, partly with this head, wants to achieve a reduction in fossil fuels before 2035. The average lifespan of 15 years means that these choices must be made now. Very recently, the engineering team conducted the first test of components for the 700V electric powertrain, under the specific conditions at the customer’s premises. The results were promising. Arends: “That gives us the necessary green light to continue with the detailed engineering in preparation for the actual delivery, which is planned at the end of 2023, early 2024.”
Timeline: what has been delivered electrically so far
See below what Hencon has developed and supplied in terms of electrically powered vehicles.
1976 – First full electric vehicle
The first fully electric 5 Ton Side Loader was produced by Hendre, predecessor of Hencon. At the time, Hendre was the first company with such a heavy-duty application for electric side loaders.
2000 – Lead Acid Battery Transporters
The first electric Transporters, with 48-volt lead-acid batteries. Low speeds. Total of 45 pieces delivered, mainly within the aluminum industry.
2014 – Furnace Tending Vehicles
First electric scratch-off vehicle, for smaller ovens. Based on forklift technology, for use in the secondary aluminum industry. 2 vehicles delivered, one with cabin, one remote controlled. Deployed by BMW in Germany.
2015 – AGV container transporter with 400 volt driveline, with diesel generator.
A Furnace Charging Vehicle – AGV: transports containers with recyclable scrap aluminum and slides it into the furnace. 2 vehicles delivered. For secondary aluminum industry.
2017 – Anode transporter – AGV
The world’s first Automated Guided Vehicles for the primary aluminum industry and direct electric. With Lithium-ion battery, 100-Volt. Delivered 2 vehicles, two of these unmanned Transporters transport anodes, the other two pans with liquid aluminum and are continuously in motion.
2018 – AGV Transporter for liquid aluminum
The world’s first AGV for transporting liquid aluminum. 100-volt lithium-ion battery.
2019 – Furnace Tending machine for foundry
100-volt lithium-ion battery. For large furnaces in foundry. Cleans an oven in about 10 minutes; an ideal application for electrical power and recharging.
2020 – Furnace Charging Vehicle – AGV with 400 Volt Driveline, with 700V battery.
With 700-volt lithium-ion battery. A Furnace Charging Vehicle: transports containers with recyclable scrap aluminum and slides it into the furnace. Total of 3 vehicles delivered.