Tuesday, July 16, 2024

OPINION: “The industry must overcome the charging infrastructure issue” – Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International

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Unico’s VP of Engineering Don Wright talks us through his career path to date, and share his vision of an EV future

What is your career path to now?
I graduated college from Lawrence Technological University with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Following that, I started my career as a project engineer, primarily focused on Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) testbeds. I transitioned into my first electrical engineer role, where I contributed to a large powertrain test facility. During this time, I was involved in the delivery of over 100 engine and powertrain test beds. I took on a product management role that centred on testbed automation systems, particularly for battery testing to automate continuous testing of batteries, especially for Electric Vehicles (EVs), ensuring 24/7/365 operation. In 2011, I made a significant move to Europe, where I led global business development efforts for electrification test systems. Continuing in the domain of electrification, I progressed to become a department manager. I oversaw test systems related to batteries, inverters, e-motors, and e-powertrains. Later I became the Global Business Segment Manager for Cell Test products to help move heavily into the cell test business for the transportation industry. In 2020, I transitioned to Unico, where I initially served as the Director of Research and Development (R&D) Engineering. Now today, I’m the Vice President (VP) of Engineering, indicating a senior leadership role in the organization.

Talk us through your role – what does a typical day look like for you?
With a new-born, it’s an adventure. My day kicks off bright early usually around 4 am checking emails and setting up a task plan for the day. Before heading to the office, I make it a priority to spend quality time with my wife and daughter. One of the wonderful aspects of my job is its dynamic nature as no two days are alike. I collaborate with our sales team to manage customer quotes, work with requisition engineering to design both standard and custom systems for our clients and work closely with our order fulfilment department to ensure systems are constructed and shipped on time.
Additionally, I focus on research and development projects, addressing any ongoing issues within the team, and closely monitoring the progress of our product roadmaps. We schedule meetings to delve into business development matters with our key clients. We take their input and use it to fine-tune our product and system roadmaps.
I engage with our technology partners to guarantee success for our mutual clients. I meet with customers in person, getting a first-hand look at the challenges they face and collaborating with them to find Unico solutions.

What are the biggest technology breakthroughs for EVs in recent years?
Major advancements in the electric vehicle (EV) industry include the use of wide-bandgap power electronics such as Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN), which allow for higher efficiencies and much smaller packages. Additionally, there has been a return to Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) chemistries for batteries, along with the implementation of sub-pack battery configuration with an increase in voltage up to 800VDC and higher speed e-motors and their use in E-Axles.

What challenges does the EV industry face, and how will it overcome them?
Charging infrastructure, charging infrastructure, charging infrastructure! The automotive industry must overcome this issue. Not only do we need more DCFCs (DC fast chargers), but they all need to work, be reliable, easy to use, and compatible. Bu just changing the connector does not fix the problem with the non-Tesla chargers.
I would also go as far as saying companies should be fined for non-functioning public chargers (vandalism withstanding). There needs to be a focus on fixing the states that still enforce the dealer model and we need to sort out the states that still have trouble with businesses with private chargers to be able to charge customers by the kW and not by the hour.

What do you think will be the next big step in EV development?
The EV industry is rapidly evolving, the next step in EV development is having a solid state of batteries. I believe true solid-state batteries are still a long way off. Lowering cost, having smaller, lighter weight, and smaller capacity standardized batteries for lower price (<$20k) vehicles that also have a standardized BMS/interface and sizing for second life applications should be a large focus for EV battery developers.

What will be powering a typical vehicle in Europe by 2030?
By 2030, a typical new vehicle in Europe is expected to be primarily powered by batteries and electricity. Electric vehicles are anticipated to gain significant traction, driven by advancements in battery technology. While diesel, gasoline and hydrogen vehicles may still be available.

Is there anything about the EV industry you’d like to change?
I would change not only all the misinformation on the EV industry but also the overhype we see so often, especially involving batteries and charging speeds. The DCFC landscape in terms of reliability and user experience needs to improve, and Unico is making an impact to help with reliability. People using the ICE refuelling mindset (ie, drive until ¼ of a tank or less and then refill) when thinking about EV recharging instead of using the cell phone/laptop mindset and charging often as it is easy, clean, and convenient. It’s important to realize when someone wants to charge a 500-mile EV from 10-80% in 5 minutes that would take more than a MW of power and a cable the size of a tree-trunk (even if the battery can do it).

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