Rhenus SML N.V., a subsidiary of Rhenus Automotive Systems, is handling the complete production of a new electric trans- porter that is especially suitable for last mile deliveries – i.e. transport operations right to a company's or consumer’s premises; this work is taking place in Belgium. Rhenus SML’s Managing Director Stefan Maussen talks about the innovative project and the challenges facing the automotive sector.
CLEAN AND QUIET TRANSPORT
MT10 technical data
Mr Maussen, you’ve been heading the project at Rhenus SML for your customer Addax Motors since the middle of 2016. What kind of vehicle is it exactly?
Maussen: The MT10 is a light transporter vehicle with a cargo area that can be adapted to the customer’s wishes and specifications in a flexible way. There are, for example, various cargo bodies for the loading space and opportunities for using special equipment. The MT10 is powered by a traditional electric motor and is also supported by a lithium-ion battery. The model has cargo space measuring five cubic metres, travels at a maximum speed of 70 km/h and can carry as much as one tonne of goods. This means that it’s better than any rival in this field at the moment. The credo at Addax Motors is “mobility as a service”. All the new vehicles are therefore equipped with a 3G Internet connection. This makes it possible to analyse matters effectively and quickly on the spot and offer support if any problems occur. The owner can also track the vehicle’s position in real time.
How is this kind of vehicle used?
Maussen: The electric vehicle can be used for short journeys, for example, last mile deliveries of packages and post in inner-city areas. This type of vehicle and the services associated with it are becoming increasingly important, particularly in connection with the challenges triggered by urbanisation and European goals to reduce emissions.
And is there already a market for this?
Maussen: Definitely! Many cities have already started minimising traffic in their centres to reduce noise and air pollution and increase the quality of life there. Addax is already pursuing similar goals with the cities of Antwerp and Mechelen. There are also comparable initiatives in Germany with the StreetScooter, an electric transporter operated by Deutsche Post. The requirements for vehicles in city traffic will change markedly during the next five years because of the increase in online shopping. We’ll need innovative solutions with electric vehicles to cope with this situation.
How did the working relationship on this project develop?
Maussen: Rhenus SML, which was founded in 1985, was formerly a service provider for the Ford factory at Genk. We developed from purely storing steel coils into a contract manufacturer for the auto- mobile factory. The Ford plant closed at the end of 2014, but thanks to our strong automotive experience, we made contact with Addax Motors through the Agoria Technology Association in Belgium. Addax Motors was already in the process of developing a small electric vehicle, but it lacked the skills to industrialise the project – i.e. develop it from the prototype manufacturing stage to series production. Rhenus was then selected to take over the complete production of the vehicle on the basis of its experience in the past.
Which tasks does Rhenus handle in the production process?
Maussen: We initially constructed the prototype for Addax Motors and, using this, we planned the series production work and the sequence for the manufacturing process at the facility; we also defined the supply chain. Trial production then followed, and this enabled us to continue adapting and improving the processes. They included the inbound logistics, i.e. the delivery of the individual components. This involves digital tracking and precise coordination in terms of time so that all the components arrive at the factory for assembly at the right time – but not too many materials have to be kept in store. This ties up less capital. We then handle the quality test and the checks on the vehicles before they are supplied. We’re now at the series production stage – that is to say, series production has started for the MT10 and we’re now constantly increasing the production volume.
And what comes next?
Maussen:Once we’ve increased the production capacity and sales, Addax Motors is planning to develop new models. Thanks to our experience and our good standing, we’ll be able to continue supporting the company as it grows in the European market. The first vehicles were delivered to Sweden, for example, just recently.
What developments is Rhenus SML aiming for in the next few years?
Maussen: We’re currently a local company that’s going through an important transformation phase. We want to gain other customers in the Benelux region in conjunction with Rhenus Automotive. However, we don’t just want to focus on Automotive at our business site. It’s therefore good to be part of the Rhenus family, because there are a wide variety of skills available in its logistics divisions. We want to make use of this network to continue developing our business site in Genk. We’ll be able to transfer the expertise that we’ve gained in the automotive sector – like managing supply chains and quality control – to other business areas.
How do you view the future of the automobile industry and logistics?
Maussen: The outlook for the automobile industry is very promising, but the sector will become more complex too, because of the changes in business models, new technologies, urbanisation, increasing customer expectations and global supply networks. If we realise how much more complex individual products have already become, the ongoing process of individualisation will confront the sector with huge challenges. It’s therefore important to actively shape these changes and innovations in order to offer customers value added at all times and therefore remain competitive.