At the heart of the electric vehicle industry’s supply chain is a little-known Japanese manufacturer that makes a seemingly mundane, but essential device: winders.
If the motor is the heart of an EV, then the coils are in turn the heart of the electric motor. Odawara Engineering Co., founded 70 years ago as a supplier for home appliance manufacturers, is an expert in manufacturing the dense wire loops that go into these motors. Tesla Inc., maker of the Model S and Model 3 sedans and more recently the world’s most valuable automaker, is one of its biggest customers.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has depressed global auto sales, BloombergNEF predicts that economies will accelerate adoption of electric vehicles as some countries choose to step up financing for low-emission cars and infrastructure. The global winder market is expected to grow by 10% per year to reach $ 1.3 billion by 2024, according to Global Info Research.
“We need to keep improving our machines,” said Masahiko Hoshina, vice president of Odawara Engineering. “Our customers can’t win if they can’t differentiate their products.”
Electromagnetic coils interact with magnets to transform electrical energy into motion, the basic principle of motors that power everything from drills to commuter trains.
Located in Odawara, a town about 90 kilometers (56 miles) west of Tokyo, the company’s main activity during the post-war economic boom in Japan was to build winders for manufacturers. refrigerators and air conditioners. Besides Tesla, the company also has Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. among its customers. In 2018, Tesla accounted for 12% of Odawara Engineering’s sales, but in 2019 that figure likely fell below 10%, the threshold for reporting such numbers.
Strong demand for Odawara Engineering’s machines means it will likely keep its outlook intact for the current year. The company kept its operating profit forecast of 700 million yen ($ 6.5 million) and revenue of 14.5 billion yen intact when it released its results in May, as the outbreak of Covid-19 has shut down economies around the world.
“The shift to electrification and automation will not change,” even during the pandemic, said Akihiko Kawazoe, analyst at Toyo Securities. “The business will probably not be as impacted by the coronavirus. His sales will likely be in line with his prospects. “
Hoshina of Odawara Engineering said the company’s backlog for winding machines has increased since December, and he said the manufacturer is now focusing on cutting costs. The big companies in the sector buy the smaller ones and the competition is globalizing, he said.
In 2018, the German Schaeffler AG bought Elmotec Statomat GmbH & Co., a winding technology company. ABB Ltd and Thyssenkrupp AG have joined CWIEME, a global trade and exhibition group for winding and electric motors. Odawara Engineering is also in competition with Tana Automation Co., Nittoku Co. and the Chinese Changzhou Jinkang Precision Mechanism Co.
In order to insert more threads into the motors, Odawara is working on “hairpin” winders. Instead of round wires, square shaped wires are used to further wrap in electric motors, thus improving their efficiency and performance. Denso Corp. was among the pioneers in the development of hairpin winding technology.
Even if the market grows, Odawara Engineering will focus on developing innovations instead of rushing to increase capacity, according to Hoshina. Because the machines are complicated and hand-built, just adding workers wouldn’t work, he said.
“We plan to grow gradually by choosing our customers,” Hoshina said. “By looking at which customers and which engines are promising.”
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