Zbee Urban Vehicle to Leverage Digital Twins, Micro Factories and IoT to Close the Life Cycle Loop
Verdi Ogewell posted on June 04, 2018 | | 1815 views

Exactly what is the Zbee? Is the environmentally friendly electrical vehicle from Clean Motions a car? Or is it a scooter?

"Well," says Zbee CEO Göran Folkesson, “Zbee is an urban vehicle for the twentieth century.”

Be that as it may, the Zbee is formally classified as an “EU moped.” What may be of more interest to product development teams is the way this company had evolved the idea of a closed loop product life cycle.

Under Folkesson’s leadership, Zbee has started to manufacture based on a “micro-factory model.” They have established a global expansion strategy built around distributed local production in many smaller factories close to the end customers.

This model requires efficient digitized manufacturing support. Folkesson recently revealed that the company is investing in a partnership with Siemens PLM that will span from product development and manufacturing to close the entire product life cycle loop by using the Siemens’ IoT solution, Mindsphere. It’s a tough challenge, but if successful it will be a cutting-edge example of a complete digital thread solution.  

"With Siemens’ solutions for digital twins (NX and Teamcenter), IoT and IIoT (Industrial IoT), we will record how the product is produced and used in real time," Folkesson commented.

AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE WITH HUGE POTENTIAL. Clean Motion builds the three-wheeled electric vehicle Zbee. The founder, Göran Folkesson (right), has won the

AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE WITH HUGE POTENTIAL. Clean Motion builds the three-wheeled electric vehicle Zbee. The founder, Göran Folkesson (right), has won the "Green Mentorship Award," and was awarded the Skype founder Niklas Zennström as his mentor. Zennström has a very large and well-known network of contacts that Folkesson and his Zbee project have also gained access to. The Zbee vehicle is already in use in different places around the World; however, India is one of its major potential markets. 

In the picture, Clean Motion's Indirect Manager, Anil Arora, can be seen to the left. In terms of the vehicle’s business model, a big step has been taken in product development, manufacturing, distribution and maintenance. The plan is to create an end-to-end process for the vehicle, based on a partnership on the software from Siemens PLM, involving NX (CAD), Teamcenter (cPDm), and Mindsphere (IIoT an IoT).

The collaboration between Clean Motion and Siemens PLM is in all respects a complex venture. To succeed, it is important to ensure a digitally defined product and manufacturing process together with a centrally controlled supply chain. Clean Motion is taking the next step in its digitization process and, together with Siemens PLM, the aim is to reach a model with complete digital twins of the Zbee, the manufacturing process and the factory.

"With this set up we can not only optimize our existing business model, but also develop new opportunities," says Folkesson. “It also means that we will be able to return usage and manufacturing information so that we continually build vehicles of the same high quality worldwide. Furthermore, being based on IoT means we can feed back data from the product in the field to secure effective spare parts management, services and data for innovation.”

A Good Example of a Fully Working Digital Thread

Clean Motion’s main objective since their founding in 2009 has been to develop and produce ultra-light, electric vehicles.

The first prototype of the Zbee came out in December 2010 and has since gone through two more generations. The second generation of Zbee was tested between summer 2012 and summer 2013.Production of the third generation started in the summer of 2013.

The Zbee is now making a great leap forward by creating a vehicle built around a state-of-the-art digital twin concept that connects the vehicle in operation with customers, dealers and local manufacturers, complete with a smart global production and distribution model for manufacturing and service.

With Siemens PLM's software suite as a digital foundation, it is one of the first large-scale attempts to create a vehicle with an entire life cycle that can be simulated before the vehicle is even physically available.

If this interesting plan can be realized, the project will serve as the good example of a fully working digital thread.

How Do You Create This Model?

As part of the strategy, a digital "master factory" will be built with Siemens PLM solutions. This plant will allow adjustments for the introduction of new variants and optimization of production flows.

Clean Motion's business model is based on a central purchasing and logistics organization with local production units that build, service and provide Zbee within local markets. The goal is for each micro factory to have an annual capacity of approximately 5,000 vehicles.

The concept builds on the fact that each factory contains all the parts for the entire vehicle's life cycle in which production, sales and aftermarket are aggregated.

A ZBEE IN 3D. Clean Motion will use Siemens NX as its primary authoring tool. NX is the German PLM developer’s CAD flagship, equipped not only with the usual CAD capabilities but also seamlessly integrated electrical, simulation and additive manufacturing modules.
A ZBEE IN 3D. Clean Motion will use Siemens NX as its primary authoring tool. NX is the German PLM developer’s CAD flagship, equipped not only with the usual CAD capabilities but also seamlessly integrated electrical, simulation and additive manufacturing modules.

From Product Definition, Through Manufacturing, to IoT

In terms of software, Clean Motion will use Siemens NX software on the CAD side. In fact, CAD is a limited description of this Siemens flagship, which has integrated all key components of digital product development support into the software. This includes computer-aided design as well as tools for CAE and simulation, CAM, manufacturability, 3D printing/additive manufacturing and others.

Clean Motion will be using the Siemens Teamcenter portfolio as a backbone in product data management. Other technologies with key roles in the concept are those on Siemens PLM's Simcenter platform—a robust series of simulation programs and test solutions that are linked to the Teamcenter solution.

The Zbee is built with a polyurethane body.

The Zbee is built with a polyurethane body.

When it comes to manufacturing control and management, Clean Motion will use Siemens’ Tecnomatix software. This solution will also play an important role in the construction and maintenance of the digital twin.

Building an End-to-End Process in the Amazon Cloud

But it will not end there – the Zbee creators will also use Siemens Managed Services with Teamcenter in the cloud. The platform will be Amazon's AWS, with the goal of having an industrial end-to-end solution hosted completely in the cloud.

Another factor that makes this project an unusually daunting task is the fact that once the products have been manufactured, Clean Motion still needs to keep in touch with them. This really means that they aim to close the loop. But how?

“Clean Motion plans to use Mindsphere, which is our cloud-based ‘operating system’ for IoT, which is driven by Amazon Web Services and enables the connected factory. This creates a closed loop; a process that monitors and recycles data both from the factory—to further optimize Clean Motion's continued product development—and from Zbee in active use in the field and in traffic,” explains Mats Friberg, CEO, Siemens PLM Nordics.

The business model around Zbee makes this a solid base for its digital journey and, ‘Our software on AWS cloud service has what it takes to take the next critical step to reach the target solution. A deal that both parties can get a lot out of,” Friberg says.

"By working with companies like Clean Motion, we can achieve even higher levels in providing innovation tools with the ability to realize the new technology, combined with already developed work methods.”

The Zbee is built with a polyurethane body, which makes additive manufacturing an option.
The Zbee is built with a polyurethane body, which makes additive manufacturing an option.

Clean Motion's goal is to build a large number of independent physical facilities worldwide; which requires that each production environment operates in exactly the same way everywhere. The digital twin—Clean Motion Digital Master Factory—will ensure that this happens.

"We will create a closed system, with a network of centrally controlled production units. That would not have been possible without a partner like Siemens,” says Niklas Ankarkrona, chairman at Clean Motion.

However, the collaboration is not limited to the factory. Zbee already works with a virtual product. Now, the next step is to build a digital twin of product, process and factory. This requires better capabilities in terms of simulation, optimization and verification of both product and production.

What this boils down to is that Clean Motion, along with Siemens PLM, intends to get a solution that can simulate the entire lifecycle of the vehicle with the help of the digital twin—before the Zbee physically exists.

India’s Market Shows Huge Potential

It will be extremely interesting to follow this project to see what it will mean for Clean Motion in terms of growth.

As it stands today, these vehicles are already on the streets of Stockholm as a taxi under the name Bzzt. But in light of the ‘open’ character of the vehicle, the main target markets are in warmer areas, such as India.

HUGE OPTION: OLA CABS HAS A TAXI FLEET WITH APPROXIMATELY 600,000 VEHICLES. Zbee already exists in several places around the world. Sweden’s capital of Stockholm is an example where
HUGE OPPORTUNITY: OLA CABS HAS A TAXI FLEET WITH APPROXIMATELY 600,000 VEHICLES. Zbee already exists in several places around the world. Sweden’s capital of Stockholm is an example where "taxis" under the name Bzzt roll around, but the company has bigger plans and India represents a giant market. Clean Motion has negotiated with Indian taxi app, Ola Cabs, which has a fleet of around 600,000 vehicles.

Indeed, India has already seen some big commercial progress:

Zbee has reached a deal with Ola Cabs, India's largest taxi app. According to sources, Ola Cabs has 600,000 vehicles in its fleet and is valued at 5 billion dollars. Now they want to start using Zbee.

"Ola has the ambition to introduce electric vehicles in India on a large scale. Part of this venture is the cooperation with Clean Motion. Now a pilot is running, and its results will be used to provide insight into the use of electric vehicles from both the customer’s and the driver's points of view," said Suhail Khan, head of Delhi EV team at Ola Cabs.

Clean Motion’s Folkesson does not want to comment on this potential business specifically, but generally finds that the possibilities for success in India look good.

“In India, electric vehicles have a relatively poor reputation as being substandard cheap vehicles,” Folkesson said.  “Zbee moves in another direction. It is a product that has been received very well and it has really increased interest in both electric vehicles and our engineering and design.”

"What we see in front of us is not only Zbee as a competitive product, but also the concept of the micro factory. The latter is a solution that can be sold for licensing in new markets. Thanks to low investment costs and simple assembly, rapid profitability is achieved with local manufacturing in emerging markets worldwide. This is because in principle, all these markets have enormously high import duties on vehicles. But such a distributed production model requires control, something we think we can achieve with Siemens cooperation and the principle of digital twins even at factory level.”


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