World’s Largest Two-Wheeler Futurefactory and Boeing’s Drone Refuelling Tanker

This Week in Engineering explores the latest in engineering from academia, government and industry.

Episode Summary:

Electric vehicles are the highest topic in mobility today, with the primary focus on automakers like Tesla as well as legacy manufacturers. But for much of the world today, two wheeled mobility, specifically scooters and small motorcycles are the vehicles of choice, especially in urban areas. The segment is ripe for electrification, and Indian company Ola has announced a world first: a massive, 10,000 employee mass production facility employing entirely women. The facility is expected to produce 15% of all the world’s electric scooters and is expected to start production next year.

In a different form of transportation news, Boeing has announced a new production facility at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Illinois, where the Navy’s new drone tanker, the MQ-25 Stingray will be assembled. The heavily automated factory is expected to employ 300 at peak production building an initial U.S. Navy order of 70 airframes. Both new factory announcements note advanced systems engineering, Industry 4.0 and automation as keys to production.

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Transcript of this week’s show:

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Segment 1: Electric mobility is a hot topic these days, with industry pioneer Tesla now facing competition from multiple new and traditional makers of cars and trucks. But for much of the world, mobility means two wheels, often scooters. Scooters are affordable, have low operating costs and are very practical in crowded cities all over the world, and despite minimal fuel consumption, they’re going electric too. India is a major market for scooters, and a new company, Ola Electric Mobility has announced a massive factory which will produce 10 million units annually, representing 15% of all e-scooters on Earth by 2022.

Called the Futurefactory, the 43-acre plant will be located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The operation will be carbon neutral and will be heavily automated, including 3000 robots and autonomously guided vehicles. Ola has developed a proprietary AI system to manage the Industry 4.0 operation which is expected to employ 10,000. The cost of the project is estimated at $330 million. Electric scooters produced there will use removable batteries and will be supported by a charging network of 100,000 charging points in 400 cities across India. According to the company, the scooters can be charged to 75 km of range in 18 minutes.

Global exports are part of the plan, with the notable exception of North America. The starting price of the firm’s S1 model is ₹100,000, just under US$1400. And perhaps the most interesting part of the project? The future factory will feature an all woman workforce, which at over 10,000 individuals makes it the largest women only factory in the world, and the only all-female automotive manufacturing plant as well.

Segment 2: There is a major factory news in America this week as well. Chicago-based Boeing has announced a new plant near St. Louis in St. Clair County Illinois, for design and production of the U.S. Navy’s new MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based drone aircraft. The 300,000 square-foot facility will be located at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport and will initially employ 150, rising to 300 with expected Navy orders. The plant location is logical as MidAmerica St. Louis is the current flight test Centre for the MQ-25 program.

The Stingray is designed and built using model-based systems engineering principles and Boeing expects to use advanced automation in the assembly process. The current order book for the program stands at 70 airframes. The Navy intends to use MQ-25 aircraft as aerial refuelling platforms for manned airplanes, with an autonomous mission profile and operating from existing aircraft carriers using conventional launch and recovery technology. In testing, the Stingray platform has refuelled standard Navy aircraft, including the F/A–18 Super Hornet, E-2D Hawkeye in the F -35C Lightning II.

The new plant joins existing Boeing facilities that manufacture components for several programs, including the CH-47 Chinook, F/A-18 Super Hornet, and F-15. Incentives from the state of Illinois were a factor in Boeing’s announcement, with $57 million in state money already allocated for improvements to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport. About half of that investment will support the Boeing project. In addition, Boeing will receive state income tax breaks in exchange for a minimum $200 million investment over 15 years and a floor employment level of 150 jobs in addition to the 70 already employed at Boeing’s existing site at MidAmerica. Incentives are part of an economic development agreement with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The Stingray program could be pivotal to the future of naval aviation. If drones prove effective and reliable at aerial refuelling, it’s inevitable that the technology will be tested for other missions as well. Is this the beginning of the end for piloted naval aircraft? The aerospace industry and naval aviators everywhere will be watching with keen interest.

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.