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IMI – Why electric vehicle training is essential

The IMI have campaigned for many years for certification in the automotive aftermarket and have led with high voltage systems as a primary threat to personal well-being to help the Government to understand the issue. They have explored powertrain emissions many times over the years.

Conventional automotive electric systems operate on either 12 or 24 volts. The advent of the drive to reduce emissions from vehicle internal combustion engines is relentless and will lead to a significant period of transformation.

A ‘zero’ emission vehicle simply does not have an exhaust system. How the energy is made, stored and used – as long as nothing comes out of the vehicle – currently matters little for governments around the world, even though in the context of ecology, it certainly does.

We are experiencing transitional taxation, where encouragement is given to alternative technologies until they, in turn, become mainstream at which point the tax revenue ‘lost’ through a diminished system is recovered by either new taxes or revised old taxes. Just consider how many times vehicle excise duty (VED) has beenrevised in the UK.

As and when we have a significant population of vehicles powered only by electricity, the tax system will focus on the production cost / carbon investment for the system as well as the energy it will store.

For the next decade ‘electrification’ means the addition of electric power to an internal combustion engine right the way through to pure electric drive. The primary driver for ‘electrification’ was shown in the paper ‘Eco materials and the motor industry’ where any manufacturer selling vehicles in Europe with more than 95 g/km CO2 (fleet average) will pay €95 for every single gram of CO² for every single vehicle over this limit from 2019 onwards.

Remember this is a direct tax on vehicle manufacturers, and those who are either not under the limit or have not traded with another manufacturer to purchase credits are facing huge bills – at a time of very difficult global trading.

While IMI have ensured access to a high voltage standard and associated courses, participation is voluntary. Yet, public policies are going to ensure a very rapid switch to ‘electrification’ so that by the 2025 as much as half of new vehicle sales will have electric assisted powertrains. Please note, pure electric drive vehicle sales will remain in the sub-1 per cent of new car sales thanks to a combination of high purchase / lease cost and relatively slow evolution of traction battery performance. Even plug-in hybrid sales will primarily bloom in the luxury / SUV market, thanks in part to cost of the battery systems.

We would be right to challenge the idea that pure electric vehicles will eliminate petrol and diesel engine power for passenger cars by 2030, thanks to the weakest links – energy storage costs, energy storage technology and the idea of carrying around huge storage devices (batteries) but cleaner internal combustion engines will need electricity to assist them in larger vehicle applications. In this way we move from high voltage systems as a ‘side show’ to the new mainstream, as witnessed by the 2019 Geneva motor show where every single company declared their ‘eco’ strategy for the immediate future.

Safety first

When working on a vehicle with high voltage, the technician should have a certificate to show that they have been trained accordingly. However because the system is voluntary, it is a certainty that every day right across the UK people work on high voltage systems without such training. Of course, by training this means not only education but also equipping people to self-study as part of their CPD. We have seen that there are a huge variety of ‘electrification’ systems.

We need to take care of ourselves and the people around us.

In the context of ‘electrification’ this means that protection is a necessary requirement. That includes gloves with an insulation performance of 1000V / 300A, or higher, insulated shoes or boots, insulated clothes, insulated helmet (needed when working on the underside of the vehicle) and safety goggles or face shield (needed when disconnecting or reconnecting high voltage lines). Importantly the equipment should also include a meter capable of detecting voltage, with a range up to 1000V.

Conclusion

Electrification of powertrains will dominate the next decade and the examples – just getting the vehicle into a safe condition to perform repair or service tasks – show that there is no international standard for the location of key components nor the process of making it safe.

The big message is:

  • Read all available information about the vehicle before working on it.
  • Have the right safety equipment.
  • Know how to use a meter to test for voltage, and in addition, current.
  • Be aware of the danger of high voltage electricity.
  • Be aware of ‘new’ concepts such as heating a traction battery or fitment of heat pumps to recover waste heat.

This is the start of mass electrification, remembering the term means addition of electric drive to an internal combustion engine powertrain through to pure electric powertrain. The lack of harmonised approach to how ‘electrification’ is built not only now but in the near future means that training to learn is essential for our future. Studying all of the systems in production today will equip us for the challenges ahead as ‘electrification’ technology improves and becomes mainstream.

The wait for technician licencing could be long. The Government still does not apparently see the automotive aftermarket worthy of attention, so we are left with a choice – act as professionals and do the right thing or sit on our hands. Honestly the latter option is not really valid when one considers the potential danger and harm that may cause.

The transition of powertrain to electrification in any event does present a great time to be in the automotive aftermarket – rarely has so much happened in such a short time.

*This article is based on the April 2019 issue of the Automotive Engineer Technical Update