The Right Plug for Each VehicleTue, 09/01/2015 - 17:04
Q: With 70 years of experience in the Mexican energy market, what have been Schneider Electric’s main operations in the country?
A: If we divide the market into three main blocks, the first one would be power generation and the last one would refer to products oriented to energy consumption, neither of which has any relation with Schneider’s operations. Our company is in the middle segment, where we help our customers manage the energy that someone else produces and distributes. Part of this process is to make energy safe, productive, and environmentally friendly for the customer. Additionally, we are aware of several new players on the consumer side, some of which are focused on electric vehicles (EV). Therefore, it is our job to ensure safe energy distribution for these products through the proper infrastructure.
Q: How does Schneider Electric collaborate with OEMs in their design process for electric vehicles?
A: We do not get involved with the vehicles per se, but we do our own R&D for the chargers. We have an R&D center close to Monterrey, and we have around 200 engineers designing EV chargers. These products will be manufactured in Canada or the US, but all the design will come from Monterrey. For the time being, this will be our only R&D center in the country and it will transform into a net zero facility in the near future. The plan for this center is to expand as needed, and we have enough space to grow.
We have at least 11 manufacturing sites in the country, ten of them focused on IMMEX operations for the NAFTA market, while others are oriented toward electronic assemblies. That allows us to build part of the electronics in the chargers, while the final assembly is done in the US.
Q: Most companies bring their manufacturing operations to Mexico, instead of their R&D process. What led Schneider Electric to establish an R&D center in the country?
A: It was mainly because of the confidence our corporate offices had in our team. We have five global design centers located in Monterrey, France, India, China, and the US, but the electric charger project was assigned to Mexico’s center. It is part of our globalization process, and it also relates to the language and the expertise of the Mexican workforce in electric technology.
In the electric world there are two main standards, one from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) in the US and the other from the National Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in Europe. In Latin America, you can find countries like Mexico with either approach, and we have the design center to address requirements with both standards.
Q: What kind of technology is Schneider Electric using in its chargers?
A: Currently, there are three types of chargers on the market. There is the traditional charger you can plug into any outlet, which will take 10-12 hours to charge a vehicle. However, we are not participating in this segment, given that these are provided by car manufacturers. We focus on a second type, which takes from three to four hours, depending on the current charge level in the car. Additionally, we have one type of fast charger that takes only 30 to 40 minutes to charge. We market these products for residential and commercial applications, both indoors and outdoors. For the middle type of charger, the connector is a standard SAE J1772 connector. This system is used by all OEMs and we can charge any vehicle with it. For the fast charger on the other hand, currently there are two main standards: CHAdeMO and COMBO; BMW uses the COMBO system, while Nissan has CHAdeMO plugs. At the moment, we only have CHAdeMO systems, but we will have a fast charger with both plugs in 2015.
Q: Since Mexico is still a young country in terms of R&D, how are you finding the proper talent to source your design center?
A: Part of the growth Schneider Electric has had in the last few years has been through knowledge acquisition, and one of the companies we absorbed in Mexico was Summit Energy. This company is based in Celaya, and it is 100% manned by Mexican engineers. These people have all the expertise we need in terms of energy performance, savings, and quality. Additionally, one member of our marketing and communications team focuses solely on our relationship with universities. We frequently receive students from different fields in our showroom, we show them what Schneider is, and we explain what we are capable of. We also have a project where we receive around ten new graduates for a six to eight month period, with a specific assignment in a certain area of the company. After this trial period, the students with the best performance are offered a formal position in the company.