The Journey of Discarded Automotive Machinery

The automotive industry is on the eve of the biggest revolution in its history: the transition from internal combustion engines to electric propulsion. This transformation has major implications for transmission production in particular. While this poses a challenge for the sector, it also presents opportunities for other industries. Namely, the end-of-life production equipment from the automotive industry can be valuable for other sectors, which can benefit from it.

The Journey of Discarded Automotive Machinery

Reishauer's gear grinder was recently part of an auction. It came from a partial closure of an engine factory of a German car manufacturer in Slovakia. (Photo: Surplex)

With the progressive switch to electric cars, the requirements for vehicle production are changing fundamentally. In electric cars, conventional engines and transmissions are increasingly becoming obsolete. A modern combustion engine with transmission consists of about 1,400 parts, while the drive system of an electric car consists of only 200 components.

The transmissions in electric cars are much less complex than those in cars with combustion engines. Many electric cars use what is known as an input transmission or reduction gearbox, as no gear change is required. This fixed gear ratio converts the high speed of the electric motor to a lower speed suitable for the wheels, thus ensuring correct driving speed. However, there are also electric cars, especially those with higher power, that are equipped with two-stage transmissions.

How many?

Thus, many of the machines and tools traditionally used in the automotive industry are no longer needed. Manufacturers and suppliers are in a phase of reorientation, converting or closing their production facilities to meet the new market requirements. How far the conversion of production facilities has progressed is difficult to say. A widely accepted indicator is the share of electric cars sold.

In 2023, the European battery-operated vehicle (BEV) market showed strong sales growth: sales of more than 1.5 million vehicles corresponds to a 37 per cent increase over the previous year. This established electric cars as the third most popular propulsion system - after petrol and hybrid engines - and overtook diesel cars for the first time.

Despite the growing interest in eco-friendly options, petrol vehicles still remain the first choice, followed closely by hybrid vehicles. This leads to the conclusion that the conversion of production is in full swing, but far from complete.

New markets for discarded machinery

'We also notice this at Surplex,' says Dejan Dučić, project manager at industrial auction house Surplex. 'In recent months, we have been allowed to conduct more and more auctions from and for the automotive industry. And this concerns many sectors: from robots of a Czech car manufacturer, through bankrupt suppliers to a partial closure of an engine and transmission plant of a German carmaker in Slovakia.'

And who should buy these used machines, when car manufacturers no longer have a use for most of them? 'Even if car manufacturers no longer have a use for these special machines, there are many other sectors that could benefit enormously from the switch in production. Just because complex transmissions will not be built into cars in the future does not mean that these transmissions will no longer be needed at all. Many other areas of application still exist.'

In wind turbines, for example, transmissions are used to efficiently convert the rotation of the blades into electrical energy. It is similar in hydropower. Transmissions have one thing in common: they have to be manufactured with extreme precision so that they can function reliably and permanently.

Machines originally used in the production of transmissions in the automotive industry can also be used in aerospace and mechanical engineering. They can be used in the manufacture of complex and precise components for automation and production plants. The ability of these machines to perform precise and repeatable operations makes them valuable for the manufacture of components used in the construction of industrial machines and in robotics.

The transition thus provides an opportunity for companies from other sectors to acquire first-class production machines inexpensively.

About Vraag en Aanbod

This article written and published by Vraag en Aanbod, and posted here with approval. Vraag & Aanbod is the online and offline platform for entrepreneurs and employees in the Dutch manufacturing industry. With a website, social media and a weekly newspaper, Vraag & Aanbod aims to inform and connect entrepreneurs and employees.