The manufacturing process of an electric car is a captivating logistics. From the micrometric gestures repeated by the robots to the meticulous maneuvers of the humans, the assembly responds to a well-oiled organization. We visited the Renault factory in Douai (Nord), which produces the new Megane E-Tech. The anthill adapted to electricity, before embarking on a major shift towards the manufacture of batteries.
Launched at the beginning of 2022, the Renault Megane E-Tech is the second electric car in the diamond made in France. After the Flins factory (Yvelines), which produces the famous Zoé, the Douai factory (North) now assembles the new zero-emission sedan. Spread over 2.5 km², the site has produced more than 10 million vehicles since it went into service in 1970. Its 2,305 employees and hundreds of robots are busy today around the Megane E-Tech, alongside the Scenic, Espace and Talisman.
Up to 420 electric Meganes per day by summer 2022
If it suffices to sign a check to order the electric sedan, manufacturing it is a much more complex operation. It all starts in the sheet metal, a workshop monopolized by robotic arms where the smell of heated metal reigns. Few humans circulate in this vast hangar. 98% of operations are automated, in order to ensure constant precision and an execution speed twice that of humans. 1,200 robots are tasked with connecting the 350 sheet metal parts that make up the body of the Megane E-Tech.
A puzzle completed thanks to 4,000 arc and laser welding, gluing and screwing. These operations are relatively energy-intensive: the Douai plant consumes an average of 256 MWh of electricity daily (the equivalent of the consumption of nearly 21,000 households), with a maximum of 300 MWh on certain days. The body shop, whose production is synchronized with the other workshops in the plant, currently delivers 210 Megane E-Tech bodies every day (i.e. 30 units per hour). The objective is to reach 420 vehicles/day by July 2022.
Humans preferred to robots in the assembly workshop
The carcasses are then sent to a second hangar: the paint shop, which we were not allowed to visit. This area can only be entered in a specific suit, in order to protect yourself from fumes and avoid any introduction of dust. The vehicle really comes to life in the assembly workshop, where all the parts are grafted onto the frame of the Megane E-Tech.
Operations essentially carried out by humans (78% men and 22% women). Only 5% of gestures are made by robots. The electric sedan also required an increase in the workforce in the assembly workshop: it went from 238 to 438 positions.
Placed on conveyor belts, the vehicles are gradually equipped with their components: cables, windows, doors, seats, dashboard, etc. The teams have parts trolleys that are regularly renewed by a fleet of 500 transporter robots called “AGVs” (automatic guided vehicle). Coming from the Renault plant in Cléon (Seine-Maritime), the engine of the Megane E-Tech is placed by an operator assisted by a crane.
Specific battery access for firefighters
In parallel, the battery is assembled in a dedicated room upstairs. Less physical, the 30% of non-automated operations are carried out there in particular by employees in a situation of “medical restriction”. The pack is delivered in the form of modules (rectangular boxes containing the pocket cells) from the LG factory in Wroclaw, Poland.
The latter are inserted into the frame of the battery by a robot with suction cups. The cables, electronic boxes and the liquid cooling circuit are installed by hand. Charged to 40%, the batteries (40 or 60 kWh capacity depending on the customer’s choice) are sent to the ground floor to be integrated into the vehicles. A marriage in complete confidentiality, carried out in a few seconds by a robot bolter.
On its upper face, the battery is equipped with a “fireman access”. This metal disc, accessible from the floor, allows firefighters to attach a lance to it in the event of a fire.. It consists of a membrane capable of yielding by the sole pressure of water, thus flooding the inside of the pack. This makes it possible to more effectively contain any thermal runaway. A QR code affixed to the windshield provides rescuers with all the manufacturer’s recommendations in the event of a fire on their vehicle.
The “fireman access”, placed on the upper face of the battery.
The Douai plant will soon manufacture its own battery cells
While the battery cells currently come from Poland, they will be manufactured there within a few years. The AESC Envision conglomerate will build soon a cell factory on the Douai site and will provide the workshops directly. An economic gain, but also an environmental one since it will no longer be necessary to transport the batteries by truck.
The electricity produced in France being much more carbon-free than in Poland, the manufacturing process will logically be less impactful for the climate. A first tranche with an annual capacity of 9 GWh (i.e. 150,000 Megane E-Tech 60 kWh batteries, to get an idea) will be launched and two others are already planned.
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