From Post-it to prototype

MAHLE corporate start-up teams put their first innovations on the road

Solutions you simply believe in. That’s the first step to pushing ahead with an idea. And you make more progress when you do it together. MAHLE launched the Incubator innovation program last year and encouraged all employees across Germany to submit their ideas. These were ideas that came to them during a chat in the canteen, on the way home in the car, or at work on the production line itself. And all of the ideas have one thing in common: the desire to do something better. Two teams succeeded in impressing both the internal jury and their first customers with their solutions. One of these teams is chargeBIG, which has now been awarded the German Innovation Award 2020. This solution proves that MAHLE's innovations don't just catch the attention of our customers, they reach out to everyone..

From a change of perspective ...

Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt / Germany. At the heart of MAHLE’s headquarters. “We’re not doing any other work now. We’re just focusing on chargeBIG,” says Dr. Walter Krepulat, responding to our opening question about whether they’ve come straight from their “proper” jobs or from their Incubator project. chargeBIG is a full-time job. This statement describes the dimension of their idea well. But let’s start again at the beginning.

Everyone’s always striving for higher, faster, further. And now we come along and say, you don’t need to do that.
Sebastian Ewert
ChargeBIG team

As the name suggests, chargeBIG means charging on a large scale, so it’s tackling one of the most important aspects of e-mobility. Although an increasing number of battery-powered vehicles are on our roads, one question remains unanswered: How are we going to charge all of these electric vehicles? From individual charging points to a nationwide network infrastructure, chargeBIG now has the answer in the form of an intelligent charging system, which is user-friendly and can be installed anywhere.

Sebastian Ewert offers up a decisive calculation: “On average, a car is driven only 40 kilometers per day. That means it’s standing still for around 23 hours. So, there’s no rush when it comes to charging it!” This ingenious change of perspective clears the way for intelligent charging. “It no longer needs to be charged as quickly as possible, only as quickly as necessary.” And with that, the room goes quiet and there are smiles all around. These few words reveal what makes chargeBIG unique: simple and low-cost connection to the existing electricity grid.

... to a trailblazer of e-mobility

We stand outside in MAHLE’s parking lot. The idea moved on from the Post-it stage a long time ago. “This is the charging cabinet,” explains Nicole Heinrich, indicating the electrical enclosure she’s standing next to. “Distributors, fuses, relays, electronics controls, communication, and safety are all tucked away behind one large door.” Sebastian ­Ewert adds: “It’s just what electricians are used to. This way, our charging cabinet is easy to connect and equally easy to maintain.” One charging cabinet and lots and lots of parking spaces with charging plugs. chargeBIG’s vision is for every parking space to be equipped with a plug in the future. And the way to achieve this is through an intelligent software package, into which the team has invested a great deal of hard work. ­Today, they can smile about it, because “Now it works!” How exactly, the team won’t reveal. The ­cables and plugs, which are attached to the outside of the charging posts, are always in view. “This way, drivers no longer have to carry cables with them.” Sebastian Ewert knows what he’s talking about. As a driver of an electric car, he keeps a lot of cumbersome loops of cables and other equipment in his own trunk.

Sixty to seventy colleagues have collaborated on the prototype so far. When asked if they can assist the team, the response from every department has been “Of course,” “Sure,” “No problem!” Or even: “Can I help?” That’s teamwork in action. Also from Max Gerstadt, a recent member of the team, who has been involved too, developing an important component for chargeBIG as part of the final year project for his degree.

We give a lot and get a lot back. It’s one of the best parts of the experience.

NICOLE HEINRICH, chargeBIG team
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CHARGEBIG TEAM

Sebastian Ewert, Max Gerstadt, Nicole Heinrich, and Dr. Walter Krepulat (from left to right)

chargeBIG STRUCTURE

CHARGING FOR EVERYONE!

chargeBIG is a charging infrastructure that builds on existing grid connections and makes maximum use of them. One charging cabinet supplies up to 36 charging points, to which a corresponding number of electric cars can be connected. The intelligent system optimally controls charging and prevents overloading of the existing grid by ideally distributing the available electricity.

Charging as quickly as necessary is ­better than charging as quickly as possible.
DR. WALTER KREPULAT
chargeBIG team
In our team, you can tell that people really want to achieve something. I got caught up straightaway.
MAX GERSTADT
chargeBIG team

A mobile chargeBIG prototype charging cabinet can charge 18 electric vehicles. The first customers were convinced by its potential immediately. The next ­target is one hundred vehicles. “We’re working closely with our customers on this project so we can incorporate their feedback directly.” And what feedback has there been from MAHLE? The team members grin. The internal decision makers were also in agreement. At the last meeting, they simply asked: “What resources do you need to progress further?”

Nice to know: The chargeBIG team is proud that Stuttgart Airport and the Landesbank Baden-Württemberg rely on the MAHLE Corporate Start-up loading system. In addition, 100 charging points have been in operation since summer 2019 in the company's own car park at MAHLE headquarters in Bad Cannstatt. The chargeBIG team is currently testing their new payment system in the MAHLE car park. At the same time, chargeBIG is working with the Verband der Elektrotechnik Elektronik und Informationstechnik e.V. (Association of Electrical, Electronic and Information Technology) and its energy meter suppliers to ensure that the system conforms to calibration law. A solution for the centralized system should be ready in the third quarter of 2020.