The process of manufacturing an electric car is a captivating logistics. From the micrometric gestures repeated by robots to the meticulous maneuvers of humans, the montage 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 into battery manufacturing.
Launched in early 2022, the Renault Megane E-Tech is the second electric car in the diamond made in France. After the factory in Flins (Yvelines), which produces the famous Zoé, the factory in Douai (North) now assembles the new zero-emission sedan. Spread over 2.5 km², the site has produced more than 10 million vehicles since entering service in 1970. Its 2,305 employees and hundreds of robots are busy today around Megane E-Tech, alongside Scenic, Espace and Talisman.
Up to 420 Electric Meganes per day by summer 2022
If all you need to do is sign a check to order the electric sedan, manufacturing is a much more complex operation. It all starts in 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 guarantee constant accuracy and an execution speed twice that of humans. 1,200 robots are tasked with connecting the 350 pieces of sheet metal that make up the Megane E-Tech’s body.
A puzzle completed thanks to 4,000 arc and laser welding, gluing and bolting. These operations are relatively energy intensive: the Douai plant consumes an average of 256 MWh of electricity daily (equivalent to the consumption of around 21,000 households), with a maximum of 300 MWh on certain days. The workshop, whose production is synchronized with the other workshops in the factory, currently delivers 210 Megane E-Tech bodies every day (ie 30 units per hour). The goal is to reach 420 vehicles/day by July 2022.
Humans preferred robots in the assembly shop
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 with a specific suit, to protect yourself from fumes and avoid the introduction of dust. The vehicle really comes to life in the assembly shop, where all parts are grafted onto the Megane E-Tech frame.
Operations essentially performed by humans (78% men and 22% women). Only 5% of gestures are made by robots. The electric sedan also required an increase in manpower in the assembly shop: it went from 238 to 438 vacancies.
Placed on conveyor belts, vehicles are gradually equipped with their components: cables, windows, doors, seats, dashboard, etc. ). Coming from the Renault factory in Cléon (Seine-Maritime), the Megane E-Tech’s engine is installed by an operator assisted by a crane.
Specific battery access for firefighters
In parallel, the battery is mounted in a dedicated room upstairs. Less physical, 30% of non-automated operations are carried out there mainly by employees in a situation of “medical restriction”. The package is delivered in the form of modules (rectangular boxes containing the pocket cells) from LG’s factory in Wroclaw, Poland.
The latter are inserted into the battery structure by a robot with suction cups. The cables, electronics boxes and the liquid cooling circuit are installed manually. Charged to 40%, the batteries (capacity of 40 or 60 kWh depending on the customer’s choice) are sent to the ground floor to be integrated into the vehicles. A wedding in complete confidentiality, performed in a few seconds by a robot bolter.
On its upper face, the battery is equipped with a “fireman’s access”. This metal disc, accessible from the ground, allows firefighters to attach a lance to it in the event of a fire.. It consists of a membrane capable of yielding only with the pressure of water, thus flooding the inside of the package. This makes it possible to more effectively contain any thermal leakage. A QR code affixed to the windshield provides first responders with all the manufacturer’s recommendations in the event of a fire in your vehicle.
The “fireman’s access” placed on top of the battery.
Douai factory will soon manufacture its own battery cells
Although the battery cells currently come from Poland, they will be manufactured there within a few years. The AESC Envision conglomerate will build coming soon a cell factory on the Douai site and will supply the workshops directly. An economic gain, but also an environmental one, as it will no longer be necessary to transport batteries by truck.
Electricity produced in France is much more carbon-free than in Poland, the manufacturing process will logically be less impactful to the climate. A first tranche with an annual capacity of 9 GWh (ie 150,000 Megane E-Tech 60 kWh batteries, to give you an idea) will be launched and two more are already planned.