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NORMA Group presents an internal Innovation Excellence Award (IEA) every year. All employees worldwide can apply for it with their innovation projects. This year’s winners discuss how they carried out their successful project in an interview.
Seven teams made it to the final round of NORMA Group’s Innovation Excellence Awards (IEA) competition this year. After long and careful deliberations by the jury, first place was finally determined: a six-member team at the Maintal site won it with a newly developed product for electric cars. The eM TWIST connector, which has been available since the fall of 2020, is perfectly suited for secure connections in the thermal management systems of electrically powered vehicles.
In an interview, the members of the winning team talk about the development work and the secret to their success.
The winning team of the Innovation Excellence Award: Elias Schwenk, Tobias Ripper, René Schindler, David Schneider, Daniel Kintea and Heinz-Peter Wolf. (The picture was taken in early 2020 before the introduction of rules on social distancing.)
The team made up of product engineers, simulation experts, test engineers, and a sustainability expert succeeded in developing an efficient product that is ideally suited to the world of electromobility with its lighter weight, smaller assembly space, and lower CO2 emissions in manufacturing.
What is the eM TWIST?
The eM TWIST is a quick connector developed for VDA-type spigots that is precisely matched to the temperature range and pressure requirements of electrically powered vehicles. The connector supports optimal temperature control of the battery and thus contributes to an increase in range.
How did you come up with the idea for the product and what makes it particularly innovative?
René: As a product engineer in the automotive industry, I see how our customers’ needs are changing. The eM TWIST is the first product of its kind for the e-mobility sector. Up until now, many vehicle manufacturers have been using standard VDA connectors, which were originally developed for gasoline-powered cars. These cars typically have higher temperatures and pressures than electric vehicles and therefore require greater stability.
How was the team structured and what role did each person play?
René: In innovation projects, it is important to have the appropriate expertise for each phase of product development on board. The first step is to develop the concept and the design of the product using CAD. I was responsible for that. Then came the simulation, the test lab, and finally the evaluation of its environmental performance.
Daniel: The simulation is where David and I came into play. As with most simulations we do, our role started with the question “can you calculate something like this?” At the starting point of the project, David was still engrossed in his master’s thesis, so I worked on the topic first. Later on, after he started working full-time, he then took over the project. It’s exciting for me to see that one of his first projects with the company turned out to be so successful.
Tobias: Together with my colleague Heinz-Peter from the lab, I was responsible for carrying out a wide range of tests on prototypes of the eM TWIST in the lab. These tests enabled us to determine whether the connector meets our customers’ requirements.
René Schindler with the eM TWIST (The picture was taken in early 2020 before the introduction of rules on social distancing.)
David, What was it like working on the innovation project as a young professional?
David: I wrote my master’s thesis at NORMA Group in 2018 and was supervised by Daniel. When I started working full-time as a simulation expert in 2019, I was able to support the project myself a short time later. By performing structural mechanics simulations, I was able to contribute to making the connector so filigree and light.
It could not have been developed as easily and, above all, as quickly without the excellent cooperation between the team members. I mainly worked together with Daniel and René. Daniel supported me with helpful ideas and made my work easier. I am already looking forward to the next project!
Tobias, how does the company make sure that the eM TWIST meets our customers’ requirements?
Tobias: We cover a wide range of customer specifications with our tests. This started with pull-off tests to ensure that the design of the eM TWIST provides a really strong and secure connection. In this test, the connector was mounted on a socket fixed in the tensile testing machine and pulled off axially from the machine. Further tests followed, including leak tests and burst pressure tests.
René Schindler and Tobias Ripper in the lab during the test phase of the eM TWIST (The picture was taken in early 2020 before the introduction of rules on social distancing.)
In the end, the service life test turned out to be a crucial test for the project. For this purpose, the connector is installed in a test rig that simulates the driving behavior of a vehicle. The eM TWIST was subjected to simultaneous stresses such as high and low temperatures, the pressure of the coolant and vibrations. To the team’s delight, the eM TWIST withstood the test.
Elias, how can Corporate Responsibility support new product development?
Elias: Part of my job is to find suitable products for which a life cycle assessment can be performed, and that’s where the eM TWIST came in handy. I brought the environmental aspect into the project. Compared to other connectors, the production of the eM TWIST produces about a third lower CO2 emissions.
Participating in projects like this requires some research into emissions, both in production and logistics as well as manufacturing of the materials. Compiling all the data is not easy, but nonetheless remains exciting. You always learn something new in the process.
What was the best moment of the project?
David: A really nice moment was seeing after the development that the simulation matched reality so well and that we were able to make targeted improvements so quickly as a result. This feeling was even surpassed when our work was rewarded with the Innovation Excellence Award!
Tobias: For us in the test lab, the best moments were when we made changes to the component after initially less than good test results that proved to be correct after we passed the retest.
René: For me, there were two moments. The first was when we started the project. You can have as many ideas as you want, but the feeling of finally being able to live out your creativity and implement the ideas is very cool. My second favorite moment was when our prototype passed the test and thus met all our criteria. That took a good year and a half.
What is the secret of your success?
Tobias: Everyone had their role in the team and, in the end, everyone was able to contribute to the success of the project. We were a great team that made many agreements and decisions through short official channels. This allowed us to save a lot of time during the project phase.
Daniel: Working on this project has once again shown how important good teamwork is for success. Only the optimal dovetailing of design, simulation and testing made such rapid development possible.
Elias: I agree: The better you work together across departmental levels in the company, the better the result. René put together a super team and managed this project excellently. His enthusiasm is contagious!
How was the experience of participating in the Innovation Excellence Award?
Tobias: This award is a great way to promote innovation within the company and recognize the work of project teams. It was my first time participating and a great experience for me. The fact that in the end our project prevailed over the other great projects of the teams from the NORMA world makes the first participation even more special.
David: Although the event took place online, it was very exciting because you also heard about other innovative projects.
Daniel: For me, it was the second time that I participated in the Innovation Excellence Award. Despite the purely virtual award ceremony, it was again a very interesting experience. We are all very pleased that the work in the development departments is seen and appreciated by top management!
NORMA Group honors employees for innovations
Every year since 2013, the company has honored teams for outstanding innovation projects. All employees worldwide can participate in the Innovation Excellence Award. In a multi-stage selection process, the projects submitted are evaluated based on several criteria, including the degree of innovation and strategic relevance. The prize money can be up to EUR 10,000 per team.