Empel Systems: high-quality scalable motor-inverter units
The race is on to develop power-dense, efficient and cost-effective electric motor technology that can handle the challenging duty cycles required for electric vehicle and industrial applications.
Large OEMs are in a position to produce high-performance motors and power electronics that are optimised to particular applications. At the other end of the scale, many suppliers focus on ‘off-the-shelf’ motors for high-volume, low-cost products.
Empel Systems set out to plug the gap between the two, offering high-quality integrated motor-inverter units that could be customised to specific applications. Extensive use of shared architectures and standardised production processes, means that Empel can offer far better value to customers who are considering developing a bespoke machine for every application. And yet, the modular philosophy allows the machines to be tailored to a wide range of requirements for attributes such as motor speed range, voltage and torque.
“We’re using a core family of motors to address multiple markets, including automotive, aerospace, robotics and green tech,” comments Jason King, co-founder of Empel Systems. “In particular, we’re looking at demanding applications that might not be suitable for an off-the-shelf design.”
He refers to these as premium applications. That’s not necessarily defined by the motor’s outright performance, he points out, but the ability to deliver state of the art capabilities wherever they’re needed. That could be broadening out the operating envelope to minimise the number of motor designs required across a manufacturer’s product range or developing a motor to provide the best operating efficiency in a small packaging space.
Empel Systems was awarded £104,500, a portion of £1 million grant funding, through the Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP) run by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC). This helped to support the commercialisation of the company’s technology – in particular, the development of a new multi-voltage silicon carbide inverter.
“We realised that we needed a silicon carbide inverter to address the way the market is going with systems that are running at 400 volts, 800 volts or above,” comments King. “We wanted it to be scalable to suit different applications, and we’ve achieved that by applying a similar modular philosophy to the motors, with core components that can be added or removed to optimise the inverter’s properties.”
The company has also been involved with two other APC competition projects:
- Empel Systems led the Advanced Route to Market Demonstrator (ARMD) project to develop a vehicle demonstrator showcasing cost-effective electrification for demanding duty cycles. Together with Punch Flybrid and Shield Engineering (SYSTON), this had a total project value £1.7 million, with £1 million funded through the APC.
- It also was part of the e-MOTIF consortium, led by Shield Engineering, for a collaborative research and development project which aimed to create innovative electric motors, inverters and hi-tech flywheel energy storage systems.
As King explains, the real benefit of the TDAP programme was the advice and support that came with the funding: “It really helped to accelerate more than just the technology development. The guidance from the APC made us look at whether we were focusing on the right kind of markets and the right kind of customers, and it made us think about whether we were delivering the right kind of pitch.”
As part of the TDAP programme, the company received help on topics such as business strategy and intellectual property rights.
“We wanted to protect the unique features of our own technology and we were also very conscious that we didn’t want to infringe upon anyone else’s IP in a field where quite a few people are working on similar [competing] ideas. As part of that process, we identified some ideas that we thought might be protected that we were actually free to use, which greatly simplified things from our perspective,” notes King.
Founded in 2019, Empel Systems was still very much in its infancy when it joined TDAP in April 2020. King says the programme played a pivotal role in the company’s development: “TDAP certainly helped to safeguard jobs. It allowed us to invest time into R&D and broaden our original product out into a full family of motors and inverters that can serve a much wider range of applications. Without that opportunity, the company might not even exist now.”