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By Gina Bonini, Vice President and General Manager, Advanced Thermal Systems, Modine

Modine was founded in 1916 by Arthur B. Modine with the aim of creating the perfect radiator. Today, it’s a $2 billion diversified industrial company with over 11,000 employees, manufacturing products for industrial and commercial heating and air conditioning, data centers, refrigeration, and cooling for power generation. Modine has been designing and producing thermal management for a range of vehicles, from passenger automobiles to heavy-duty commercial vehicles, for a long time. In response to the growing trend of electrification, Modine developed its EVantage battery thermal management system and electronics cooling package to meet the needs of electrified vehicles.

What is automotive thermal management?  

Thermal management is a critical topic for both ICE (internal combustion engines) and electric vehicles.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the radiator in your vehicle. Some of us probably even remember the days of overheating cars before thermal management improved in vehicles. 

Actually, my relatively new car overheated just last summer when temperatures reached 115°F in Oregon. My car just didn’t have the needed cooling capacity to handle the mountain I was driving at that temperature. I don’t miss those days of overheating cars…I had to pull over as my car slowed to a crawl and waited an hour for the engine to cool down. Not convenient. 

If such extreme temperatures were a regular occurrence in my area, I’d be looking for a car with higher cooling capacity in the thermal management system. In internal combustion engines, the fuel combustion process that uses gasoline as fuel to power the vehicle generates temperatures of around 2000oC. 

Historically, thermal management was used to protect the engine from overheating and causing engine damage. Over the years, cooling systems have advanced to improve engine performance and reduce emissions.

Thermal management challenges related to commercial electric vehicles

The impact of operating temperature on electronic components in EVs differs from that of internal combustion engines. EVs contain numerous power electronics for the inverter, converter, and traction motor, as well as large and complex battery packs. EVs depend on effective thermal management because extreme heat or cold can severely impact performance, range, and longevity.

In commercial EVs, two main areas require careful consideration for thermal management – the battery pack and the power electronics.

The battery pack needs to be maintained in a narrow temperature window – typically 77 to 95°C – during charging and vehicle operation to optimize the performance of the battery – extending vehicle range, reducing time to charge, and minimizing long-term degradation of the battery. A Battery Thermal Management System or BTMS is commonly used to maintain the temperature of the battery pack.

The power electronics – inverter, converter, and traction motor – will heat up as they operate and typically have a cooling package to maintain temperature and prevent long-term damage. 

Typically, as vehicle class increases, the vehicle will have a larger battery pack and require more torque, which increases the cooling capacity required for both the battery pack and power electronics.

Modine’s technology helps make commercial EVs viable in severe environments where heavy-duty vehicles might see

Think about what happens if you leave your phone sitting in direct sunlight for a time or if you’ve gone outside in the dead of winter and are trying to use your phone. Inevitably, the battery drains much faster, right?

Extreme temperatures in either direction majorly impact the performance of lithium-ion batteries. EVs have much larger batteries than our phones, requiring more consideration for managing that temperature to ensure optimal performance. 

And commercial EVs have even larger battery packs, so much so that the technology used for thermal management in passenger vehicles cannot simply be scaled up to meet the demands of heavy-duty vehicles. 

Modine develops advanced, purpose-built thermal management technologies so that buses, fire trucks, delivery trucks, and construction equipment—really commercial vehicles of all shapes and sizes—can operate as intended.

Modine’s EVantage Battery Thermal Management System can both heat and cool the battery pack to maintain that narrow ideal temperature window for optimal performance. In the heat of summer, the system constantly cools the battery pack and rejects the excess heat. In winter, when a truck might be parked in freezing temperatures, the system will rapidly and efficiently warm the battery pack.

This is important because temperature impacts performance and range. And over time, exposure to extreme temperatures causes battery cell degradation, resulting in loss of capacity and power. 

For particularly dirty environments like construction sites or agriculture, Modine also has a Liquid-Cooled Condenser, or L-CON BTMS, which combines proprietary heat exchanger technology with smart controls and electronics designed to provide significant mitigation for dirt and debris intrusion to prevent clogging.

Modine’s manufacturing facility in Tennessee

It is clear Tennessee is working to make an appealing home for manufacturers. There is excellent qualified workforce potential in the state already. With the affordable cost of living, temperate climate, and favorable geographic positioning within the country’s eastern half, Tennessee also has a lot of appeal for relocations.

We opened the Lawrenceburg plant in 1979—so we’ve been part of the growing manufacturing landscape for a long time. But even before the latest advanced manufacturing boom hit the state, Modine saw automotive OEMs making more investments in the southeast, and it made sense for us to be as centrally located as possible. 

Now, we continue to invest in our Lawrenceburg facility because thermal management is both an art and a science, and we have built a strong workforce that understands both, so we continue to leverage the people/assets to fuel our success going forward.

With two Universities within an hour’s drive (University of North Alabama, and University of Tennessee Southern) as well as the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Industrial and Columbia State Community College, we have a strong pool of technical resources to pull from.

The next steps for the Lawrenceburg plant

We are hiring! We currently have over 25 openings in our facility as we continue to expand. We’re looking for a range of talent, from production operators to welders and office staff.

Within our Lawrenceburg plant, we have two businesses growing at double digits.

There’s my business focused on Commercial and Specialty Electric Vehicles, really big trucks. We continue to grow at a rapid rate as buses, trucks, delivery vans, and off-highway machines continue to electrify.

We also have our stationary generator business, where we build modules for generators used in critical infrastructure that require uninterrupted power no matter what – hospitals, data centers, and hospitality. 

Lawrenceburg is Modine’s largest facility for this product line, serving the North American market. This business has been growing rapidly, fueled by customer demand, and Modine has recently won an additional major customer. We’ve been transitioning this product line to new technology that we build in our Lawrenceburg facility. 

Since these products are very large, they need to be manufactured in the region to reduce shipping costs. In fact, Modine has recently formed a new business unit to focus on this market and continue to drive our growth.

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