Currently reading: How Equipmake is revolutionising electric car propulsion
Equipmake is not yet the biggest player in Hethel but, with claims of being two years ahead of electric motor rivals, one day that might change
Steve Cropley Autocar
News
5 mins read
10 June 2018

Britain is about to have its very own Henry Ford of electric car propulsion, and his name is Ian Foley.

Through a combination of rare engineering insight, enthusiasm for electric machines even when they weren’t fashionable, clever planning and helpful semi-government finance (plus a helping of luck), Foley and his 20-man team at Equipmake in Hethel are preparing for a remarkable expansion that within five years could result in them manufacturing hundreds of thousands of electric motors in a brand-new Norfolk factory.

Already well known in race and road car tech circles, Foley and Equipmake have recently come to far wider notice as the designers, builders and suppliers of the four 295bhp APM200 electric motors and some of the power electronics that will propel the mighty 1180bhp four-wheel-drive Ariel Hipercar, a high performance range extender Equipmake is co-developing with Delta Motorsport and Ariel.

Though Foley is quick to acknowledge Hipercar’s value in spreading Equipmake’s name and skills, he’s also clear that the company’s aim is much larger than becoming a maker of engines for high-performance electric cars. A bus project and a second automotive customer project are already on the boil, and the number and quality of serious enquiries from giant automotive players is rising rapidly.

“Over the past couple of years,” says Foley, “the attitude of car companies to launching electric models has changed completely. I wouldn’t say they’re panicking, but many now feel an urgent need to get some sort of halo product out there on a very compressed timescale. Projects that might normally take four to five years are having to be done in two. 

“Potential customers who feed their requirements for electric motors into Google tend to arrive sooner or later at our website. A gratifyingly large number seem to want exactly what we’re offering. We’re a risk for them, of course, in the sense that a big tier-one supplier making the right product might be better. But there simply isn’t a tier one with the right product.”

Equipmake’s pride and joy is a highly flexible design it calls the spoke motor, an interior permanent magnet electric machine in which the magnets are arranged radially, like the spokes of a wheel. This gives the motor the greatest torque density going, Foley says, and Equipmake’s version permits more efficient liquid cooling than previous spoke designs, highly desirable because well-cooled magnet motors can run faster and deliver higher power for longer.

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Foley acknowledges a body of opinion against magnet motors (and in favour of induction or switched reluctance motors), mostly because of magnet cost and price volatility, but he bats the criticism away on the grounds of compactness and efficiency. Equipmake has solved lingering design and production problems with previous spoke motors, he says; the APM200 is roughly half the size and 80% the weight of rivals with the same output.

According to Foley, who cut his engineering teeth 20 years ago on Lotus’s active suspension Formula 1 cars, Equipmake currently holds an advantage of around two years over the rest of the electric motor world.

The challenge will be to maintain that, he says, though he makes it sound almost straightforward.

Compared with those hectic days at Team Lotus, perhaps it will be. After F1, then 34-year-old Foley obeyed a long-held desire to start his own company, so he founded Equipmake in 1993 to make electronic control systems, data loggers, pneumatic paddle shifts, railway signalling gizmos... in fact, anything his imagination allowed.

Before long, he was working with Williams F1 on flywheel-based energy recovery systems for racing cars that are really, he points out, high-speed electric motors. Soon adopted by Audi, the flywheels helped deliver three Le Mans wins before a regulation change made batteries a better storage medium. But Equipmake’s high reputation – and its founder’s invaluable engineering network – had been well and truly established.

Foley, who describes himself as a technology nerd (“I love performance, but not necessarily 500-horsepower V12s”) became increasingly attracted to the idea of electric propulsion so, equipped with his flywheel knowledge, set about designing and making electric motors suitable for cars and trucks. Then, three years ago, Foley abandoned his habit of buying Jaguars in favour of a Tesla Model S.

“Even quite recently,” he says, “people were saying electric cars were years away, but I always had the feeling they were coming quickly. In nearly three years and 54,000 miles, the Tesla has been fantastic and very, very easy to own. The crucial thing that makes it work is the Supercharger network. In three years, I’ve never seen a broken charger, and I’ve never had to wait to use one. That’s Tesla’s advantage in a nutshell.”

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Although Foley is very much a leader in electric cars, even he is shocked at the speed of their advance. Foley says: “Until 18 months ago, our plan was to put our motors into Hipercar, get on with the bus project and let things develop. But everything has changed. There’s no longer any need to convince car makers that they need electric motors.” And Equipmake’s new future?

“I break into a cold sweat when I say this,” says Foley, “but our opportunity is to become a tier-one business, employing hundreds of people and making hundreds of thousands of engines.

“Of course, we’ll need to go step by step, increasing scale carefully as we build the right quality systems and get the finance in place. I own this 100% as it stands, but I guess we’ll need investors to take things forward. That’ll be another challenge. But there’s no doubt we have a huge opportunity.”

See how the spoke motor works:

The principles behind Equipmake’s spoke electric motor aren’t entirely new, says Ian Foley, but they’re uniquely applied and the machine itself is quite different – smaller, lighter and higher-revving – from motors used by most of the rest of the industry. Watch Foley explain how and why in an exclusive video:

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Comments
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Bazzer 11 June 2018

Well, yes, everything costs

Well, yes, everything costs energy, that's why ghosts can't exist.  However, I think the cooling may be rather minor against the energy lost in power steering, etc.  I always wonder why the energy created (changed) by the dampers and shocks can't be utilised, otherwise it's lost energy.  It always seems such a waste.  But then again, that's added weight, and the trend is to try and make a moving vehicle as light as possible.

Bazzer 10 June 2018

Having watched the video

...let me (in part) explain why their design is good.  It allows coolant to cool the magnets (to get right to them).  This is very important as magnets lose some of their magnetic power as temperature rises (there's a graph).  So if you get it hot, you lose performance, the motor would literally fail to turn.  You can use high temperature magnets, but they are much more expensive - though they may already use them, I don't know.  Keep the magnets cool and you have perfect performance from them.

Einarbb 10 June 2018

Doesn't cooling cost energy?

It usually does in other settings. It's a question whether the quest is for maximum power or maximum energy efficiency. But efficiency is more about energy use vs. power produced, than absolute maximum power produced.

Bazzer 11 June 2018

Well,

I would have thought that they'd use a central cooling system (as in a braking system) that uses an alternator.  The alternator could even run mechanically - off of one wheel, so the faster the wheel turns, the more the alternator turns (on gearing).  After all, you'd only need cooling when the motor is spinning, if the car was stationary then there'd be no need of cooling.  Perhaps Equipmake could come on here and explain.

Einarbb 11 June 2018

Looked at the wid

Evidently they employ water cooling - evidently the spoke design allows water jacks quite close to the magnets thus facilitating rapid cooling hence facilitating the magnets be run at max power more of the time, yet in any other setting familiar to me water cooling requires cooling radiator placed somewhere meaning drag and the need for cooling definitively means energy is wasted that isn't ultimately employed - the more the greater the need for cooling, combine that with the drag from a radiator placed somewhere. Most gains cost something along the way, the heat must be due to resistance somewhere -- they probably haven't yet cracked the problem of eliminating resistance without super cooling systems, thus the heat problem persists still thus inevitable energy loss through heat buildup.

Bazzer 10 June 2018

I hope

...it stays British!  SO many firms have started like this then sold out to a foreign company.  The manufacture goes to an emergent nation and the jobs in the UK are resigned to 'design' or 'development'.  My wife bought a fancy frying pan yesterday, costing a small fortune.  It has 'British' all over it, but when you read closer you discover that's just the company.  They don't say where it's made, but you can guess.  They are quick to point out that it was 'designed' in britain.

I hope the UK government are doing as much as the EU will allow them to in helping Equipmake grow.  The UK needs a manufacturing sector in new fields, like electrification.  I was appalled that Ineos went to Germany for the development of their Defender-replacement when there's so much here in the UK (I own a small engineering business).  There was no need for that other than getting it cheaper.  And cheaper is never better!  So ineos have already taken away a large chunk of its 'Britshness', and they haven't yet said where it will be built.  The way it's going, it isn't going to be british at all, like Land Rover.  Sorry to rant on, but we do NEED manufacturing for future generations here, as we seek new trading partners on good terms around the world (if we actually do ever leave the EU).

Peter Cavellini 10 June 2018

It’s juggling really....

 How many Balls can you juggle?, this is no excuse for the current or future Governments, having to try and run the UK like a Business if you will can’t be easy, so many supervisors (read MP’s) some MP’s thrust into being head of this or that and being only as good as the last person doesn’t help, and the fact we had the Bankers (W?) kick the feet from under most of us and then Cameron shafted the Country by pushing for Brexit!, yes, if you had limitless funds then all our great innovators wouldn’t be forced to go outside the UK, and, yes the current Headless Chicken Government isn’t cant do a thing right,but, remember, we voted them in!

Bazzer 11 June 2018

Without getting into politics!...

Cameron (a supreme idiot in my opinion) had to offer a referendum, or he actually could have lost MPs to Ukip.  Although Ukip collpased after the referendum, remember that it was doing very well before it.  Right-leaning MPs in the Conservatives were making noises that they'd jump ship if we didn't get promised a referendum - something I support, as I think we should have more (I believe in total democracy).  Where Cameron went so wrong was in demanding so little from the EU to take back home.  He should have made it plain that he'd accept nothing less than an end to Free Movement, or Brits would vote to leave.  He would never have done that as he was a remainer.  But even a remainer should have better-judged the mood of the country - god knows they employ enough advisors who conduct secret polls.

I have no problem with governments using taxpayer's money to 'help' emerging firms, especially when that help could mean more employment.  In the past, taxpayer's money was used to KEEP employment, a different thing entirely.  This was used in companies that were failing, whereas Equipmake has enormous potential.  I expect Equipmake to be 49% floated in order to raise cash, and I expect lots of car firms will want to buy the shares.  Or maybe a big-league player like VW will offer a lot of money for 49%.  We'll see.

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