MAN Truck & Bus

Portrait of Holger von der Heide

The eMobility Centre will secure our future


Holger von der Heide is the chief truck planner and this includes being an initiator behind the new MAN eMobility Centre project. In an interview he explains exactly what happens in the eMobility Centre, why it is so important for MAN and how he personally plays his part in sustainability and climate protection.

Holger von der Heide (58)

has been working at MAN for around 30 years. During this time he has held 14 different positions at home and abroad. These included being chief engineer at the bus factory in Posen in Poland, at the truck factory in Steyr in Austria and being head of spare parts and quality assurance for trucks. In recent years he has been working for MAN in India.

Mr von der Heide, why does MAN need the eMobility Centre?

Von der Heide I’m not disclosing anything by saying that mobility is changing. And needs to change, so that we can leave an environment in which our children and grandchildren can lead a decent life. Electric mobility will play a major part on the path to climate neutrality in traffic. We as a company want to make our contribution in this area. We’ll do this by developing technical solutions for new products, but also by preparing our employees for the challenges ahead. The eMobility Centre is there for both purposes, it is a linchpin for our future.

What exactly happens in the eMobility Centre?

Von der Heide It’s where we’re currently building the prototype of an e-truck. From the very start, this involves employees from our technology and development divisions, but also colleagues from production. The fact that our production staff are introducing their knowledge and experience at such an early stage and so intensively is an innovation at MAN. Their improvement suggestions will help determine the vehicle’s ultimate appearance, how the production processes are organised and how machines and systems are procured for production. This close cooperation between the technology and production divisions ensures that later on we will actually be able to produce the new vehicles in series – efficiently and without any problems. The result is that we can save effort and costs and make a better product for our customers.

Does this mean that only a few selected employees will be deployed in the centre?

Von der Heide No, quite the opposite. The plan is that almost all production employees will in future work in the eMobility Centre for a certain period of time under a rolling system. In addition to further development of the e-truck, it’s about preparing everyone for production of electrically powered vehicles. They’ll learn this on-the-job in the eMobility Centre, in other words when working directly on the line, but also through training sessions on the theory of electric mobility.

What inherent challenges do e-vehicles pose for employees?

Von der Heide The technology behind an e-truck is very different to that of a diesel truck. This includes even tighter installation spaces, for example, but in particular it also involves new risks to which employees must adjust. Unlike in the classic combustion engine, the potential hazards posed by an e-vehicle are not immediately obvious. Nobody would ever think of reaching into a rotating crankshaft, but it’s initially hard to decide whether or not a part is live under current. People also have to learn how to handle the batteries. If they’re damaged – because a forklift inadvertently drives into them for instance – this could cause conductive components to connect inside the battery, which in the worst case could result in a fire that is difficult to extinguish. We’re using the eMobility Centre to make our employees aware of all these risks. They’ll learn about the hazards that exist, how to keep safe when working on e-vehicles and how to react correctly if something does go wrong.

Portrait Holger von der Heide
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Forward-thinking Holger von der Heide kneels in front of a signpost to the eMobility Center.

It sounds as if working on an e-truck is more dangerous than it would be on a diesel truck...

Von der Heide No, that’s not the case. The risks involved in electric vehicles are simply different and you soon get used to managing them safely. Everyone knows how to safely use a power socket after all. And besides, the working environment in the eMobility Centre also promotes safety awareness. The production areas are large, bright, well structured and tidy. At first glance it looks more like a clinic than a truck production hall. This environment already signals to employees that things are different here, they have to adapt to new aspects and act with foresight and caution. In short: here the need is for tweezers rather than a hammer.

What does work in the eMobility Centre actually look like in practical terms?

Von der Heide We're using the eMobility Centre to depict series production at a scale of 1:5; the line here has 11 instead of 60 stations. This significantly extends the length of each cycle, so that our employees have an hour instead of five minutes. Each individual employee assumes responsibility for more activities in the Centre than would be the case in series production. The result is that each of them has a better overview of a larger part of production and a better impression of the overall product. And therefore sees more things that could still be improved, for example. Employees will initially be deployed at stations with which they are already familiar, so that they have the best chance to use their experience and knowledge. This will enable each of them to get used to their new tasks in stages.

What are the experiences of colleagues who are already working in the eMobility Centre? Do you have any feedback yet?

Von der Heide Many of them were sceptical at first. But after a while, most of them become really enthusiastic. It is of course inspiring to be involved in a modern, forward-looking technology, to play an active part in designing a new product and to gain a lot of new knowledge. Many employees are really happy about that and fully engaged. And this includes young as well as very experienced colleagues.

MAN is investing huge sums in the development of electric mobility and in the eMobility Centre. Why is that worthwhile?

Von der Heide We are certainly talking of investment in the billions. We’re continuing to develop our diesel engines in parallel, which also devours large sums of money. The return won’t be seen for a number of years. Yet it is this investment that will secure our long-term success and even MAN’s survival. We need to be clear that if we don’t transform ourselves then we will be transformed. And we could even totally disappear as a company. Electric mobility and the eMobility Centre are intended to ensure this doesn’t happen. 

Do you also have a close personal interest in electric mobility and climate protection?

Von der Heide Yes, absolutely. This is partly down to the last few years when I was working for MAN in India. That’s where I experienced the true nature of poverty and how it is exacerbated by climate change. It also altered my view of the situation here in Europe and in Germany. And also my behaviour. I do admittedly still have an SUV in the garage, but then also an electric car. And I do also constantly try to act in a more eco-friendly manner. It’s not about adopting a totally different lifestyle from one day to the next, but rather involves a gentle revolution in small steps. That’s what I’m trying to implement in my everyday life. And I rejoice when I see this inspiring others in my circle.

Interview   Dagmar Puh
Photos   MAN

#Electromobility#AlternativeDrives#Truck#Sustainability
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