Chief Motor Engineer At Tesla Shares Innovative Insight

4 weeks ago by EVANNEX 22

Tesla

Konstantinos Laskaris, Chief Motor Design Engineer at Tesla, Source: Charged

TALKING TECH WITH CHIEF MOTOR DESIGN ENGINEER AT TESLA

Tesla is on an ongoing quest to improve everything about its products, from components to manufacturing processes to marketing and delivery. Battery technology gets the most media attention, but the company also has a world-class team dedicated to developing better traction motors.

Among that team is Konstantinos Laskaris, Tesla’s Chief Motor Design Engineer, who is responsible for the geometry optimization and technology selection of traction motors.

Tesla

Source: Charged

Christian Ruoff, Publisher of the electric vehicle trade magazine Charged, recently had the chance to interview Laskaris for a feature article. Knowing that Laskaris wasn’t at liberty to talk about the specifics of Tesla’s motor technology – often the case when interviewing engineers from major automakers – Christian instead asked him for his general thoughts on the state of the electric motor art.

*This article comes to us courtesy of Evannex (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris.

Laskaris joined Tesla immediately after earning a PhD from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece.

“Sometimes I feel like I am in my ninth year of PhD work,” Laskaris told Charged, “which is a good thing. [After joining Tesla] I was not constrained on what I would research. Of course the objective becomes different, and now you need to deliver on a company level and in a more competitive environment, but I would say that the transition was quite smooth.”

Tesla

Source: Charged

Laskaris compares doing research at a university to being an opera singer, whereas working at a company is more like being in a rock band. “Tesla has a unique way of combining opera singers with a rock band,” he explained, “because it really understands the gravity of having research people.”

“Seeing your design going to production in a car like Model S, what could be more rewarding for a motor design engineer?” he added. “Of course the environment sometimes is very competitive. There are so many good engineers that are very involved with what you are doing. It makes sense that it is a bit stressful, but the reward is huge, because the objectives of the company are big. It makes you feel really good about your design work that your work is being appreciated.”

We hear a lot of discussion about battery costs, but motor costs are also heading down as the technology improves. “Motor cost is going lower the more we are optimizing, and as we’re getting more power-dense motors, they get smaller,” said Laskaris. “And if you don’t compromise efficiency with smaller motors and more power density, motor costs will be gradually dropping. The materials in the motors, apart from magnets, have a stable price.”

Tesla also continually strives to improve its manufacturing methods (“the machine that makes the machine”). “We’re making manufacturing cheaper,” says Laskaris. “If we had attempted to make the motors that we are using today twenty years ago, the cost would be much higher, obviously. There are many types of technologies that are coming to play a role here to make motor cost lower.”

Tesla

Source: Charged

Visualizing the electric powertrain as an integrated system is an important factor in reducing costs. “And not only the cost – it will also make a better product, because knowing which operating conditions you want to optimize for, or understanding the system thermally and designing a system that takes advantage of the material capabilities but is not over-designed, is something that comes with experience and more advanced simulation techniques.  Optimization is a huge part of making an affordable car that also has amazing performance and range and all of the specifications of interest.”

More and more, engineers are using software to model new motor types, and avoiding building expensive prototypes. “It’s a combination of software capabilities – like modeling motors in an accurate way – and having more advanced modeling tools to represent motors that you don’t want to manufacture, so that you don’t make design mistakes. And then understanding what you want to optimize for, which comes from experience – how a car is driven, what a customer would like. This all leads to understanding what motor to design, and finally the simulation shows you that you have designed the right motor in the end.”

In the battery world, the term “Holy Grail” gets kicked around a lot – researchers are already looking beyond lithium-ion technology to concepts such as solid-state and lithium-air, which they hope will provide the coveted combination of low cost, long life and high energy density. Is there anything comparable to that in the motor world? “Motor technology and motor materials [are] the two components that would make the ultimate traction motor,” said Laskaris. “On the materials side, I would say a core that is plastic – doesn’t have conductivity – and has got huge permeability that you can excite with very low current. [Maybe] it’s not achievable but companies are trying to get towards that direction.”

“From the design perspective, a synchronous separately excited machine that has full flux regulation capability, for example, is sort of an ideal motor for controlling and performance. But it has big manufacturing challenges.”

Tesla

Source: Charged

What advice does Laskaris have for young engineers who want to make an impact on the EV industry? “I would say, don’t underestimate the classic sciences – a good math background, good physics background. If you learn how to use commercial tools for design you will be more ready for the industry, but it’s much better to have a good theoretical background. After that, motor controls is a topic that has a bright future. But I would say that someone who will design good motor controls in the future also needs to understand motors very well. There are people who want to do motor controls before studying electric motors in the first place, and that’s something that I would not recommend. And of course, software engineering and writing code. You will do great if you know how to put your thoughts as an engineer into code. Once you start having your own imagination and ideas it’s a huge advantage.”

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Source: Charged

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX, Check out the site here.

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22 responses to "Chief Motor Engineer At Tesla Shares Innovative Insight"

  1. SparkEV says:

    “The materials in the motors, apart from magnets, have a stable price.”

    I thought induction motors used in Tesla do not use magnets?

    1. floydboy says:

      He appears to just be speaking of motors generally, not Tesla specifically.

    2. buu says:

      yes, in original article journalist clearly stated that they would talk about motors generally

    3. This is exactly what I was going to ask. It may be a subtle way of him to say: Tesla motors are already lower cost to make?

      I’d be curious to hear where the greatest losses are in the wall to wheels process? It seems like Tesla has higher losses than other EV’s – though I could be totally wrong. It seems like the Bolt EV has some of the lowest losses in the drivetrain.

      1. Bill Howland says:

        Well, I can’t speak of the “S” rotor since I don’t know specifically. They are obviously trying to optimize the efficiency and cooling of the induction motor they use… Perhaps the small diameter shorting ring on each side of the rotors in view are due to the extreme high speed the rotors must spin at ( to minimize centrifugal forces ).

        Seems like Tesla is staying with Tesla/Westinghouse – styled motors for now, and aiming for Incremental improvements. They appear to be basically Nema design “D” motors, to minimize problems with lowered powerfactor at high speeds, with some compromises to overall efficiency.

        Point is Tesla owners don’t care that they own the “lowest efficiency” products. The cars have a big battery, more than enough horsepower, and are a status-symbol of a sort – enough that old time manufacturers VW, BMW, and Diamler are taking the company lately very seriously.

        They must be doing something right.

  2. Pete says:

    I thought I had read an article that reported Tesla was using squirrel cage induction motors. The rotors in the picture are not squirrel cage.

    1. paul smith says:

      It does not say anywhere that the picture is of a Tesla motor.

    2. TomArt says:

      They look like squirrel cages to me, though the conductors are wires instead of bars.

  3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    “On the materials side, I would say a [motor] core that is plastic – doesn’t have conductivity – and has got huge permeability that you can excite with very low current.”

    Wow, now that is thinking outside the box!

    Presumably it would still have a metal spindle/axle, as plastic would wear out quickly, and one advantage of electric motors is that they can last a very long time without maintenance.

    1. TomArt says:

      I would imagine that it would either be a composite, having a polymer matrix with high-permeability aggregates, or just a polymer compound with high-permeability functional groups.

      It would probably be easier to control conductivity with an aggregate composite. An aggregate composite would also be able to be manufactured with higher strength and durability.

  4. paul smith says:

    TM4 has an external rotor design that offers more torque and power densities for the same size motor.
    https://www.tm4.com/technology/electric-motors/

    1. TomArt says:

      pretty cool.

    2. theflew says:

      The Volt uses an external rotor design. That’s how they pack the two motors together.

      1. SJC says:

        I could find no mention of Volt external rotor. The Volt was based on the “hair pin” design of the Spark and Remy motor with internal rotor.

  5. Insider says:

    The Model 3 DU’s will use magnets

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Is that a fact, a rumor, or just a guess?

      1. Insider says:

        Take your pick 🙂 I know it to be a fact

        1. SJC says:

          I could find no verification that Tesla is using a synchronous magnet motor in the Model 3.

    2. That would be surprising – given that Nikola Tesla invented the AC induction motor, and this is central to what Tesla does.

  6. Lou says:

    Excellent article. Please do more like this ?

  7. I would like to have heard a discussion of the relative advantages / disadvantages of permanent magnet motors vs AC induction motors. Are there issues with wear and tear with one or the other type?

    Has Tesla considered direct drive (no gearbox), and / or twin motors without a physical differential?

    1. PETE says:

      A gear box is necessary to keep the motor in a compact package. Without a gear box the torque required at the motor shaft would make the motor components to large to fit in the chassis.

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