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Manufacturing, Engineering, Education: Illinois’ New EV Innovation Hub

October 20, 2023 in News

As vehicles head down the path of electrification, every aspect of the industry is impacted throughout the transition: from supply chains to research and development, to workforces.

TCCI Manufacturing has sought to address this with its new EV Innovation Hub currently in development in its hometown of Decatur, Illinois, along with the help of Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, Richland Community College, and the city of Decatur.

TCCI President Richard Demirjian and Vice President of Global Marketing Kara Demirjian Huss have offered a look into the work being done at the EV Innovation Hub and why it’s needed in the industry today.
Manufacturing: TCCI’s EV Compressors

TCCI specializes in compressor manufacturing and began developing electric compressors for EVs in 2018.

Around two-and-a-half years ago, TCCI was looking to expand its manufacturing operations. It has electric compressors produced in Ningbo, China, but was looking to bring more of that work to North America.

Illinois has been pushing for green energy projects within the state, so TCCI began conversations with Governor Pritzker’s office seeking support for an EV compressor manufacturing plant.

“Illinois has had this vision early on of being one of the leaders in electrification and the EV and energy industry, and so they really were instrumental,” recalls Huss.

This new facility will be equipped with a state-of-the-art assembly machining center that will produce anywhere from two kilowatts to 30 kilowatts and 24 volts up to 850-volt compressors.
Engineering: The Climate Center for Innovation and Research

As TCCI continued to have discussions about climate friendly technology, the topic of a facility for testing electric vehicles was brought up, sparking the idea for the climatic center and turning the manufacturing plant into something more.

The Climate Center for Innovation and Research is housed in the same facility but operates independently from the manufacturing segment. It will be a climatic tunnel that contains a 60-foot by 25-foot chamber, equipped with solar and a three-road dyno that is 800 horsepower per roll.

The tunnel will also be able to accommodate hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and will contain a fast charger inside the tunnel for EVs to test how well the charging works at all types of extreme temperatures, ranging from -30 degrees to 130 degrees.

The main purpose of the climatic center is to test innovations in not only the EV sphere but clean energy and climate technology as a whole, which can often branch out into other fields such as agriculture. It’s built in such a way that it has made ample room for potential expansions and add-ons in the future to accommodate different types of research.

“If there are particular researchers, or research programs that come down, this tunnel has a very flexible capability with it for add-ons,” Demirjian explains.

Many such research facilities are not open to other companies, with them often having to simply build their own if they wish to conduct tests–but TCCI will be opening access to the climatic center to any organization looking for somewhere to test equipment.
Education: The EV+ Energy Workforce Training Academy

The third piece of the EV Innovation Hub is the EV + Energy Workforce Training Academy, created in part with Richland Community College.

The program will be offered to high school students, allowing them to earn dual credits at the Innovation Hub campus while attending high school and having the opportunity to earn an Applied Associates of Science or an Applied Science Degree from Richland upon graduating high school.

TCCI has also established agreements with several universities throughout Illinois–such as the University of Illinois, Grainger College of Engineering, and Northern Illinois University–to allow students that have graduated to continue their education by transferring their credits to engineering or computer science programs in pursuit of a four-year degree.

Students will have access to assembly lines and the climatic center right outside their classroom doors, allowing for an immersive, hands-on experience for them. TCCI also has plans to connect with companies such as Rivian, Lion Electric, Caterpillar Inc., and Navistar to establish apprentice programs and co-op programs.

“The days of that dark, dirty, dingy manufacturing facility just isn’t there anymore. We’re talking about automation on lines, technical skills,” says Huss. “We need students coming either out of high school or out of college, we need more engineers, we need more individuals that have a computer science (background) with both the software and hardware capabilities because of the technologies needed in this space.”

The facility plans to launch in August 2024 and hopes to impact the auto industry and beyond.

As the transition to clean energy and electric vehicles continues, TCCI believes it’s imperative that the entire industry do its part to help hoist the sails. Demirjian hopes that similar projects will soon be seen elsewhere and is open to others visiting the EV Innovation Hub to use it as a template.
“Our involvement isn’t just about what we’re doing here at TCCI. It’s about helping the industry transition; making sure that our leaders in our company are out there being involved,” says Huss.

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