At Advanced Electric Machines, we’re now recognised across the globe for our rare-earth free high performance electric motors and powertrain systems. The journey to get to this point has not been simple, and we’re still only at the start of our overall mission to make the world’s EVs truly sustainable, but to get a picture of how everything began for us, let’s rewind to 2009.
At this point in time, our current Chief Executive Officer, Dr. James Widmer, was completing his PhD at Newcastle University after leaving BAE Systems to work on more sustainable technologies. This wasn’t an easy venture, however, with electric vehicles only just beginning to look like a feasible possibility. Also working at the university was Dr. Andy Steven, our current Chief Technical Officer. Andy, an expert in rotating machinery and transmission technologies, had a long and successful stint in industry, but, like James, he sought to pursue his passion for developing sustainable technologies in an increasingly unsustainable world.
James noticed that vehicle manufacturers were looking to employ permanent magnet motors as part of their electric vehicle solutions, and he realised that if these vehicles were to become the norm, the quantity of rare earth metals needed could become catastrophic for the environment.
From here, James began to research and develop rare earth-free electric motors, supporting the first-generation development of OEM vehicles with JLR, Airbus and Cummins in the process. He then became the Director of the Advanced Propulsion Centre’s Electric Machines Spoke, a role in which he would meet future Advanced Electric Machines Chief Commercial Officer, Mike Woodcock. Mike acknowledged another limitation of the use of permanent magnet electric motors – the lack of a route to recycling due to the copper and magnets they contain, meaning many would end up in landfill. This led the pair to question the possibility of removing the rare earths and the copper from the motor, and creating a fully recyclable solution. This would become the eventual mission statement of Advanced Electric Machines.
James and Andy’s work eventually led the pair to a realisation that they had developed a commercially viable product that had the chance to change the world.
Fast forward to March 2017 – a poignant moment in time for everybody involved in Advanced Electric Machines. It saw us spin out of Newcastle University and into the wider world, with James and Andy leading the charge. James and Mike Woodcock would then meet Mike O’Neill, who would become our Chief Operating Officer. Mike had been establishing high volume motor manufacturing lines across the world at ZF, and this skillset perfectly fit the bill for us to achieve our mission. Mike decided to join the team to reignite the North East’s roots in industrial engineering excellence and to build a company from the ground up.
It wasn’t long before the idea of this revolutionary company became a reality. Just a month later in April, we hit two prominent landmarks on our journey to becoming a globally recognised business. We secured our first Innovate UK grant, with this funding a recognition of the innovation that we were bringing to the table. The support of this grant enabled us to develop the business authentically, investing in the infrastructure that is in place today.
Speaking of infrastructure, in April we also signed the lease on our first production facility at Blaydon. For any business, acquiring a bespoke facility is a huge milestone, and for us, it physically established us in the North East, which we regard as the country’s hub for industrial engineering. At Blaydon, it took mere months for us to turn the location from an empty shell to a facility where our first motor was built and tested.
We didn’t stop there, either. By early July, we had completed a round of seed funding in order to assemble the funds to shape the business that we strove to create. And to round off what was an extremely busy first few months, we hit another significant milestone in securing our first commercial contract.
The beginning phase of any business is bound to be busy, and the same can be said for the origins of AEM. Nevertheless, this chapter in our history set us on the path that we are still on today, and we have no intention of slowing down.