|▲ Claudius Rath, Head of Innovation Project InCar®plus, ThyssenKrupp
The automotive sector today is in a state of flux. The industry is grappling with the challenge of limited resources and increasing fuel prices, while in parallel looking to address the mobility needs of millions of people especially in emerging markets.
To streamline personal mobility and minimize its impact on the environment, automobile manufacturers and their suppliers are now challenged with making more possible in markets such as Asia – keeping technologies greener while managing urban mobility needs, and steady growth volumes. This is compelling them to come up with new ways of making their vehicles smart yet sustainable, as well as ecologically friendly. With vehicular emissions contributing substantially to greenhouse gas emissions across the globe, innovating for greener technology is the need of the hour. In large urban centers in Korea, automotive manufacturers must bring together what vehicles offer to what urban commuters need – flexibility, efficiency and easy integration with public service mobility systems.
In this context, car manufacturers in Asia must now offer greater cost and operational efficiency, reliability, and the highest quality. Quality and customization are no longer the hallmark of premium vehicles, but a standard demand by many end customers today. This means that car manufacturers today face increasing competition, growing cost pressure and shrinking development timelines. Bringing innovative products and processes into automotive manufacturing is key to addressing the dilemma of car manufacturers and the demand of end users.
With the pace of urbanization challenging city systems to come up with new and innovative models for growth and intelligent infrastructure solutions, cities in Asia have emerged as key frontrunners in facing the problem head on. Seoul for example, exemplifies a smart city that has successfully integrated seamless transport connectivity, and is now focused on fully integrating the travel value chain across public and private modes of transport, and defining the future of urban mobility. Urban mobility concepts in the future are likely to integrate both innovation in design and build, with intelligent systems, to cope with commuter needs in the future.
In addition, to truly make automotive manufacturing future-ready and sustainability-focused, it is important for car manufacturers to consider the overall lifecycle cost of the entire project from raw materials and material manufacture, as well as from component production and vehicle use to subsequent recycling.
One way to do this is also to introduce processes that reduce resource consumption to the absolute minimum possible. Resource efficiency is a powerful driver of innovation, and helps reduce both manufacturing and operating costs. Vehicles will therefore have to evolve to be lighter, smarter and greener. In countries such as Korea, innovation in automotive process and components technology, driven by keen technical prowess, has tremendous potential for growth. The adoption of smart and connected technologies can also further integrate a new generation of smarter and more efficient personal cars into the country’s sustainable and integrated transport system.
However, according to a survey by research and advisory firm KPMG, while most automotive industry professionals see the optimization of automotive components technology as a trend a few years into the future, the development of efficient and sustainable technologies to deliver the car of tomorrow must begin with innovations today.
This is the guiding principle behind ThyssenKrupp’s InCar®plus project. Under the project, the company has brought together materials, component and manufacturing expertise to build efficient technologies, aimed at enabling automotive manufacturers to meet diverse challenges in the future, while conserving resources across the automotive lifecycle. This project brings a number of innovations to key markets worldwide, including to the automotive sector in Korea.
Components are the essential building blocks to creating machines that bring more value for the consumer, and are the hidden drivers of greater energy sustainability and efficiency. There are several solutions areas which can transform the way cars are built and run today – these encompass powertrain solutions for optimized engine performance and reduced fuel consumption; chassis and steering solutions for overall weight reduction, better control, and safety; and car body solutions, to replace conventional materials with robust new material design, increasing efficiency through weight reduction and durability.
To optimize the powertrain, integrating lightweight design and intelligent function into existing internal combustion engines will mean less fuel and therefore less emissions. Alternative bearing concepts can also help reduce friction between engine parts to make the vehicle more energy-efficient. For example, innovations such as hybrid cylinder head cover modules with integrated camshafts combine polymer, aluminum and steel components to reduce the system’s total weight by 15 percent. Using smarter materials can also reduce friction losses by up to 10-15 watts and the required oil volume by 30-40 percent.
Another significant innovation area is streamlining electric drive systems, which are a much more efficient feature than conventional hydraulic systems. Not only do these require much less energy than hydraulic systems, but also enhance vehicular safety. These technologies are an important precursor to modern driver-assistance technologies such as automated parking and lane keeping systems. In addition, there is also potential to develop steer-by-wire systems further in automobiles, and to truly cement them as the future of steering.
Constant innovation in materials such as new steel grades, semi-finished products, composite materials, and magnesium and carbon fiber reinforced plastics can also revolutionize vehicle engineering by dramatically reducing weight and increasing efficiency. In the automotive components and manufacturing industry, a lot more investment needs to be made into developing and testing new steel grades, while also ushering in process innovation which will help modernize manufacturing technology altogether. For cars, two key areas where weight reduction and cost effective solutions can be applied are seat structure and wheels, through the use of lightweight materials and composites. An example of these are hybrid wheels made from carbon fiber–reinforced polymer (CRFP) and steel, which are more lightweight and cost efficient than aluminum wheels.
In summary, we need to think in terms of ingenuity applied into the entire process of car manufacturing to usage. With East Asia becoming the hub of leading technology solutions in future mobility, there is potential to mobilize material, design and engineering solutions to bring about a transformation in the automotive industry in countries such as Korea. In addition, to remain globally competitive and at the same time ecologically friendly, the car manufacturing industry in Asia and worldwide needs to collectively integrate quality at a low cost, with what the end customer now expects from their vehicle, which is higher efficiency and better design.
This is truly bringing about innovation from within.