Sustainable products and technologies
As a designer of excellent and sustainable technological solutions, Schaeffler faces rapid change in the drive sector. To this end, the company employs 7,991 people1) in research and development (R&D) at 20 R&D centers and other R&D sites. The extent and success of its innovation activity is illustrated by the number of patent registrations submitted to the German Patent and Trademark Office based on inventions reported throughout the Group. In 2018, it rose to 2,417 2) compared to the previous year (2,383).
Shaping the mobility of the future
Fundamental to the Schaeffler Group’s R&D activities is the goal of helping to shape the mobility of the future with safe, economically successful products and technologies that are produced in an ecologically and socially responsible manner. This goal is anchored in the company strategy via the four target areas described below.
“Eco-friendly drives” target area
Schaeffler is working on a variety of technologies that will make the mobility of the future more sustainable and efficient. With innovative ideas, creative engineering, and comprehensive manufacturing expertise, the company is developing solutions for combustion-engine driven, hybrid, and all-electric drive trains.
Based on market analyses, a scenario was developed with the “Schaeffler Vision Powertrain” that in 2030, around 30% of new cars will be equipped with internal combustion engines, 40% with hybrid drives, and 30% with purely electric drives on average worldwide. Therefore, a holistic view of the powertrain and the interaction of electric motors, combustion engines, transmissions, chassis, and the associated infrastructure is of high ecological and economic importance. Based on the degree of electrification – micro, mild, plug-in hybrid, or pure electric vehicle – Schaeffler is developing new solutions in the engine, transmission, chassis and electric drive subsystems in a powertrain matrix. This includes electromechanical actuators as well as 48-volt hybrid technologies and efficient electric drives.
According to the aforementioned scenario, 70% of all newly registered vehicles will have an electric drive in 2030. Therefore, Schaeffler sees E-mobility as one of the key opportunities for the future. In addition to Industry 4.0 and Digitalization, it represents a cornerstone of the strategy “Mobility for tomorrow”. As part of the program for the future “Agenda 4 plus One”, Schaeffler has combined the E-Mobility activities into its own business division. Since January 1, 2018, a majority of the products and system solutions for hybrid and all-electric vehicles have been managed centrally from the new E-Mobility division. By 2020, an investment budget of one billion euros will be available for the expansion of this new business division.
Schaeffler has been building three competence centers for E-Mobility worldwide since 2017: in Bühl in Germany, in Anting in China, and in Wooster in the USA. As part of the program for the future “Agenda 4 plus One”, Schaeffler is investing EUR 60 m in the Bühl location alone. Global E-Mobility activities will be managed from here in the future. Schaeffler created 350 new jobs in Bühl in 2018 to develop the E-Mobility business division. With the competence center in China, Schaeffler is addressing the growing importance of the Chinese E-Mobility market, while in Wooster, the company is working on U.S.-specific issues such as the electrification of larger cars.
The Schaeffler Group is growing organically, but at the same time secures future opportunities with the targeted procurement of technological expertise through acquisitions. For example, Schaeffler took over the company Elmotec Statomat, based in Karben near Frankfurt am Main, on January 31, 2019. The company is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of manufacturing machinery for the large-scale production of electric motors and has expertise essential to the production of electric drive units.
The Schaeffler Group’s research-related facilities cooperate intensively with leading universities and research institutes in the field of electromobility. This includes the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT): At the institute, a research facility is operated as part of the “Schaeffler Hub for Advanced Research” (SHARE at KIT) program. The SHARE at KIT facility’s work focuses on energy storage, electric drives, and automated mobility. Schaeffler operates four such SHARE programs worldwide.
Electric vehicle innovations
Schaeffler already offers numerous innovative products and components for specific electrification levels: The spectrum ranges from electrically operated coupling devices to components and drives for mild hybrids, in which the electric motor has only a supporting function, to completely electric drives for hybrid and entirely electric vehicles.
Among the product innovations in the area of electric drives in 2018 was also an integrated complete system combining the electric axle and parking brake with software.
The system uses gear actuators (electromechanical drive units). In the reporting year, Schaeffler started series production for the electric axle actuator (EAA) including the integrated parking brake actuator (PLA). The company not only supplies the hardware, but also developed the software for the optimum performance of the complete system. The actuator is light and requires little installation space, so it can be optimally integrated in electric axle systems or hybrid transmissions.
Together with a partner company, Schaeffler also developed an electric axle for inner-city buses in the reporting year. In further customer projects, all-electric and hybrid solutions for agricultural and construction machinery are being developed.
In addition, Schaeffler’s involvement in the Formula E motorsports series helps make electromobility more attractive. With success: Winning the team title in 2018 crowned four successful years of cooperation with Audi ABT in Formula E. It testifies to outstanding expertise in the electrically-based powertrain. With the “Schaeffler 4ePerformance” concept vehicle, Schaeffler also demonstrates how innovations from the racing environment can be translated into a pre-series drive concept.
Low-emission combustion engines
According to the powertrain scenario, Schaeffler is assuming that 70% of newly registered vehicles will still be equipped with an internal combustion engine in 2030 (30% purely combustion, 40% hybrid). In order to make these engines as low-emission and energy-efficient as possible, Schaeffler is developing friction-reducing technologies throughout the powertrain that will reduce fuel consumption, for example through innovative surface coatings. Another focus is optimizing the “valve train system”. The goal is to provide the right amount of air at each operating point in the cylinder and thus to increase efficiency. In addition, Schaeffler is expanding its product portfolio in the area of thermal management: heat flows in the drive unit dynamically and as needed. This allows the engine to reach its operating temperature faster, among other things, which decreases fuel consumption. New types of valves (smart single valves) are to be used for this as standard.
Hybridizing, for example by using a “belt starter generator” can further reduce fuel consumption and emissions. The hybrid drive enables comfortable and efficient start-stop operation of the engine and can also be designed for brake energy recovery and boost operation.
In addition, Schaeffler has developed the coupling pendulum as an alternative to the classic centrifugal pendulum. The innovation was presented at the “Schaeffler Colloquium 2018” customer conference. In the coupling pendulum, special vibration dampers support each other via springs in the direction of rotation. This allows energy-saving decoupling of the engine while driving (active sailing) without any annoying vibrations.
Schaeffler also conducts research on synthetic fuels produced using renewable energy sources. Since no fossil fuels are used, these “synfuels” can also be used to power combustion engines in a CO2-neutral manner in the future.
Schaeffler continues to see future potential in fuel cell technology for the drive sector. Existing manufacturing technology capabilities are being used to develop and produce powerful metallic bipolar plates. These plates are a central component of fuel cells.
“Urban mobility” target area
According to United Nations forecasts, two-thirds of people are expected to live in cities by 2050.4) The need for individual mobility will change the way that people move around the city. And autonomous vehicles will play an important role. Schaeffler is providing the technical basis for this kind of urban mobility concept: the “Schaeffler Mover”. The electric vehicle, which is powered by four wheel hub motors, forms the basis for various utilization concepts from cars to robo-taxis to autonomous driving cargo solutions. Drive and suspension components are integrated in a compact unit, the “Schaeffler Intelligent Corner Module”. To make this key technology marketable, the Schaeffler Group entered into a joint venture with Paravan GmbH in the reporting year. The company originally specialized in vehicle conversions for persons with disabilities. The key technology for this is the Space Drive “drive by wire” system (failsafe electronic steering and braking). Originally developed for persons with disabilities, this multiple redundancy system eliminates the steering wheel and mechanical connection of the steering column. The vehicle is guided exclusively by electronic control signals. This technology is a fundamental requirement for safe autonomous driving.
Micromobility: Relieving city congestion
In the field of micromobility, Schaeffler is also helping to relieve congestion in metropolitan areas. Micromobility includes micro vehicles such as scooters, e-boards, and e-bikes. In 2018, Schaeffler presented the “Bio-Hybrid”, a four-wheeled vehicle powered by pedals pushed by the rider and supported by an electric motor, as a cargo variant for the first time. To industrialize the “Bio-Hybrid”, the activities were included as a spin-off in Schaeffler Bio-Hybrid GmbH. The passenger and cargo versions were presented at the CES trade fair (Consumer Electronics Show) in 2019 in Las Vegas. The modular concept, which is planned for launch in 2020, offers numerous application possibilities. They range from transporting goods via a mobile coffee shop to sightseeing vehicles in the tourism sector.
“Interurban mobility” target area
In the course of progressing urbanization, rail traffic between urban centers is also increasing. Schaeffler is developing technologies to help make long-distance rail transport resource friendly and climate friendly.
A development focus is on predictive maintenance and servicing of wheel set bearings for railway vehicles. At the Innotrans 2018 trade fair, Schaeffler AG and a partner company presented a system in which different components, including those from different manufacturers, can be monitored online. The data is sent on directly to the railway operator. This allows maintenance intervals to be further optimized, increases running time, and reduces resource consumption. Production-related CO2 emissions can also be reduced by over 90% thanks to this technology, along with resource-efficient preparation of used wheel bearings. The foundation is the Schaeffler Group’s universal “Condition Analyzer System”. This system is also used in other industrial sectors, such as machine tools or wind turbines, as well as in the Schaeffler Group’s own manufacturing processes, to increase process transparency and efficiency.
It also saves resources by reducing friction and wear, extending the service life of the components. Schaeffler has created its own seal of quality called “X-Life” to identify particularly long-lasting bearings. Among others, it is used for roller bearings in railway technology or industry. Their tracks must be very resilient, meaning hard, wear-resistant, stable and tolerate deformations caused by hard foreign particles. The Schaeffler Group achieves this through special heat treatment of the roller bearing steel. The result: Under normal lubrication conditions, the service life was increased by a factor of 2.5. In laboratory conditions, up to a sixfold increase in service life was shown.
“Energy chain” target area
The move away from fossil fuels and the transformation of mobility require a profound change in the entire energy sector, creating new market potential. It ranges from generating energy to providing and storing energy to concepts for energy use. Schaeffler’s activities in the “energy chain” target area are aimed precisely at these market segments.
Renewable energies continue to be massively expanded worldwide. Wind and solar energy are the lion’s share of this. However, these sources of energy are volatile, meaning they are subject to fluctuations depending on the weather, day, and season. These fluctuations pose a challenge for existing power grids, as the supply must always exactly meet the demand. “Buffers” that are quickly available are therefore becoming increasingly important. Scalable power storage would be a solution. To realize such a system, Schaeffler is cooperating with CMBlu Energy AG. CMBlu has developed the innovative “organic flow” technology and has now reached prototype maturity. As part of the development cooperation with Schaeffler, marketable products are now being developed. “Organic flow” batteries are based on the classic “redox flow” liquid storage technology. However, instead of the usual metallic storage media, they contain the natural plant substance lignin, a waste product from the paper and pulp industry. Using this substance makes the technology particularly resource-efficient. The “organic flow” technology therefore has the potential to play a decisive role in the development of a sustainable energy infrastructure and thus also for CO2-neutral electromobility.
In its development work, the Schaeffler Group also relies on improved and completely new products for wind turbines. The focus is on friction and wear-resistant bearings as well as monitoring via cloud-based software. This also extends the operating times in this area and significantly increases the reliability of the systems.
Research and development as a systematic strategy and planning process
Schaeffler owes its innovative strength not least to its annual cross-departmental strategy and planning process, which consists of three phases: the technology, strategy, and planning dialogs. The phases build on each other. The process begins with the technology dialog. It aims for the long-term technological orientation of the company. Current megatrends and the resulting requirements for technologies and innovations are considered. In this way, Schaeffler lays the foundation for future development directions and products. The development time frame looks out five to ten years into the future. In the subsequent phases (strategy and planning dialogs), the development activities are specified and detailed.
The strategy “Mobility for tomorrow” is a result of these dialog processes. The cross-departmental dialog process picks up on regional trends and develops a global perspective. Market trends are also examined from an individual customer perspective. Among other things, Schaeffler organizes annual “Top Technology Meetings” with key customers. The company uses the market analysis results for its customer-specific requirements management. Customer expectations are thereby systematically translated into sustainable products and technologies.
In order to represent customer expectations in new products, Schaeffler has created a standardized product development process (PDP). It specifies in detail which steps are necessary to develop a product that meets the requirements of all relevant stakeholders (customer, company, and legislators). This includes proof of the product functionality, stable production and logistics processes, and suitable suppliers. As part of the PDP, customer requirements for the entire product life cycle are agreed upon in writing, from production to operation and maintenance to disposal. The PDP also explicitly states compliance with sustainability criteria.
Schaeffler also works with other companies across the industry to improve the market and production conditions for more sustainable products in the future. For this reason, Schaeffler is involved in the “European Association of Automotive Suppliers” (CLEPA).
1) The values reflect the workforce headcount at the end of the year. The figures for 2016 and 2017, which were based on average values in the 2017 sustainability report, were subsequently converted to a headcount at the end of the year.
2) Patent registrations concern first filings filed with the German Patent and Trademark Office.
3) Previous year’s figures according to the segment structure reported in 2018.
4) United Nations: World Urbanization Prospects 2018, https://population.un.org/wup