Issue: Dec 2006


Heat comes in small packages



by Nick Palmen



PTC air heaters have established themselves as an inherent component in vehicles’ HVAC units and will continue to gain importance in the future” - Michael Zeyen, ceo, catem GmbH & Co.

Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) heaters with a capacity of up to 12 kW will become possible as vehicle electrical systems go up to 500V, says Michael Zeyen, ceo, catem GmbH & Co.

“Up to now vehicle heater design has been limited by the available electrical power from the vehicle electrics”, he says. Catem, which is the first producer of PTC air heaters, was founded in 1999 as a joint venture between DBK David + Baader and J. Eberspaecher. Its core business is the development, production and sales of electrical heating systems as automobile original equipment. It is working with OEMs to develop the more powerful heaters.
PTC air and coolant heater market leader catem has developed over 60 different types of PTC air heaters since 1994, when the technology was first introduced. Over 13 million heaters have since been produced. Applications include various dimensions and heating capacities up to 3 kW for vehicle electrical systems ranging from 12V to 130V.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Zeyen to elaborate on the technical qualities of the catem range of heaters.
Zeyen: The catem PTC air heaters represent an extremely flexible system which enables an optimal and economical adaptation to customer specific requirements regarding installation space, power and electrical interface, even for small quantities. The major feature of this design is the mechanical construction of the heater so that a secure electrical and thermal contact of the thermistor devices to the containment components is guaranteed over the lifetime of the heater. By virtue of the PTC effect ("positive temperature coefficient"), no dangerous overheating can occur in the case of a fault.
The advantages of the catem air heater can be summarized as: fast heating, directly after start ("rapid warming"), more comfort and safety, no steamed up windows, higher efficiency, no over-heating, compact, lightweight construction, robust with long life expectancy, environmentally friendly (no direct emissions, fully recyclable), maintenance free, and maximum operational safety.

AI: How do you solve the problem of achieving a homogeneous distribution of heat, especially in a large vehicle?

Zeyen: Decentralized PTC air heaters are the ideal solution. Here the PTC air heaters show an unbeatable advantage due to their small volume and the ease of energy distribution. The integration of the decentralized heating elements in the ventilation ducts allows them to be positioned as near as possible to the outlet nozzle, which is where they are required.

AI: How do you meet the demands for customized intelligent power electronics?

Zeyen: Nowadays electronics play a role in virtually all elements of a vehicle - including the electric heating system. In order to continue to meet the demands for electronics and to expand our know-how in this area, we founded a new company, catem DEVELEC GmbH in 2002, situated in direct neighborhood to the catem site in Herxheim/Pfalz.

Catem DEVELEC was initially founded as an engineering services company. The impetus for the company's foundation at that time was provided by the continually rising demand for the electronically controlled PTC air heaters being produced by catem GmbH & Co. KG. It has, however, emerged that customers are not only interested in the pure development but are also interested in finding a future series manufacturer. They prefer to have both from a single source. The logical consequence was the decision to build up our own highly automated production for electronic modules. The ground-breaking ceremony for the erection of the new electronics manufacturing building of catem DEVELEC GmbH took place on the 26th of April 2006.

The production facilities will consist of two SMD insertion lines. To house the complex production equipment, a new fully air-conditioned production hall with a floor area of 1000 m2 is being constructed. In total, an additional 8000 m2 of land is available to catem DEVELEC in Gewerbepark West in Herxheim, so there will be no hindrance to further expansion.

AI: How do you respond to customer requirements for local support?

Zeyen: Following the necessity for internationalization, we founded a wholly owned subsidiary, catem Korea Ltd., in Seoul at the beginning of 2005. Additionally, another Customer Support Center was established in Nagoya, Japan, in September 2005.

In order to further strengthen the market leadership in these countries we considered the necessity for direct support. Through the implementation of the two customer support centers and the hire of Korean and Japanese staff, we now have direct access to our contact persons – in their mother tongue.

In the USA catem has been represented through an office in Detroit for several years and demonstrates its presence through a number of series applications in various automobiles.

AI: How do you intend to sustain your position in the marketplace?

Zeyen: We are only able to sustain our leading position in the market through having satisfied customers. Catem PTC air heaters have been subject to continuous further development and innovative optimization ever since their first series application. The development level achieved in 2004 represents the 4th generation of PTC air heaters and lends the name to these products. A major goal set for the design was compatibility with a maximum degree of automation in the production process. At the same time ingenious technical solutions enabled numerous components to be eliminated so that the total number of individual components has been reduced. The 4th generation therefore presents the customer with a highly economical product with reduced weight.

In order to satisfy future market demands for bundling of purchasing volumes, platform strategies, reduced investment and highest economy, catem developed a standard program for PTC air heaters. The foundation for the standard program was the systematic analysis of the global market for PTC heaters mounted in the HVAC module. The market analysis concentrated on the installation sizes, the heating power requirements and the electrical interface with the vehicles' electrical system for the period 2006 to 2010.

The standard program went into series production at the beginning of 2006. Catem now offers its customers worldwide the first standardized product in this application. This results in clear advantages for our customers: They include: no specific investment, the development activity is reduced just to the application in the HVAC module, low, economical unit prices, even for low quantities, reduction of the total project risk due to less project work in advance, and shorter development times.
AI: What are the future trends for the next generation supplemental electric heaters?

Zeyen: PTC air heaters have established themselves as an inherent component in vehicles’ HVAC units and will continue to gain importance in the future. They will not only be used in diesel vehicles but can also be implemented in the HVAC units of modern gasoline vehicles. For both engine types a similar tendency can be seen in the field of passenger cell heaters: the efficiency of the combustion engine increases, whereas the heating power for the passenger cell lessens. On the other hand the passengers require higher comfort.

Through the compact design, a decentralized PTC air heater can be fitted anywhere in the interior of a vehicle, and the ease of power distribution ensures that each passenger is provided with the individual degree of warmth he could wish for. In the next few years the application of decentralized PTC air heaters will extend from the luxury class to the middle class.

The same can be said for hybrid vehicles - there will definitely be a need for supplemental heating of the passenger cell during full electric operation so that we can be sure that our PTC air heaters will be a full success in this emerging market as well.

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