â€œThe need for electronics in motor vehicles has grown considerably in recent years to meet increasingly stringent pollution control standards, increasingly demanding safety and comfort requirements and new technical constraints: more corrosive oils, higher temperatures, vibrations that affect functions, and ever more electronic devices involving a risk of electromagnetic incompatibility,â€ says Patrick Thollin, President, Electricfil Automotive.
With over 70 years’ of experience in the technology industry, Electricfil is used to functioning in an evolving environment that requires innovation and technological advancements. â€œAll car manufacturers seek reliable and robust solutions capable of meeting these new expectations while also improving performance and cutting costs,â€ he says.
Electricfil Automotive is focusing on meeting the need for better control of the management of batteries and energy-dependent peripherals. â€œWith active safety functions being more frequently implemented on the chassis and brake pedal systems, there is a need for systems that can convey more engine control, reliable ignition at lower costs, shorter injection response times, supple transmission and better management of the battery,â€ he adds.
The need for better battery utilization can be seen in the automotive electronics market, which is expected to expand by 7% a year – with the strong possibility of this percentage doubling in the next decade. By 2008, electronics in cars are expected to take up 30% of the value of a vehicle. â€œThanks to our know-how in numerous technologies (active and passive sensors, magnetic resistive sensors, magnetized targets), our experience in integrating sensors in extended functions and our experience in the harshest environments (immersion in diesel oil, exhaust fumes and oil at high temperatures), Electricfil Automotive is in position to offer innovative solutions to anticipate and meet manufacturers’ changing requires,â€ he says.
In order to deliver the right solutions, Electricfil gets involved in projects right from the start. Electricfil matches its technical expertise with the manufacturer’s product usage strategies so that there is complete integration of functions, processes and electronic components.
Electricfil invests 5% of its turnover in research and development of products and processes. Its new â€œTechnopoleâ€ Research and Technology Development Center opened its doors in January 2007. Four per cent of Electricfil’s payroll is invested in training, particularly in areas of quality and the company’s trades. â€œOur creativity is the fruit of our expertise, our ability to listen and react; we share with the manufacturers the new demands imposed by the market (pollution, consumption etc), detect new market trends (bio-fuel, hybrid fuel etc) and factors in the environments in which Electricfil Automotive’s products and systems are integrated (increase in the amount of electronic equipment etc),â€ says the company.
Automotive Industries spoke with Patrick Thollin, President, Electricfil Automotive and asked him about few of the market trends that have been identified by Electricfil
AI. How does Electricfil Automotive come up with innovative product ideas?
Electricfil specializes in a well-defined range of applications for automobile engines and transmissions. This puts us in a perfect position to develop innovative products that fit the needs of our customers. As a specialist, we have the necessary resources and know-how to find solutions that go beyond those of our competitors. These resources include our new R&D center, where 130 engineers work on solutions to clearly defined problems.
To continuously produce innovative solutions based on our existing products, we develop what we call innovation building blocks. These are concepts and generic ideas based on the most recent technological developments in our field, that can be applied to many customer applications. In this way, we prepare in advance the necessary advanced technologies we will need over the next ten years to continuously improve and adapt our products.
For new products, innovation starts with Strategic Committees who use market studies and customer surveys to analyze market trends. They determine the probability that a certain automobile function will appear on the market and prepare possible technical solutions. That’s how we began to develop our Battery Diagnostics System, aimed at monitoring the state of charge of the battery.
We also keep a close eye on innovative developments by other specialists not necessarily working in the automotive field. We work with them to enhance our technological and product base, developing applications to satisfy the needs of the automotive industry. Once again, our Battery Diagnostics System is a good example. We worked with a small company that had developed this technology for another application. We saw the potential of this technology and developed a cost-effective solution for the automobile industry.
AI. Is there any method/system to determine/keep track of the ongoing requirements of customers from Electricfil automotive?
Electricfil has a wide customer base in its specialized field. With our large market share, we have a clear vision of where the overall market is going. Our operations in the U.S. and China further diversify our customer base and keep us in touch with new market requirements.
We of course have sales and technical teams and resident engineers that maintain close and regular contact with our customers. Our U.S. office in Livonia was set up that reason.
We are also very interested in working with the new generation of market leaders, for instance in Japan. We have defined a number of targets and have invested in the technical and commercial resources necessary to identify and meet the needs of these new customers.
AI. Are products and systems integrated at a competitive pace?
Competitiveness has several aspects. Cost is of course critical on today’s market. For this reason, we rely heavily on a design to cost approach. Based on studies and our familiarity with the market, we set a cost objective that corresponds to market value and then design the product to meet that objective.
Another important aspect of competitiveness is product reliability and more generally quality. In our development projects, we target defect rates as close as possible to 0 ppm and high levels of product availability.
We are also applying the Lean production approach to keep our existing products competitive and design and develop new products using simpler and less costly processes.
In terms of deadlines, we have to develop our new products in time for use in new engines and transmissions, as determined by our customers. For this, we use simultaneous engineering techniques, combining the product and the process. Project teams work together on a single site for the duration of a project to significantly accelerate the development process.
And remember, engines and transmissions are a long-term market. As a specialist, we are able to maintain a wide customer base and a level of market familiarity and technical know-how that gives us a lead in providing competitive solutions.
AI. Can you name a few of the market trends that have been identified by Electricfil Automotive?
In the automobile industry, trends are determined by market drivers like fuel consumption, driving comfort and safety, all subject to important cost constraints. Powertrain solutions have greatly improved over the years thanks to electronic control systems using sensors and actuators in closed-looped operation. In the eighties, Electricfil developed passive sensors for the first generation of electronic control systems. In the nineties, with the explosion of electronic functions, Electricfil offered a wide range of electronic sensors capable of withstanding the severe conditions of powertrain environments. Today the advent of electronic control has greatly increased the number of sensors used in automobiles. This has created a need for mechatronic modules integrating sensors and actuators in compact modules for higher accuracy and reliability, lower cost and easier mounting on the assembly line. Electricfil has been highly innovative in this field, for example providing the first mechatronic modules for integration in automatic transmissions. At the same, they have produced solenoid-base actuators for the electronic fuel injection systems that have largely contributed to the success of diesel engines in Europe.
AI. According to Electricfil Automotive, where is automotive electronic technology heading?
Market trends are diversifying, driven by objective criteria concerning technical or economical aspects and more subjective criteria related to style and fashionable trends, all in a rapidly changing geopolitical environment. This will result in different propulsion technologies, including bio-fuel, hybrid-electric and all-electric solutions with fuel cells supplying electricity, and different levels of equipment packages, from low-cost to luxury. In the midst of these changes, the increasing use of electronics will continue for functions related to comfort (e.g. steering and air-conditioning), safety (e.g. ABS and ESP) and propulsion (e.g. for hybrid and all-electric vehicles), with an accompanying shift towards increased electronic integration, power electronics and energy management.
Electronic systems will also soon offer functions to handle many of the tasks traditionally left to the driver. Sensor-supported driving assistance systems are already on the market and cars that will virtually drive themselves are on the way. This will require more intelligent systems, with an increasing contribution from software. All these systems will exchange information via communication buses (CAN, LIN, Flexray) that will allow global vehicle management and eliminate redundancies.
As you can see, the possibilities are almost endless. But one thing is sure. Whatever the future holds in store, car manufacturers and OEMs alike will be able to count on Electricfil Automotive to keep pace with their sensor needs.