Advances such as autonomous driving are leading to a necessity for ever-increasing data transmission rates in vehicles, combined with the need for power.
This was highlighted at the 4th International Congress Automotive Wire Harness 2016 held in Ludwigsburg (Germany), where MD ELEKTRONIK presented a paper on the potentials of intelligent on-board cabling. The Congress’ mandate was to discuss what the future of automotive on-board power systems will look like and what requirements and mega trends are to be expected. Dr. Alexander Haas, Director Test & Research, at MD ELEKTRONIK, explained the additional value of the functionally integrated MD cables. Besides important influencing factors such as cost reduction and an increase in flexibility, a better data quality and an authentication of the components are possible thanks to this innovation. “As a strong partner we consider the entire process up to the end customer service,” said Dr. Haas.
Germany is at the forefront of automotive engineering – and companies like MD ELEKTRONIK, help keep German automotive manufacturers at the cutting edge of technology. MD ELEKTRONIK is one of the world’s leading suppliers of data communication solutions in vehicles.
MD ELEKTRONIK, which is based in Waldkraiburg, Germany, employs over 4,500 people at five locations on three continents. Its coax sub-assemblies with the established FAKRA interface have been integrated into numerous car models over the last 20 years. For more than a decade, high speed data (HSD) sub-assemblies have also been part of the MD ELEKTRONIK product portfolio. The electronics portfolio includes cables and modules for AUX, USB, SD,
SIM as well as wireless protocols and brand-specific smartphone connections. MD ELEKTRONIK recently expanded its product portfolio to offer chassis sensor cabling solutions. As a component of the safety related vehicle area, sensor cables must be able to continue functioning under conditions such as temperatures between -40°C and +155°C, under conditions of high mechanical stress load during vibration or torsion, be suitable for use in outdoor and dirty areas and comply with the highest water resistant class IPX9K.
“For over two decades we have been developing innovative products for the automotive industry which satisfy the rapidly increasing data volumes in vehicles and ensure a smooth information flow. The high requirements of the on-board power system are considered within our development processes and ensured by the MD quality management at all times. With our active interfaces we enable the connection between vehicle and external end devices,” says the company.
Automotive Industries (AI) spoke to Rudolf Dechantsreiter, Vice President Sales and Marketing and Gerd Mittermaier, Vice President Research & Development at MD ELEKTRONIK.
AI: What relationships has your company built up with German automotive manufacturers over the past two decades?
Mittermaier: We entered the automotive industry in 1994 as a problem solver. We were able to win the first business due to quality problems with the previous supplier. Our high product quality and flexibility impressed the customer, giving us a foot in the door and leading to nominations for further projects with ever-increasing volumes. Today we have an open, cooperative and constructive business relationship with all of the major German car manufacturers, on both technical and daily business levels. Our role has evolved into one of a strategic “sparing and technology partner”.
AI: How have you expanded into other countries and OEMs, such as the Asian car-makers?
Dechantsreiter: Our close relationship with the German OEMs helped enable our breakthrough into the Chinese car market, initially through local joint ventures. Our capacity to work on megatrends (both technical and regional) and our capability to apply relevant trends to our business also assisted us in expanding our global footprint. However, it was our ability to transfer a high level of quality and automation to our local production sites that ultimately resulted in us being able to build up a new customer base including Asian car-makers. Our Chinese subsidiary, MD (Beijing) ELECTRONICS which last year celebrated its 10th anniversary, has also been a vital part of the equation. The MD Group currently develops and delivers data communication solutions to five Chinese and two Japanese car manufacturers, and we recently opened sales and engineering offices in China (Shanghai and Changchun).
AI: What makes MD ELEKTRONIK the ideal partner for the connected car?
Dechantsreiter: We at MD think unconventionally. MD ELEKTRONIK anticipates trends early on and essentially transfers these trends to the automotive industry. We not only offer support during the development stages, but also produce high quality data communication solutions on a large scale in combination with a high product variety and complexity.
Our focus is firmly on supporting our customers from start to finish. MD develops and produces high quality solutions in automotive quality long before SOP until after EOP.
Mittermaier: One of MD’s biggest advantages is that we think outside of the box. With our “Chip-to-Chip” mentality, we act as a system integrator with a view not just to our product but also to the entire system. We share knowledge with key players in the semi-conductor sector to gain insight into the future technology which is driving change, and to be part of it.
A further reason why MD ELEKTRONIK is the ideal partner is that we are willing and able to invest in future product ideas and potential development scenarios. The industry benchmark for R&D is around 2-4% of turnover. MD invests considerably more, and often proactively before the business is booked. Our customers profit from both our decades of experience and our in-house test and simulation facilities. In our DAkkS-accredited test laboratory at our Bavarian headquarters products and ideas can be tested from the pre-development phase using rapid-prototyping simulation. In this way we identify potential strengths and weaknesses and analyze these, saving time and money at later development stages for our customers.
AI: How successful have your subsidiaries in countries like the US been?
Dechantsreiter: MD ELECTRONICS Corporation, situated in Jamestown (State of New York), has also been highly successful in the local market, particularly with existing customers. Initial successes are also already visible with local car manufacturers. Through the construction and production start of our new subsidiary in León, Mexico and the establishment of a sales and engineering office in Southfield (State of Michigan), we are confident we will be able to further strengthen existing and attract new business, ultimately increasing our market share in the NAFTA region.
AI: Tell us about the turnkey solutions you offer customers.
Mittermaier: Thanks to our flat hierarchies and dynamic structures, we are able to react quickly and flexibly and orientate our solutions according to the customer requirements at all times. We see ourselves to a certain extent as a “problem detection filter”. By engaging in system analysis early on, we are in a position to identify potential problems which the car-makers may face in the future and develop suitable solutions. In this way we are able to proactively prevent potential errors before they arise, often before we even have an official customer nomination. An example is our functionally integrated cable. Problems often lie in the on-board power system architecture where it is not always possible to install cables directly where they are needed due to factors such as space restrictions. Data cables must withstand long installation paths whilst ensuring a consistent signal quality. MD ELEKTRONIK used specified data from the consumer electronics world and “translated” this into a product suitable for the automotive environment – resulting in our USB 3.1 solution.
AI: What do you see as the future of the Connected Car?
Mittermaier: The future lies in the information exchange – Car-to-Car, Car-to-Driver, Car-to-X etc. The car will evolve to become the biggest mobile device. However, this technological advancement also brings uncertainty and raises important questions such as liability and data security. These topics are complex and it is essential that the solutions are fully functional. In future, we will not be able to escape the connected car; it will inevitably become part of everyday life much as smart phones are today. Smarthome and Smartcar will become the norm and the requirements on the car environment will change dramatically. The roles and players in the car industry are constantly evolving. The competition to fill the time commuters and travelers spend in the car is fierce. With all the talk of potentials and risks one thing is clear. The driver must remain the central figure. The technology must support the driver and not the other way around. The driver must always have the choice – do I want to drive or be driven? If the driver choses to drive then the assistance systems must remain in the background in much the same way as they do in current car models.
AI: How important is customization of products and solutions in the data communication for vehicles market?
Mittermaier: From a technical point of view promoting the standardization of the interfaces in the background e.g. data transfer protocols is immensely important. This is one of the reasons why MD ELEKTRONIK has been actively working on developing standards, both in expert groups like FAKRA as well as in technical alliances such as Open Alliance. We see ourselves as the link connecting consumer electronics with the automotive industry. “We make consumer electronics mobile” – for example with Ethernet. The customization of products and solutions remains important particularly for those parts that are integrated into the “visible” area of the vehicle, the so-called “front-end”. It is imperative that the supplier is able to meet the varied customer requirements in material, design and quality.
AI: Why are your products popular among the automotive OEMs?
Dechantsreiter: Our customers appreciate our global quality standards, flexibility and reliability. Through close cooperation with our locations in the Czech Republic, China, Mexico and the USA our customers know they are receiving automotive quality they can trust – regardless from which production line and from which country they order our products. MD is not just a serial manufacturer of standard products. Our expertise lies in manufacturing a multitude of product varieties in large volumes with a high level of automation. To give an example – we currently produce around two million parts a week alone in our lead production plant in the Czech Republic. MD products are integrated into over 200 current car models from more than 40 international car manufacturers with an upward trend.
AI: How have issues such as safety, in-vehicle entertainment and other requirements, changed MD ELEKTRONIK’s strategy over the years as far as R&D is concerned?
Mittermaier: Issues such as increased data rates and the miniaturization of components are among the challenges that we face, but these requirements have not essentially changed our development strategy. MD ELEKTRONIK has successfully adopted a diversification strategy and continues to follow this be it through the introduction of new product ranges such as sensor cables or the optimization of existing products. Currently we are developing not only LVDS (Low Voltage Differential Signaling), but also Ethernet-based automotive connectivity solutions in order to be able to offer our customers both choices. We are in dialogue with leading chip manufacturers, and are members of various technical alliances / developer groups to actively work on new technologies and standards. One change which has had a direct influence on our R&D strategy is the safety component. This has gained relevance for us, prompting us to invest even further in new hi-tech equipment and qualified personnel. We are also focusing more deeply on topics such as functional safety and the ASIL (Automotive Safety Integrity Level) standard to be fit for the future.
Dechantsreiter: MD ELEKTRONIK has a solid product portfolio and is very well positioned, but the market conditions are changing the established supply chain procedures fundamentally. We have observed a shift in the business models of the OEMs. Core competencies are moving progressively towards electronics and software. This, in turn, means that the supply chain environment must adapt accordingly. MD is optimally suited for the challenge and ready to take on a significant role. With over 20 years’ experience, MD is the specialist for achieving the highest data transmission rates in vehicles, safely and in real-time.