For Varroc Lighting Systems (VLS), the automotive lighting division of the Aurangabad-based Varroc Group, technology and innovation has been major priorities. The focus clearly is to develop technologies that are cost-effective, and ones that can be brought to the mainstream market. Todd Morgan, Senior Vice President, Global Product Development, VLS, who was in India recently, gave us a perspective on the company’s future strategy.
The automotive lighting industry has witnessed a plethora of new technology introductions in the past few years, including solutions such as organic LED and Matrix LED headlights. But these are solutions aimed at the premium-end of the automotive market – and driving their cost to meet mainstream expectations would be really hard.
One of the interesting new innovations VLS has brought to the market is the new Surface-LED technology in exterior vehicle lighting systems. Surface-LED brings together the appearance of OLEDs with the proven benefits of LED light sources, at a cost-effective and reliable manner. OLEDs for instance, Morgan pointed out, are quite expensive and has reliability as well as design issues.
The Surface-LED technology can replace OLEDs with the same appearance, but can be offered at a much lower cost and with improved reliability, Morgan said. This patented technology uses thin layers of micro-optic filters and conventional LED light sources to achieve the homogeneous appearance generally associated with OLEDs. Each homogenously lit element is only 3.5 mm thick – said a company release – with a luminous intensity that can be scaled from 2,000 to 13,000 cd/m2.
“With the Surface-LED, we’ve been able to combine the benefits of the still-emerging OLED technology, including its ultra-thin and homogenous lighting profile, with the proven reliability, low cost and flexibility of LEDs,” said Morgan. As a matter of fact, Surface-LEDs offer the flexibility to be designed and produced in 3D and curved shapes, and can also be done in different colours – unlike OLEDs in the market currently. The other significant change that will come into automotive lighting will be in the area of personalisation, where customers would have the luxury to choose what they like. Overall, the larger objective, Morgan explained, is to be able to develop low-cost LED headlamps, and define the right level of performance and specifications, so as to meet the requirements of the mass market. Innovations in the area of weight savings, power consumption, materials are being worked upon to drive efficiency and performance.
Talking of future mobility, VLS supplies the complete exterior lighting solutions on the Tesla Model S sedan as well as the Tesla Model X crossover. Not just Tesla, Morgan confirmed there are other EV manufacturers VLS is working with, but said it’s too premature for him to comment on them. Highlighting the Indian connect and contribution to the Tesla programmes, Morgan informed us that the engineering team in India has been actively involved in developing the software controls for the lighting components on both the Tesla models.
CAPABILITIES IN INDIA
With 120 engineers for lighting, India today is the second largest development centre for VLS, next only to the Czech development centre that houses 500 engineers. The company, which has been operating its temporary development centre in Pune since 2016, is shortly slated to move to a new development centre in Aurangabad, a state-of-the-art facility built by the parent, the $ 1.3 bn Varroc Group. “The new development centre clearly will be better than our European lab, and we plan to grow that significantly,” said Morgan.
Morgan’s strategy for the Indian centre is clear – he doesn’t want the India development centre to be a back office, assisting other centres globally. He wants to involve Indian engineers in the development process, and has hence built complete development capabilities in India, including optical, mechanical, electronics, testing and validation. In fact, engineers at the India centre are already involved in software development for some European programmes, almost completely out of India.
“The team here working on global programmes will bring global knowhow into India. We are working on leading-edge OEMs like JLR, Bentley and Tesla, and the team will get this knowhow to India, and squeeze the cost out – but the principles, of course, will remain the same. India is a key part of our development strategy, and we will be self-sufficient here. We’ll possibly continue to support with the projector modules from Europe, while application will happen here,” said Morgan.
Morgan didn’t quite give us a lowdown on VLS’ future roadmap, but it was evident that with the evolution of automotive lighting, the company would continue to play a dominant and decisive role. This gets especially exciting with the advent of autonomous vehicles, where space inside the vehicle will allow multiple new opportunities to be experimented with. One area that VLS is contemplating getting into is interior lighting – an area it isn’t playing in currently.
Requirements of interior lighting are changing, and Morgan is personally watching it “very closely”. There are technologies from VLS’ four-wheeler and two-wheeler exterior applications that could potentially be applied in very interesting ways on the interiors, he stated. “The interior ambience and the functionality would completely change with autonomous vehicles. Innovation in interior lighting has to be intuitive and comfortable.”
The future indeed offers myriad opportunities to any company that is focussed on innovation and technology. Add to that the new entrants in the market, who are building vehicles without the classic automotive mentality. That alone brings about new opportunities in terms of design, performance, efficiency and overall technology development and innovation. And Morgan has his sight firmly set on such opportunities in the market.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah