One of the most innovative companies in the automotive sector, Continental is preparing for the challenges and opportunities that future mobility offers. Auto Tech Review recently spoke to Frank Jourdan, Member of the Executive Board and President of the Chassis & Safety Division, Continental AG, to understand the direction the company intends to take and the role it is likely to play in the mobility of tomorrow.
Born on August 4, 1960 in Groß-Gerau, Germany, Frank Jourdan graduated from the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in 1987 in electrical engineering with a major in control systems. He began his professional journey as a software development engineer for ABS with ITT Teves (now Continental AG) in Frankfurt am Main in 1988. He moved to the US in 1990 in ITT Automotive North America operations as a software engineer and took over as the Director of Supplier Development, in charge of quality assurance of purchased parts in 1996. In 2000, he joined Continental Automotive Mexicana, Silao, Mexico to set-up a plant for manufacturing wheelspeed sensors for electronic brake systems. He joined Continental AG in 2009 as EVP for Vehicle Dynamics Business Unit, Chassis & Safety division. On September 25, 2013, he was made a Member of the Executive Board, Chassis & Safety Division and President of the Chassis & Safety Division.
ATR _ Considering the kind of disruptions we see in the mobility sector today, how do you view the future of mobility?
Frank Jourdan _ Let’s look at the participants in the mobility sector. Cars, in particular, will inevitably move to being electrified. It’s just a matter of time. The speed at which this will move isn’t quite clear, and that makes making decisions on investments and likely timelines rather difficult.
The next step is automated vehicles, which will make individual mobility a lot safer and to a great extent more comfortable, and will allow different mobility concepts to develop. I’m convinced about this, specifically in urban areas. A lot of cities are struggling with traffic and the first solution will always be mass transportation. In today’s cities, a huge amount of space is occupied by parking cars. Typically, a car sits idle 99 % of its time – an automobile that isn’t mobile! A lot of cities globally can’t afford to waste space that way. There will be a time, where certain parts of the cities won’t be accessible to individual cars any longer. That’s where concepts like CUbE (Continental Urban mobility Experience) would come into play.
Different mobility concepts also would need change in infrastructure in those cities. It is not an issue that will be driven by markets, but will be driven by cities. We already have a lot of cities coming to us talking about possible future concepts. We see a new type of customer emerging in the future – cities, where we discuss mobility concepts and infrastructure, and not brake systems for a car. We will, of course, continue with our current product lines in the future as well, but we will get more involved with city infrastructure and service providers therein.
Do you see individual vehicles being built more for specific purposes?
Yes, I see that kind of a shift happening in the urban areas, not so much in other parts. Vehicles in urban areas will get more features; they will be connected, electrified and somewhat automated. That’s just an evolution of a regular vehicle. But the CUbE is a special purpose vehicle, for instance. Such vehicles are a niche now, but that niche will grow.
With demands of shared mobility, how do you see the connectivity area evolving?
Connectivity within the vehicle is heavily increasing. If you look at the EBS, it was always connected to some part of the car for diagnostics, etc. Right now there are some 15 ECUs that exchange information with the brake systems. It’s a big challenge for the OEMs right now, because they work with different suppliers, who have different integration stages. Getting them all to manage that work at the same time doesn’t always work. It is getting very complex, and they’ll have to find new solutions that are flawless.
On the outside, you can have much more precise information on traffic jams, for example. With Google maps today, the information is so much more accurate. With such solutions, the backend connectivity system can definitely be enhanced. In the commercial vehicle space, interestingly, trucks can hook up to other trucks on the road to create platoons, thus saving on fuel and also use less space. So, there are various ways connectivity is aiding the mobility industry, be it V2V or V2I connectivity.
How is data helping your division build safety critical systems and solutions?
Big data and analytics play different roles in my division. One, it improve process efficiency. With all the data and smart analytics at our disposal, we can get information to help improve our processes. Analysing customer call-offs, for instance, could give us indications of trends in a particular market. We are also using AI and deep learning to analyse data. It is not just about us learning these new technologies, but also teaching our systems AI and deep learning.
One process in electronics production is to check the soldering joints. An electronic PCB is automated, for instance, using x-ray machines or optical vision machines. The problem is they have an image of a good solder joint and a bad solder joint in their systems. And lot of times these systems aren’t sure whether the images are good or bad, and they rate them as bad. In such a case, an operator has to sit and find the good one. With all the data we’ve stored from our production plants, we use AI to check where the faults lie and teach the systems so that they make much less errors. It improves productivity and quality.
We now have the most amounts of data in the systems engineering area – in assist systems and automated driving. We have huge data from videos, radars and laser systems. We’re talking about petabytes of storages. In fact, we’ve invested high double digit million amounts in just storing and handling that data. And that is for development and simulation purposes. When it comes to data outside the car, we’ve developed our own cloud called Continental.cloud, which we’ll use for different services and applications. So, we are using data for process improvements, assist systems as well as backend functions.
You did say India is likely to do a lot of work in the AI domain.
Yes, India will be involved in a lot of work around AI related to assist and automated driving, because AI is also used for other means. A lot of work in this area is already being done in India, and will only increase over time.
What’s your view on mobility as a service?
I’m always very careful when it comes to doing something, which is the focus of our customer. I would not build cars, for example. The OEMs do realise that it isn’t enough to just sell cars, and hence are getting into services. We certainly won’t get into their domain, but would look at services as a business area. There is a company called EasyMile that specialises in autonomous vehicle technology. Continental has acquired a minority share participation in this French company with an objective to develop cutting-edge technologies for driverless vehicles and to open up new fields of competence. We believe this is for the future, and we could be involved in mobility service in some form.
Specific to the chassis area, do you foresee a fundamental change in the way a chassis is designed and developed?
The friction brakes will stay. With autonomous vehicles in the horizon, the brake systems will change – they’ll become redundant and will have to be fail operational. Then, they have to be able to recuperate energy completely for EVs and HEVs. Even the steering systems will need to be fail operational for automated driving.
We are also in air suspension systems, which is a good application for SUVs and similar types of vehicles. Of late, we’ve seen a lot of EV manufacturers getting interested with these air suspension systems, because they allow the vehicles to be raised in case there is an issue with the battery. I also see a lot of active damping systems coming in; whether its air damping or hydraulic damping will have to be seen.
It’s been about a year and half since you signed a JV with Nexteer Automotive. Talk about the developments in that JV?
That is a pure R&D venture and it’s all about dynamic motion control, which is a very important component of automated driving. Together, we’ll create the best integrated systems for longitudinal and lateral motion control for automated driving applications. We’re making good progress in developing algorithms in motion controls, which can then be used by both the companies. The focus will remain on brakes and steering.
How critical are collaborations in this era of disruptiveness?
We work in two ways – when we strategically see the need to have something for the future, we tend to make some acquisitions. The Elektrobit acquisition is one such example. Having operating systems for embedded controls and AUTOSAR capabilities is a definite positive for our future. Then there are opportunities of collaboration, when two companies bring in different capabilities, like the Nexteer JV. We’ve also been doing a lot of work with start-ups in the fields of sensing technologies and AI. The tendency earlier was to acquire, but of late, in more and more areas, it makes better sense to collaborate.
What roles do you see additive manufacturing and 3D printing play in the future of mobility?
We have a few hundred 3D printers within Continental that are mainly used for prototyping. They allow us to quickly make a single part and we use it in our manufacturing areas, where we use robots and cobots. We also use it to manufacture forms, but I don’t see using 3D printing for high volume mass production of our components and systems. We have a small centre of competence for additive manufacturing that is involved in research to see where we might find an application, but I don’t see it being used for high volume production.
Your views on Continental’s journey in India in the next 10 years.
In the last 10 years, we had a lot of difficulties with the market – the car volumes didn’t develop the way we wished. With the country modernising, with investments in infrastructure, I do see faster growth. I’m also very happy with the way our engineering community has developed. From 1,400 engineers in 2015 to 3,000 engineers now, we’ve more than doubled our engineering resource strength in India. What these young engineers are already contributing is reason enough for me to be very optimistic about the future.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
PHOTO: Continental AG