The Freudenberg Group is a large conglomerate comprising of numerous companies that it has acquired over the decades
In India, the group has been expanding organically with its innovative products and solutions. This report takes a look at the developments and innovations of the Freudenberg Group companies in India in pre-COVID times. Barring SurTec, we spoke to representatives of Freudenberg NOK Sealing Technologies, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies, Klüber Lubrication + OKS and Corteco to provide an overview of Freudenberg’s role in the automotive context in India as well as the new innovations being developed across segments of the industry.
In India, the company is focussing on the future growth, with a change in commitment, technology, material and process. The company is looking at supporting various types of powertrain and their mixes that are expected in the future. However, internal combustion engines (ICE) will have a strong presence over the next few decades, noted Georg Graf, Managing Director & CEO, Freudenberg Regional Corporate Centre India.
In terms of new development, Graf observed that the industry is in the midst of a mobility transformation, which aims to be safer, efficient and comfortable. Freudenberg plays a major role in enabling the mentioned characteristics, for which it is innovating together with customers. Eventually, it is customers that drive mobility and innovations, he pointed out. The solutions that are being developed and provided by Freudenberg are based on expertise in technology and a broad understanding of future mobility. This helps the company to support future mobility, stated Graf.
With regards to the implementation of BS 6, this emission norm has been carried down from Euro 6 emission norms, with some level of tweaking and customisation to suit India’s local requirements. Graf believes powertrain that leverages batteries and fuel cells will be the future. Freudenberg has 10 years of experience in battery technology, and 20 years of experience in fuel cells, and these will enable it to build on such innovations for the automotive sector. The limitation of combustion engines to address ever-increasing stringencies in emissions regulations globally will open up other drivetrain technologies, he remarked.
The Freudenberg Group has been strategising globally as well as locally to adopt sustainability through a two-dimensional approach of drastically reducing the footprint as well as the handprint. The goal is to be as environmentally-friendly as possible with regards to all forms of production and operation. The company is also paying more attention towards digitalisation, where it is aiming to enhance efficiency of internal and customer processes in the journey towards gaining new customers.
There is also a need to scale up pace of work in terms of development and manufacturing of solutions & technologies, noted Graf. The company’s new plant in Chennai, which has been set up for sealing technologies, will be focussed on quicker turnaround of products. The 2021-2023 period is a strategic review period for the company globally during which major milestones will be announced. Freudenberg plans to expand its manufacturing footprint with three new locations in India, where the use of new technology will enable sustainability. In terms of further enhancing sustainability, the company is also revamping its existing and old plants to make them cleaner through processes such as recycling sewerage and water, as well as adopting solar power.
According to Graf, the industry has understood that new mobility will make a difference to the business in future, for which there is knowhow, but there also needs to be a show-how, which means partnerships and knowledge-sharing are required in a big way. The increased share of new products will form one-third of the company’s business globally. The Freudenberg Group has set a target to become the market leader financially, while also becoming good partners in the society with CSR activities – it is also focussing on an internal programme called e2 (e-squared) that works towards education and environment as its core focus areas.
We spoke with Hitendra Bhargava, CEO, Klüber Lubrication India, to understand the lubrication solutions it offers for every component, except engine oil. The company is focussing on technology, innovative solutions for new mobility, even though ICE technologies are set to grow further till a point, said Bhargava. Most of the stress is on every friction point, which totals to over 150 in a vehicle, he noted. The company has recently developed new products and concepts for electric vehicles (EV) for components such as e-parking brake, electric brake booster, electric CV joints and battery cooling.
With regards to electric parking brake, the company has developed a lubrication solution that will work for the vehicle lifetime. According to Bhargava, the working of the technology in current mechanical parking brake can be affected drastically by lack of lubrication due to friction. This has been addressed by the e-parking brake for which Klüber is offering its specialised lubricant. The second application is for electric brake boosters. EVs do not create vacuum from the engine like ICE vehicles that can then be used for the brake booster, for which electric brake boosters are the answer, explained Bhargava. This innovation from Klüber is a tribological solution and is a sensor-based technology. In addition to the electric functionalities, the company has also developed new lubricants for the mechanical components inside this component, he noted.
The next newest component for which Klüber is providing lubrication solutions is electric CV joints. This product has been developed with the focus that the instant torque produced by EV motors acts as a nightmare for the field of lubrication, he said. The company’s final focus area in EVs is towards lubrication solutions for liquid-cooled batteries. This solution works along with the high-efficiency of EVs to result in extended range. Actuators need lubrication to supply continuous liquid flow around the battery and related components for the purpose of cooling, using micro sensors, and Klüber has developed these lubricants.
Another area of importance around e-mobility is that of transmission oil, since the gearbox also experiences a higher level of stress due to the availability of instant torque. Hydro lubrication is used in EV transmissions, which results in low coefficient of friction, and is also sustainable as well as efficient, he observed.
Fuel cell vehicles (FCV) may become a blockbuster technology in the future, opined Bhargava. Klüber along with other Freudenberg companies, have been working on these technologies on their own as well as with OEMs for their specific needs. The technology of specialty lubricants appears to be moving towards mass segment vehicle models and it is the mass production that has helped reduce costs, he noted. Additionally, Klüber innovates to understand how materials can be sustainable and cost-efficient. The future cost of materials or solutions are being taken into account while developing new products.
FREUDENBERG FILTRATION TECHNOLOGIES
We also caught up with Ashok Pandey, Senior General Manager, Automotive Division, Freudenberg Filtration Technologies India (FFT), who believes that there is a huge opportunity with EVs. There is more cabin space in an electric car than that of an ICE vehicle to fit larger, more high-efficiency filters, he said. In addition to this, there is also the added benefit of the digital platform that EVs feature.
In line with the Freudenberg megatrends, with regards to sustainability, the company is leveraging alternate materials in order to be more environmentally-friendly, said Pandey. The product line is currently mostly biodegradable. In terms of manufacturing, FFT aims to eliminate or reduce dependability in the areas of power, exhaust and overall carbon footprint reduction. For this, the company is adopting solar energy sources as well as recycling various products like water and other discharged elements. In order to enhance the scope of digitalisation, FFT is moving into app-based sales models and is creating apps to promote environmental conditions, which can interconnect machines within the plant.
India has been using old filtration technology with regards to in-cabin products till now. FFT is working on educating OEMs and partners to upgrade their levels of technology and thereby improve the in-cabin experience for end-customers, Pandey noted. Technologies such as PM 2.5, activated carbon and anti-allergen filters are being deployed, and in the case of EVs, happa filters are being considered by customers. The concern of the end-customer is of paramount importance for FFT, since the product is related to safety and the human being in the vehicle. Demand for health-related safety systems comes directly from customers, for which there has been a replication of international models into domestic products, said Pandey. Ultimately, the company aims to focus on platforms to educate end-consumers towards filtration technologies.
The sealing business is one that is highly focussed on quality, and their application into various components of newer forms of powertrain and hybridisation make it important to maintain those high standards. We spoke with Bertrand Duret-Lamouroux, Chief Financial Officer, Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies, who said that the automotive industry is constantly evolving. In terms of materials, the requirement is in adapting to the needs of customers, and the trend has been moving towards plastic and frictionless rubber. However, the sole requirement remains that materials used should last through the lifetime of the product.
Downsizing of powertrain is a trend that is being witnessed across geographies, and is stabilising itself globally, noted Duret-Lamouroux. There is an increased level of hybridisation of the powertrain. This required seals to have a better or different way of behaving, while reacting to new forms of engines and powertrain combinations. Such research has led to the development of new material that has resulted in the manufacturing of energy-saving seals.
India is a growing and future market of the world, while the markets in Europe and North America have stabilised. The domestic market is a diversified one, where new environmental regulations need to be addressed with regards to products, said Duret-Lamouroux. NOK will accompany the trend towards electrification with products such as battery seals. The challenge arises in the case of hybrid engines that consist of an ICE and an electric motor, calling for more complex seals. However, the entire industry ecosystem (NOK, customers, OEMs, etc.) is still learning about the EV segment’s requirements, he pointed out. Freudenberg-NOK is currently focussing on the domestic market business so that it can grow further.
Among all the Freudenberg Group companies we interacted with, Corteco is the only one that deals exclusively with the aftermarket. Martin Jones, CEO, Corteco India, said the company has been in India since 2013, working with the high-end vehicle segment alone. The company is currently focussing on the domestic segment for two-wheelers, passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, with oil seal being the core product. Corteco India is currently making investments towards products and resources.
In terms of sustainability, the company follows the same process of the Freudenberg Group, while trying to maintain the greenest levels of operations. Even with the case of digitalisation, this is within the lines of the business system of Freudenberg. According to Jones, customer levels in Europe are highly-developed in terms of data in the car market and mechanics are linked into that database that is connected back to preferred suppliers. This ensures that the business receives adequate demand for components that may be failing on customer vehicles. However, in India, the company is at the beginning of customer-level digitalisation of databases, Jones observed. Even with this level of business maturing, the company’s goal is to grow revenue by a factor of 10 in five years.
The common focus across various companies within the Freudenberg Group in India is on new mobility, which includes electrification and hybridisation of the powertrain. The entire group, in India as well as globally, has set its sights on delivering innovations and products, while maintaining sustainability and digitalisation of their entire working and system. These trends of cleaner and more connected operations are being implemented across manufacturing, sales and customer servicing. The end objective seems to be cleaner innovation that is connected with all the future technologies of the automotive sector.
TEXT: Naveen Arul