There are various approaches undertaken by automakers and suppliers to increase the efficiency of powertrain as well as attain a reduction in CO2 emissions. There are various points at which these two requirements can be addressed and it all begins with the turning over of the engine or motor itself! This is where the starter motor and generator comes into play, and there are technologies around these products that are enabling better and cleaner performance of engines and motors alike. One of the leading companies in this area is SEG Automotive, which boasts over a century of innovations in the areas of starter motors, generators, start/stop systems and mild hybrids.
SEG Automotive was part of the Bosch Group for over 100 years, until January 2018, when it was acquired by Zhengzhou Coal Mining Machinery Group Co (ZMJ), and now operates as an independent company. The company’s Indian arm – SEG Automotive India Pvt Ltd – has been a leading player in the domestic market, where it has had a presence for almost three decades. Auto Tech Review met up with Anil Kumar MR, Managing Director, Regional President – India, SEG Automotive India Pvt Ltd, at the company’s Naganathapura plant in Bangalore, to understand the manufacturing practices adopted and technologies leveraged in production of components.
SEG Automotive’s products offer OEMs solutions to achieve corporate average fuel consumption (CAFC) targets specified by governments, in order to reduce emissions. A unique feature that the company prides itself in is providing solutions covering a large part of the automotive segment, from three-wheelers, right up to heavy commercial vehicles and off-highway vehicles. The company’s start/stop technology, which it claims to have introduced in the Indian market, as well as high-efficiency generators provide significant CO2 savings. It also offers its 48 V Boost Recuperation Machine (BRM), a cost-effective and easy-to-implement mild hybrid solution that replaces the current generator at its actual location in the drive belt. In the case of regenerative braking, the BRM uses the charged energy to boost the internal combustion engine (ICE), when needed. It also enables features like coasting, and helps reduce CO2 emissions to the tune of up to 15 %.
While it is observed that SEG Automotive through all these technologies is offering solutions towards electrification and hybridisation, it also expects ICEs to stay for a while. This explains why it is not only developing products aimed at future mobility, but also providing innovations to help make existing ICEs perform better in line with stringent environmental standards.
GLOBAL FOOTPRINT, INDIA OPERATIONS
Headquartered at Stuttgart, Germany, SEG Automotive registered a turnover of over € 1.7 bn in 2017. The company has a presence across 16 locations globally, with over 8,000 employees. SEG Automotive has its lead plants for manufacturing excellence located at Germany, Spain and China, thus ensuring adherence to standardised processes across all production locations.
SEG Automotive India is headquartered at Naganathapura, Bengaluru and caters to all major OEMs with its sales, manufacturing and R&D activities. The company also operates manufacturing facilities at Chennai and Hassan, keeping customer location and managing capacities in mind, noted Kumar. The three production facilities are IATF 16949:2016 certified, and combined to make India an export hub within the SEG automotive network. India stands at the third position for the overall SEG Group globally, in terms of total business.
Initially set up in 1989, the Naganathapura plant was operational as part of the Bosch Group till 2017. Since 2018, the unit has been renamed SEG Automotive India Pvt Ltd under the ZMJ Group. This is a lead-free plant, which has eliminated the most hazardous materials in manufacturing, said Kumar, adding that the facility also conforms to ISO 14001 standards. The Naganathapura plant is spread over about 11 acre of land, with 35-40 % covered by greenery, and operates in three shifts.
SEG follows ‘Lean Principles’ in order to realise efficient manufacturing techniques at its facility, said Kumar. Waste elimination through value stream design (VSD), where the shopfloor design is planned for future expectations of product demand is one such technique, he explained. The shopfloor is mapped with VSD every three months, in order to enable the most efficient utilisation of the facility with fluctuating market demands. These variations in product demand can move up to 20 % above or below the nominal values, for which such steps help keep the production and value chain stable, said Veerabasappa D S, Head, Manufacturing, SEG Automotive India.
These lean manufacturing principles lead to Kaizens – continuous process improvements that are focused on safety, quality, cost and delivery. In terms of safety, SEG Automotive’s Naganathapura plant has achieved the status of becoming an accident-free plant, and is looking towards achieving harm-free status. The manufacturing improvements are also focused from the point of view of operators, in terms of ergonomics of the machines, Kumar said. The machines are adjusted to the gender and physical characteristics of the majority of workers at the plant, with space for movement, along with varying levels of automation.
In terms of ensuring quality, the company has put in place an international quality network that takes proactive steps through line walks to prevent various incidents from taking place. These potential failure modes once identified, are addressed with poka-yokes. SEG Automotive initiates standardised processes, along with fool-proofing mechanisms to maintain high quality standards.
SEG Automotive’s focus areas in manufacturing are product quality, waste elimination, optimised utilisation of resources and optimised material flow. The manufacturing facility is designed for optimised material flow, as the entire value chain is consolidated under one roof, starting from inbound logistics, value addition, testing and outbound logistics. In addition, the company carries out a continuous process of adding technology in the form of actuators, controllers and various levels of automation to its existing machines in order to upgrade them to modern manufacturing standards. Kumar noted that SEG Automotive’s operations are highly-localised, for which in the case of Naganathapura, the company has developed some of its suppliers as per global standards. While a large chunk of the company’s operations are localised, certain components like electronics continue to be imported.
While SEG Automotive adopts lean principles on various sub-assemblies and assembly lines to ensure high-quality production, it also showcases use of new-age technologies for its special manufacturing processes. The company leverages high-level technology for four main processes – winding, welding, torqueing, and testing – to ensure quality of its products. SEG Automotive has expertise in all these processes, which are critical in the manufacturing of its products, Kumar observed.
The company has developed in-house manufacturing capabilities of tools required for each of these processes. The controllers, tooling, methodology, software, validation tools and all other systems for these special processes are designed and developed by the company itself, Kumar said. For welding, the machines have accurate, closed-loop controllers that self-check the quality of weld before passing the product to the next station on the assembly. SEG utilises the process of resistance welding for manufacturing, since it is most suitable for the type of operation carried out and also does not require the use of any additional metal.
Torqueing – a very critical process for manufacturing starter motors and generators – is carried out using controllers that ensure that no changes occur to the bolts in the field following usage. This process is critical since it is used in bolting-on the pulley of the alternator in place, which is the interface while the vehicle is being started.
Likewise, the stator winding process is carried out by an automated machine, which also performs impregnation that insulates the copper winding. Finally, testing is customised based on the customer requirements as well as the experience gained by SEG before the products are packaged, Kumar noted.
DEVELOPMENT WORK, FUTURE PATH
SEG Automotive’s R&D team comes with over 25 years of experience in the Indian market, and is capable of adopting global platforms for local needs, while fostering local innovations, said Kumar. The team also develops innovative solutions for specific local requirements. Meanwhile, the customer-dedicated application teams ensure launch of robust products with the shortest lead times. The company’s R&D centre at Naganathapura is globally integrated to meet its local and global requirements, Kumar said.
The R&D facility performs testing of components for performance, climatic conditions and reliability. These include tests for stress, overload, noise, EMI-EMC, thermal shocks and vibrations. The company also conducts tests by assembling the components it has produced onto customer engines. This comprehensive testing and validation environment provides all possible real-world conditions that the products could possibly go through in their lifetime.
As far as materials used for manufacturing of components for lightweighting is concerned, the company is looking at this from two different aspects. Firstly, from the perspective of material engineering, there is a continuous evolution of materials used for lightweighting. But more importantly, weight reduction is taking place as a result of the design of the product itself, Kumar said. The mechanism of the starter or generator has been modified, thus leading to a reduction in the use of material itself through design optimisation. However, both aspects would be applied only when the reliability and robustness of components can be guaranteed, Kumar stated.
Kumar said since SEG Automotive is headquartered in Germany and is owned by a Chinese company, it has the best of both worlds. The Chinese ownership brings in a greater focus on future of technologies in areas such as new products and electrification. These trends are witnessed in China, and the company stands a good chance of penetrating into future markets, he added. While the 48 V BRM is an application for hybridisation, SEG is currently working on numerous electrification solutions globally. At a local level, the company is collaborating with electric vehicle OEMs across the country for future products and solutions.
TEXT & PHOTO: Naveen Arul