Globalization, urbanization, digitalization, scarcity of resources, renewable energy, and the growing need for mobility worldwide are resulting in changing market requirements. This also leads to changing EcoSystems requiring the development of comprehensive expertise ranging from energy generation through to energy supply and energy consumption. In light of this, the Schaeffler Group’s Technology function relies on the continuous improvement of existing technologies as well as on the development of completely new technologies.
See chapter chapter group strategy and management for further detail.
The Schaeffler Group benefits from its many years of experience and expertise with product and systems development. Being a supplier of complex modules and complete system solutions, the Schaeffler Group will continue to expand this expertise while maintaining its established components business. The goal here is to safeguard the Schaeffler Group’s technological leadership and to thoroughly delight customers worldwide by delivering innovative application- and customer-oriented system solutions from a single source.
From an organizational perspective, the Technology function includes Corporate R&D Management, Technology Strategy & Innovation, R&D Processes, Methods & Tools, R&D Competence & Services, Intellectual Property Rights, Surface Technology, as well as Information Technology and the Coordination Office Digitalization. Strategic IT was added in 2017.
Schaeffler Group R&D
The Schaeffler Group is actively helping to shape technological progress for “Mobility for tomorrow” with an average of 7,634 R&D staff (prior year: 7,121) at 18 R&D centers (prior year: 17) and additional R&D locations in a total of 24 countries. Its 2,316 patent registrations filed with the German Patent and Trademark Office made the Schaeffler Group the second most innovative company for the fourth consecutive year in 2016. The more than 3,294 inventions reported internally in 2017 (prior year: 2,950) also demonstrate the company’s innovative ability. On this basis, the Schaeffler Group expects to once again rank among the most innovative companies in Germany in 2017.
The Schaeffler Group’s research and development activities comprise corporate research and development as well as the application-oriented development activities of the Automotive OEM, Automotive Aftermarket, and Industrial divisions.
Research and development expenses
Corporate research and development: The company’s corporate research and development, which incremental to the divisions, facilitates long-term customer- and market-specific technical solutions and helps promote interdisciplinary knowledge transfer. The corporate R&D activities follow a systematic process that is aligned along the product lifecycle and speeds up development. The technical knowledge gathered is collected and combined in the Schaeffler Group’s competence centers, ensuring increased technical depth of product development as well as quick and valid decisions.
One focus of the corporate research and development activities is on covering the entire energy chain – from energy generation, mainly from renewable energy sources, through to the storage and consumption of energy. In the field of energy generation, for instance, low-friction bearings are currently being developed for the wind power sector; they will reduce wear and tear, extending their operating life. In addition, Schaeffler is preparing to enter the field of industrialized fuel cell technology. Existing expertise in technologies such as forming, coating, and assembly is used to develop and manufacture high-performance metal bipolar plates, which are at the core of any fuel cell.
Collaborations: The corporate R&D activities are founded on a global innovation network that contributes significantly to the Schaeffler Group’s global technological leadership. Collaborations with universities in the form of a “Schaeffler Hub for Advanced Research” (SHARE) under the “Company on Campus” concept ensure the consistent development of future-oriented technologies. For instance, SHARE at FAU (Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg) focuses on Digitalization along the entire value chain, SHARE at KIT (Karlsruhe Institute for Technology) on electric mobility, lightweight design, and energy storage (battery and fuel cell), and SHARE at NTU (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) on personal urban mobility. In 2017, the Schaeffler Group once again expanded its global footprint at universities by officially inaugurating a SHARE at Southwest Jiaotong University (SWJTU) in Chengdu, China. This collaboration with one of the most acclaimed universities in the world in the field of new-generation rail vehicles focuses on research and development regarding mobility concepts for railway transport. Schaeffler has also been successfully collaborating with various Fraunhofer Institutes for many years. In 2017, the Schaeffler Group has entered into a comprehensive strategic partnership with Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft designed to bring technologies into practical applications even faster and in a more targeted manner.
Interconnection with start-up companies adds to this innovation network. Many product and process innovations as well as new work and business models are initially created by start-up companies. Combined with Schaeffler’s strengths and experience, ideas are efficiently developed into marketable products and services. Schaeffler operates an office in Silicon Valley to help extensively exchange ideas with start-up companies and also cooperates with the start-up campus Factory Berlin and the tech incubator ZOLLHOF in Nuremberg. In 2017, the company’s innovative ability and resulting products received, among others, the PACE Award and the AutomotiveINNOVATIONS Award.
One example of the company’s corporate innovation activities is the Bio-Hybrid. Intermodal traffic in areas where space is at a premium and the ability to change smoothly from one means of transport to another is becoming more and more important for dealing with the growing volume of traffic in urban centers. Schaeffler is offering an innovative solution, the Bio-Hybrid concept, which sits somewhere between a pedelec and an electric car in terms of size and range. The growing passenger traffic leads to another issue of the future: autonomous driving. Schaeffler is doing research in this field under publicly subsidized projects at the SHARE at KIT research location. The results have applications that go beyond those directed toward autonomous driving. For instance, the energy efficiency of power steering systems was improved, reducing the vehicle’s consumption.
R&D in the Automotive OEM division
The megatrends globalization and urbanization require new forms of mobility. Climate change and the growing scarcity of resources make reducing energy consumption essential. These challenges offer significant opportunities for the Schaeffler Group and characterize the development environment in the automotive sector. In the future, in addition to fully battery-electric vehicles, a large share of the vehicle population will be hybrid-driven. Especially in the next few years, there will still be a demand for large numbers of conventional drives. As a result, the company’s research and development activities are aimed at increasing the efficiency of internal combustion engines in order to reduce harmful emissions.
The Schaeffler Group predicts a steady increase in electrified vehicles over the coming years. In light of this, the field of E-Mobility, along with Industry 4.0 and Digitalization, represents one of the key opportunities for the future under the strategy “Mobility for tomorrow". Consequently, the company has defined the E Mobility initiative as part of its “Agenda 4 plus One” excellence program. The Schaeffler Group already offers innovative solutions for hybrid and electric vehicles today. To facilitate a consistent approach, the company created the E-Mobility Systems Division several years ago, which consolidates its wide range of activities relating to alternative types of drives across departments and national borders. This development was continued by establishing the E-Mobility business division effective January 01, 2018. These internal activities are supplemented by work at research institutions such as the SHARE at KIT, where engineers are developing solutions in the field of energy storage, electric drives, and automated mobility. The know-how gained from the FIA Formula E Championship is also incorporated in the development of electric mobility technologies.
Starting with individual components, Schaeffler develops total technological system solutions for electric drives. Drives integrated in axles or wheels are particularly suitable for battery-electric vehicles. While the electric wheel hub motor is still at the predevelopment stage, volume production of the electric axle is imminent. The newly developed electric axle was presented at the International Motor Show (IAA) in 2017. Schaeffler’s electric axle offers a modular solution for hybrid vehicles and battery-electric cars. The single-speed electric axle is designed with an extremely compact transmission, offering plenty of space for the electric motor. The basic configuration can be expanded by adding functional elements such as a parking lock. A second gear is particularly necessary for plug-in hybrid vehicles requiring dynamic, all-electric operation up to 120 km/h and high top speed. The two-speed axle developed by Schaeffler offers a solution to this need.
With a view to electric mobility, electrification of conventional drive trains offers significant potential improvements. A 48-volt system represents a comparatively cost-efficient solution to this issue. In current volume production vehicles, this system, instead of a starter-generator, is connected to the crankshaft of the internal combustion engine via a belt. For future vehicle generations, Schaeffler also offers the integration of the 48 volt electric motor into the engine-transmission unit and into the axle. This solution allows vehicles to move off from a standstill using electric power only, to maintain the speeds required in city traffic purely electrically, and to recuperate braking energy, all valuable contributions to protecting the environment.
A plug-in hybrid drive powertrain enables even greater fuel consumption savings to be achieved as well as driving with zero local emissions across longer distances. As far back as in 2010, Schaeffler delivered major components for such a drive system. Now, Schaeffler has developed its own high-voltage hybrid module enabling the transfer of very high torques that is about to enter volume production. A patented branching of the power flow within the module makes it possible to transfer such high torques, so that even vehicles with very large mass can comfortably move off from a standstill.
In addition to the mechanical architecture, electric vehicles also require power electronics to supply electric power as and when needed. In a collaborative partnership with SEMIKRON, Schaeffler is expanding its electronics expertise and, using space-optimized power electronics, has the capability to efficiently convert, control and integrate electric energy into the entire system. Alternative drive systems also require individual software solutions. Schaeffler leverages its expertise in engineering, for instance to achieve perfect interaction between the drive units throughout the entire system.
Along with electricity-based drive technologies, the Schaeffler Group’s research and development activities focus on improving the efficiency and performance of conventional internal combustion engines. The second-generation thermal management module, which went into volume production in 2017, is one example of this. The thermal management module uses rotary slide valves controlled by sensors to precisely manage the temperature within the vehicle’s drive train and enables the ideal temperature window for the engine and transmission to be reached quickly. This has a positive effect on fuel consumption and consequently on CO2 emissions. Due to these optimized temperatures, the thermal management module also positively affects component life within the drive train. The dynamic timing of the engine’s valves is another important source of leverage for reducing fuel consumption and, consequently, emissions. To this end, the Schaeffler Group has developed an electric camshaft phasing unit that facilitates fast intake valve adjustment even in dynamic driving modes and has successfully introduced it into volume production.
R&D in the Automotive Aftermarket division
The R&D activities of the Automotive Aftermarket division focus on the specific requirements of customers in the service and replacement parts business. They consist of analyzing the markets’ repair needs and behavior. Its broad and deep understanding of Schaeffler products and solutions enables the Automotive Aftermarket to offer solutions along entire systems. Building on this, product specialists consisting of engineers and master mechanics create intelligent repair solutions, allowing the repair shop to perform professional repairs with high product quality.
One example of the outcome of these research and development activities is the repair sets and kits that include all replacement parts required for a complete repair. The introduction of the LuK GearBOX has simplified transmission repairs to the extent that repair shops can now repair transmissions on their own. Another example is the introduction of mixed reality applications for the repair shop. These applications enable the customer to use virtual reality to take a look at the digitized future of the Automotive Aftermarket.
R&D in the Industrial division
The megatrend digitalization is among the key drivers of development in the Industrial division. Consequently, the company has developed the Industry 4.0 initiative as part of its “Agenda 4 plus One” excellence program. Under Industry 4.0, the Schaeffler Group relies on intelligent networks connecting product development, production, logistics, customers, and suppliers. Its technological basis are intelligent, digitally linked systems that will maximize the possibilities for autonomous production and optimum plant operation in the future: People, machines, and products communicate and collaborate directly with one another. In the future, the company will utilize this expertise for internal processes and offer it to customers while maintaining its “classic” components business. The technological expertise and the know-how covering the customer’s entire system are key to achieving success with the entire range from mechanical components through to cloud-based services.
At the Hannover Messe, the Schaeffler Group presented, as part of its “Industry 4.0” initiative, the Smart EcoSystem, a digital infrastructure for new business models based on digital services that increases availability, reliability, and process quality of machines and plants. From a technical perspective, the Smart EcoSystem is structured in three levels. The lowest level, “Mechatronics”, contains what are known as smart components, including, among others, mechatronic products with additional sensor- or actuator-based functionalities. One example of this is the VarioSense, a standard ball bearing equipped with a sensor cluster for recording machine and process data such as temperature or speed. At the next level, these systems can be linked via an interface, creating what are known as “virtual twins”. The accompanying digital services offer a wide range of potential uses such as optimizing machine utilization. At its top level, “Applications”, the Smart EcoSystem offers the possibility to perform analyses that can be used, among other things, to make improvements and to develop new products and services. Potential uses for both internal and external customers lie in increased machine availability and productivity, reduced operating and maintenance costs, improved process stability and quality, and improved product quality.
Spindle bearings with integrated sensor technology represent another successful example from 2017. Machine tool downtime is frequently the result of defective spindles. From this initial situation, Schaeffler has developed a system of sensors with the objective of preventing spindle failure. The completely new sensor system, which has been developed specifically for applications in machine tools, measures the displacement of the spindle shaft under load in high resolution and in five spatial directions. All of the software and the required algorithms are integrated into the sensor technology. In the event of a collision, the spindle is deactivated very quickly, preventing further damage to the spindle. In addition, the system allows the machine operator to detect unfavorable operating conditions in order to make targeted adjustments to the machining process.
In addition to the activities around the development focus Industry 4.0, the Industrial division pressed forward with several other initiatives, such as the improvement and new development of bearings for wind turbines. The bearing supports of the rotor in a wind turbine are exposed to enormous operational stresses. The rolling bearings are subjected to highly dynamic loads and operating conditions. Schaeffler has developed a new, compact bearing unit for locating bearing concepts for rotor bearing supports. The tapered roller bearing unit is pre-drilled for flange mounting and enables loads to be supported safely thanks to the large contact angle and narrow axial guidance of the rotor. Schaeffler offers the option of expanding the functionality of the unit by integrating the digital GreaseCheck. The sensor analyzes the grease used and optically measures the water content, turbidity, mechanical wear, and grease temperature directly in the bearing arrangement.
Digitalization and IT
As it increasingly merges the real world and the digital world, the digitalization megatrend poses new challenges, but also offers great opportunities in an enormous growth area. Digitalization is transforming traditional processes. Digital technologies are gradually becoming a core component of value added in purchasing, manufacturing, logistics, distribution, as well as in the human resources and finance functions. Therefore, the Schaeffler Group has developed and implemented the Digital Agenda initiative as part of its “Agenda 4 plus One” excellence program, a component of the group’s strategy “Mobility for tomorrow”. Its key objective is connecting the physical and the digital world. The company intends to raise the proportion of value added by digitally enhanced products and services to approx. 10% by 2020. The customer benefits from the combination of big data analyses with Schaeffler’s thorough application know-how. To improve internal processes and generate added value for external customers, existing business models are expanded and new, digital business models are developed and implemented. To this end, the Schaeffler Group is adding sensors, actuators, and controllers, incl. the relevant software, to its components. They will facilitate collecting and processing data on machine or plant condition and behavior in the future.
Qualified employees are fundamental to the successful implementation of the Digital Agenda. In addition to existing specialists, the Schaeffler Group was able to win numerous “digital and IT talents” in 2017 and is aiming to establish a significant talent pool. To appropriately concentrate these activities, the Nuremberg location will be transformed into an IT campus which will act as the basis for consolidating the company’s IT expertise. The Schaeffler Group has established a centralized project management in order to support the groupwide and cross-functional coordination and implementation of its Digitalization projects. This “Coordination Office Digitalization” manages the set-up and expansion of the group’s digital activities under the “Digital Agenda” and has just moved into the corporate “Digital Home” in Herzogenaurach.
The “Digital Agenda” starts with the customer. The new digital business models are oriented toward the customer’s benefit. The Schaeffler Group focuses on four components representing the key digital business scenarios. In 2017, projects were initiated for each of these components.
Products & Services: Functions of existing products are expanded using data generated by sensor systems. By linking products to the Cloud, the Schaeffler Group is aiming to add additional value. For instance, together with the experts from the Industrial division, a platform for digital services is being developed to enable wind park providers to efficiently monitor wind turbines.
Machines & Processes: In production, processes are continually being improved by providing digital assistance to humans and connecting, for instance, machines or transport vehicles. The Schaeffler Group is aiming to utilize data comprehensively. Among other things, the company is creating new service products to be offered to the customer. A “Digital Shadow” represents the digital image of a process, including historical and real-time information, in order to understand, quantitatively visualize, and improve the process. One example of this is an initial pilot project at the Berndorf, Austria, location implementing a comprehensive energy management system in production that resulted in significant energy savings.
Analyses & simulation: Analyses based on the interaction of primary data and the sector- and application-related expertise of Schaeffler’s specialists provide information that adds value. Analyses developed in 2017 include an automated acoustics analysis which detects product quality fluctuations. Given the complexity and limited reproducibility of manual tests, this automation has resulted in notable efficiency gains. Efficient data analytics algorithms are used to analyze big data collected. Production accuracy of ball screw drives was significantly increased in this manner, for instance. This approach also helped improve the accuracy of warehouse inventory planning within sales forecasting. The increased accuracy was achieved by training the model based on time series of past orders and connecting the forecasting models to expert knowledge and artificial intelligence.
User Experience and Customer Value: The interaction between humans and machines is a significant factor for productivity in the digital world. The primary objectives are quick recognition and learning as well as goal-oriented interactions between the user and the machine. For instance, a “digital twin” facilitates the digital representation of a physical entity or a system along its lifecycle. It represents an image used to comprehensively exchange or integrate data and functionalities across business processes. An actual application of this is the Engineering Cockpit, which accelerates and improves the development process. Among other benefits, it reduces the amount of effort required to manage configurations and changes. In distribution, the Supply Chain Cockpit creates a personalized digital working environment that facilitates comprehensive process improvements based on modularly adapted data from several source systems. In the field of augmented and virtual reality, initial prototypes for maintenance, special machinery, and tool assembly were realized in cooperation with FAU.
Implementing the four components requires the appropriate IT landscape. To put Schaeffler’s IT in a position to successfully meet the challenges of the future, the company has developed the IT 2020 initiative as part of its “Agenda 4 plus One” excellence program. The initiative aims to rapidly put in place the information technology required for Digitalization, for renewing and further developing the application and infrastructure landscape, and for changing the role of IT within the company from that of an internal service provider to that of a strategic business partner shaping and integrating the digital business models. The Process Excellence initiative, part of the “Agenda 4 plus One”, creates an organization comprising the clear responsibilities that this requires. To help implement “IT 2020”, the company has centralized responsibility for the initiative in the new “Strategic IT” department that was set up in 2017 and will ensure efficient implementation of the initiative. The “IT 2020” initiative involves setting up the digital platform for the Schaeffler Group’s own integrated cloud solution, which, based on leading IBM technology, is available worldwide and forms the basis for the future digital ecosystem. This puts in place the foundation for realizing new digital standards and solutions. In addition, the initiative harmonizes the IT architecture model in order to link to and integrate other standard IT solutions such as SAP S/4 HANA, Microsoft Office solutions, or IT security solutions. IT processes are expanded with a specific focus on smart products, processes, and services, as well as on operating more extensive embedded systems solutions.