By Dr Mohsen Sohi
Dr Mohsen Sohi is CEO of the Freudenberg Group and the speaker of the Management Board. Besides, he is the Member of the Board of Directors, Steris plc, Leicester, England, U.K; Member of the Board of Trustees, Society for Business History (GUG), Frankfurt, Germany; Chairman of the Board of Partners, Freudenberg Foundation; Member of the Board of Trustees, CIVIS Media Foundation, Cologne, Germany; Trustee of the Foundation of the University of Heidelberg (Stiftung Universität Heidelberg), Germany, and Member of the Board of Management, Association for Promoting Science and Education (Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft), Essen, Germany.
As a partner of the automotive industry, the foreseeable changes in drive technology and alternative mobility concepts also impact Freudenberg. The term ‘new mobility’ as used by Freudenberg not only covers e-mobility but also includes developments for the entire spectrum of drive technologies such as improvements in internal combustion engines, hybrid solutions, pure-electric cars and vehicles powered by fuel cells.
Freudenberg is well prepared for these developments thanks to its materials know-how and more than two decades of experience in researching components for high performance batteries for electric vehicles and development of fuel cells. Advances and new developments in battery components, engines, charging units, filters, thermal management, vibration control systems or specialty lubricants offset reductions in demand for seals. Going forward, Freudenberg will remain a competent provider of solutions for high-tech innovations for all kinds of drivetrains.
Innovations For ICE
One example for the innovations from Freudenberg for internal combustion engine (ICE) is the Overrunning Damper Isolator Pulley (ODIP). High belt tension and friction lead to higher fuel consumption than absolutely necessary. The static belt tension can be reduced significantly by using this next generation decoupled pulley, which combines the excellent isolation characteristic of the known rubber isolators with a one-way-clutch feature. In fuel-efficient start-stop systems, they eliminate the effects of a motor that is constantly starting and stopping and enable further savings in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions thanks to an additional freewheel.
Eliminating a few kilograms in the right places can also mean big CO2 savings for car manufacturers. And if a lightweight part can also offer additional advantages beyond its low weight, even better! The cargo cover from Freudenberg is an innovative example. It saves around 450 gm per square metre of material compared with the widely used PVC. With one to 1.5 square metres in a car, this results in almost one kg. Another advantage is that the Freudenberg fleece does not emit any vapour, as it is possible with PVC when a car is parked in the sun. And even at -10 or -20 °C, the cover does not freeze and can be rolled out. Other lightweight construction solutions from Freudenberg are underbody constructions or sound absorbers.
Innovations For Hybrids
To meet the many challenges of e-mobility, Freudenberg has engineered numerous solutions ready for series production using materials developed and customised in-house. These materials are particularly important for meeting the complex challenges of different applications such as fireproof requirements, operating life or freedom from contamination. One example is the innovative heat shield for lithium-ion batteries. This heat shield insulates the battery and prevents a damaged cell in a lithium-ion battery from overheating and, in the worst case, leading to the entire battery system exploding. Heat shields between individual cells are designed so that the heat from a damaged cell remains insulated until it can be drained away.
In terms of vibration control technology, the growing number of partially or fully electric vehicles brings new opportunities and challenges for innovative approaches and solutions. Noise and vibrations generated at higher frequencies and by auxiliaries previously masked by the internal combustion engine become audible and noticeable. Freudenberg is collaborating closely with leading OEMs to develop innovative and efficient solutions to meet these challenges. Furthermore, both established electric vehicle manufacturers and new players are increasingly turning to air spring systems, since they also bring additional benefits for pure electric vehicles. Solutions like Freudenberg´s three-chamber air spring system can, for example, contribute to reducing air resistance and improving passive cooling of the battery packs.
Two noteworthy designs in the field of fuel cell applications are seal integration on metal bipolar plates and gas diffusion layers with integral seals. In both cases, the assemblies perform significantly more functions than just their primary task of reliably sealing the fuel cell stack. Car manufacturers can engineer compact design and automated assembly, thereby reducing the number of parts and simplifying the assembly process.
Freudenberg is also manufacturing fuel cell gas diffusion layers (GDL) to meet all operative conditions and requirements in Hydrogen and Direct Methanol fuel cells on an industrial scale at its headquarters in Weinheim. The gas diffusion layers are manufactured using Freudenberg’s proprietary nonwoven technology. This enables a high degree of design flexibility to meet the specific needs of our customers. Based on fully industrialised GDL manufacturing lines and continuous investments in quality improvements and new GDL products, Freudenberg offers dedicated in-house production expertise and the capacity to meet current and future high-volume demands.
In 2018 Freudenberg developed a filter for use in the growing field of environment-friendly bus and train drivetrains. The fuel cell filter effectively protects both the catalyst material and the membranes used in the stack and system components from contaminant gases and particles.
Strategy For Future
Freudenberg seeks to strengthen its portfolio through selective and targeted acquisitions. Our goal is a balanced portfolio combining cyclical and anticyclical businesses with equal sales contributions from the Americas, Europe and Asia. As an example two acquisitions in 2018 strengthened Freudenberg´s energy and storage business; in early January 2018, parts of the Munich-based fuel cell manufacturers Elcore and Elcomax were purchased. Freudenberg purchased shares in XALT Energy, LLC, Midland, Michigan, USA. The company produces large-scale lithium-ion battery cells, modules and systems for use in heavy utility vehicles, such as buses, ships and other industrial applications.
The year 2018 marked the beginning of a new strategic period for Freudenberg. The years from 2018 to 2020 will be vital to our Group’s future, as the markets are shifting ever faster and the pace of technological and digital change continues to accelerate. Beyond the strategy periods, Freudenberg also has various planning phases. Freudenberg monitors its Business Groups’ markets in a three year strategic planning process. Megatrends and future developments are used when planning for the next ten to 15 years; examples here include continuous development of electromobility and digitalisation. We look at more fundamental questions over even longer periods. In late 2015, we started a project that looks 35 years into the future. The outcome of the project now influences our strategic planning, our research projects and our acquisition pipeline.
As a technology group, innovation has always been key to our success. The rapid changes also driven by digitalisation mean we must further improve and accelerate our innovation strength. The goal is to maintain and expand our position as market leader in our segments. We are working to further develop Freudenberg’s material, process and system competencies via nine technology platforms. We focus on essential interdisciplinary technologies relevant to several Business Groups, and in doing so create knowhow synergies.
The automotive industry is facing fundamental change – with electromobility driving this shift. As a reliable partner for our customers, we are working hard on forward-looking innovations for all drive types including electric engines, hybrids, fuel cells and internal combustion engines.