With its legacy of futuristic planning, Freudenberg is ready with products and materials for the emerging trends in the automotive industry. “We are well prepared for the developments in connected, autonomous and electric mobility systems,” Dr Mohsen, Sohi, CEO, Freudenberg Group, told
T Murrali of Autoparts Asia in an exclusive interview. The excerpts:
Q: Every other day there is some developments in Connected, Autonomous and E-mobility? How does Freudenberg Group foresee the developments as a supplier of systems and a host of supportive materials?
A: We predict 30 percent of vehicles will have electric drives by 2030, purely electric engines or plug-ins. Freudenberg is well prepared for this development. For example, our portfolio includes both battery technology products and those for the fuel cells. Even though we will produce fewer and different seals for e-mobility, the new drive types also offer new opportunities for growth. We want to remain a competent solution provider for high-tech innovations, regardless of drive type. We will thus continue to develop existing products, generate new ideas and move forward on them together with our customers.
Q: What kind of solutions are being targeted?
A: Such products include components for batteries, engines, charging units and many other elements. Our components make batteries safer and improve their performance. Filters keep air clean in vehicle cabins. A broad sealing portfolio increases operating life and improves thermal management. Cars are quieter thanks to state-of-the-art vibration control systems; specialty chemicals make them more efficient.
Q: Recently the German automotive industry announced that it would invest around Euro 18 billion in automated driving during the next three years. Do you see possibilities to diversify to untapped areas to support the evolving new mobility?
A: Key strategic elements include the very long-term view of our portfolio and our search for areas of future growth. In 2016, our 30 young leaders examined a series of potential scenarios for the world in 2050 and identified business opportunities for Freudenberg. The project findings are now being used in our strategic plan, our research projects and our acquisition pipeline.
Q: Manufacturers of trucks and buses are all pursuing new paths in order to shape the transport of the future. What kind of opportunities do you see for Freudenberg?
A: Freudenberg has always shaped change. Our strength lies in taking advantage of opportunities, being agile and flexible and adapting quickly to change. We already offer a range of solutions for buses and trucks; in urban areas more and more buses run on electric drives. We are a popular OEM partner with our technology in this area.
We are continuing to develop our portfolio in this direction. For example: We purchased a stake in the US company Xalt Energy. The company makes large-scale lithium-ion battery cells, modules and systems for use in heavy utility vehicles, such as buses, in maritime transport and other industrial applications.
Q: Is diversity of Freudenberg group a strength or weakness when every industry sharpens its focus with respect to disruptive technologies?
A: Our portfolio is future oriented, highly innovative and strongly inter-linked. The Business Groups mutually benefit from their different areas of knowledge. Knowledge transfer is a key strength. Materials competence is key (elastomers, nonwovens, specialty chemicals). The Technology Platforms are used to develop this expertise further.
Freudenberg aims for a balanced portfolio of cyclical and anti-cyclical businesses. We also cover a broad range of regions and targets equal sales from North and South America, Europe and Asia in a few years.
Q: Freudenberg has been researching fuel cells since 20 years. Can you update on the developments?
A: We have a whole series of products in the market: Gas diffusion layers (FPM), seals in the fuel cell stacks (FST), filters (FFT) and humidifiers for entire systems (FFT and NOK).
Today, fuel cells are used in several applications and they are considered to be a key energy source of the future. Freudenberg’s gas diffusion layers help improve the efficiency of this technology. Their high uniformity in structure and thickness increases electrical and thermal conductivity and improves the transport of gases and liquids in the fuel cell. The outstanding product features have been proven in many very different customer applications. Further strengths of Freudenberg’s gas diffusion layers, compared with other products, are superior downstream processing and exceptional surface properties. Freudenberg is one of the first companies worldwide to manufacture GDL completely in-house with its own production facilities. At the start of the year, Freudenberg purchased parts of the fuel cell manufacturer Elcore and its subsidiary Elcomax in Munich. The Group specialises in developing high efficiency fuel cells for single and two-family homes. Freudenberg also wants to develop the products for use in mobile applications. We believe in this technology and have been working with it since 2001. We do not see fuel cells and batteries as competing technologies, but complementary in terms of range and flexibility. Other market opportunities include home energy supplies, critical electricity supplies, materials transport with forklifts or transport vehicles and buses.