Continental Aids OEM’s Drive To Electronics, Software For Compliance

Continental Automotive Components India, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Continental AG, has over 8,000 employees across 15 locations, including eight plants and a Technical Centre that supports Continental’s global R&D activities. Alexander Klotz, Head, Technical Centre India, spoke to Murrali of AutoParts Asia on the changing landscape in the automotive industry, increasing use of electronics and software, and on the company’s support for OEMs that have to comply with regulations and meet the rising needs of their customers. Edited excerpts:

Q: Can you share your experiences about the role of electronics in meeting the challenges faced by OEMs in complying with all the regulations?

Klotz: Ever since electronics came into the automotive industry, there is a paradigm shift in the way the industry has evolved. Almost all the functions we see in vehicles today are possible only due to electronics.

Today in every vehicle electronics and software are increasing. We started putting electronics into the brake system some 30 years ago, and this itself has evolved so much over time. With more electronics and software, now the functions have exploded, several new functions like emergency braking, adoptive cruise control etc. emerged. A lot of things evolved over the years through electronics, like better sensors, better motors, and also software. A decade ago we saw around eight percent of a vehicle being driven by electronic system; today it is around 40 percent. This requires strong engineering. Continental has been at the forefront, helping mobility become safer, cleaner and connected. We have also been working together with OEMs by developing technologies that comply with regulations and legislations in the different markets we serve.

Q: How has Continental been gearing up to strengthen its engineering base?

Klotz: Continental has over 44,000 engineers; a good third is in software. It is the biggest growing group within engineering. A major share of these engineers is in our Technical Centres in different locations. All of them work on pioneering solutions for sustainable mobility for the future, be it automated driving, electromobility, connectivity or mobility services. We have been consistently investing in R&D as part of our strategy. The aim is to develop pioneering technologies for transporting people and their goods. We are also driving the engineering community to much more synergies and are constantly upskilling and reskilling the engineering force. Even in Tech Center India, most of our focus is on software. While we support Continental globally, we also support the India market. We take global platform and solutions like ABS, and adapt it to suit the requirements of the Indian market. So there are different ways in which we are strengthening or broadening engineering capabilities.

Q: What is on the product side?

Klotz: On the product side, the changes we see in the automotive market are the connected, automated, and electrified vehicles.

Trends have a huge impact on existing
products already.

There
is a big change in the landscape of powertrain. We look at the current trends and we have long-term
initiatives; we call them ‘search fields.’

Some of the future trends include micro / macro mobility and smart cities; others are closer to the existing business. If we have a good connection with what we have to innovate, and where we have to invest money and skills, so that we don’t miss any trend, in the long-term we may be able to disrupt the market completely down to the product.

At the CES in Las Vegas, there were a lot of innovations and concepts Continental presented, not previously associated with us. Some of the examples include connected intersection, smart street lamps, variables being connected, delivery robots, automated driving bus, and robots inside for last mile package delivery.

We do that because first of all we see the technology benefit, and the huge benefits these could bring in, and we have the knowhow in-house. For example, several of these things we do for automotive driving. With the skills and products we have, we can go to the next generation, but we need to look at different perspectives.

We also see the need for innovation of the existing products like powertrain, gasoline or diesel. There is a lot of potential for improvement. We have not yet seen the peak in the number of combustion engines.

The share of e-mobility globally and in India is negligible. There is still potential for growth in the number of combustion engines of cars and two-wheelers. May be 2025 will be their peak when their numbers begin to go down because of more electrified two-wheelers and four-wheelers.

Q: Are there still opportunities for the mechanical systems to get converted into mechatronics?

Klotz: Wherever we can eliminate mechanical solutions, we try to do so. For example the first automated vehicles are running around with the rotating Lidar sensors, 360 degrees, on the roof. We are working on a solid state which does not have any moving part. It’s not mounted on the roof anymore.

There are different locations where it can be put. In the automotive environment with all vibrations and temperature range, any moving part can be reduced with higher reliability. At the same time, we can look at the mechanical things; I see some products on the mechanical side that we can bring even to the powertrain.

For instance, heated catalyst; these are small things on the one hand and on the other hand, if we look at highly automated driving, the vehicle interior also changes. People will not sit in the same way in front of the steering wheel. So there are different concepts like where you have to have the door opener.

This is partly electrical but also has mechanical solutions. Look at robots also, there is a lot of electronics but there is also material mechanics that we need to keep up-to-date.

Q: The way in which sensors are getting into a vehicle looks like they will exceed the number of fasteners in a vehicle. Again, integrating them to ECU is a challenge. How do you see this? Is there a way to optimise the vehicle architecture for connecting sensors?

Klotz: To be future proof and receive updates, potentially upgrades, every ECU would need enough processing power (CPU) and memory (RAM). Very often a system will have mechanical and software part sitting in one device. What we can do now is whenever possible to have electronics at the acting side and have the software and control separate. For critical things they have to be closer.

Q: From the OEMs’ perspective everything is critical; how do you differentiate?

Klotz: I would partly disagree. Everything is critical from consumer point of view. Today the driver is a part of the architecture, but in automated vehicles there is no driver, so safety is critical. As technology and solutions providers, our role is to ensure maximum safety, connectivity and efficiency in the most optimal, convenient and cost-effective manner, which is a constant process of innovation.

Q: From the IC engine perspective there is still possibility as the thermal efficiency has reached only about 55 percent or so. How do you see the potential to improve this?

Klotz: There is potential to improve the IC engine. Huge contributor to variations in fuel consumption is the real driving condition. The driver has the biggest impact on fuel consumption. We can also start addressing that. To give an example, we have one solution called E-Horizon for trucks. It knows the topology of the road ahead and adapts powertrain accordingly.

And then we have shown dynamic solutions where it is not just topology but traffic, temperature etc. Therefore, every vehicle becomes a sensor.

Q: Is there a possibility to contain NVH with the help of electronics?

Klotz: We are looking at each individual component like brake system to assess how to put damping. Then we are active in damping of engine mounts, we have some huge business on rubber side as well. We look at tyres and optimise their roll performance, wear and tear, grip etc. For pure noise cancellation in the vehicle, we haven’t shown anything yet but we are looking at it. Noise cancellation ideally works close to the source of noise and it requires an integrated system, so a holistic look at the vehicle design and interior is required.

Q: What is your take on security challenges as vehicles are becoming more vulnerable with more electronics and software?

Klotz: Cyber security is critical because of the increasing number of interfaces in the vehicle. In the past, for hacking, people had to get physical access to the cars, but today that is not the case. This is going to be easier. Every device has to have cyber security measures.

Cars need to be closed from inside rather than just outside and we must keep doing it constantly. What seems to be secure today may not be secure tomorrow. We acquired a cyber security company Argus last year. It brings solutions like intrusion detection and anomaly detection. It is an end-to-end solution. Additionally we continue to work on technologies to enhance cyber security of vehicles.

Q: Does the Tech Centre contribute to enhancing manufacturing operations?

Klotz: Yes, the Tech Centre does not just contribute to R&D for products, but also in manufacturing operations, more so with Continental’s focus towards Industry 4.0. In fact I would say that technologies are not bound to specific products. Our expertise developed from R&D, collaborations with institutions like IIT etc. are leveraged across, based on need. To give you an example, our AI (Artificial Intelligence) group which start at the corporate level, and also supports business units, has manufacturing also as part of its team. An example is the use of augmented reality, for instance a worker might need support from an expert, say in Germany. Our TCI AI team is working on some topics with our plant right here at Bommasandra as well.

Q: Can you tell us about the contribution of Tech Centre India?

Klotz:  Tech Center is the in-house R&D arm of Continental, and supports multiple markets across the world and our 3 automotive divisions. We also contribute to the local business, example when R&D support is needed for adapting global products for Indian conditions. Many products supplied to the Indian market have contribution from TCI. One example is the ABS and other safety systems. There will be more products for supporting BS VI. Tech Center’s focus however is for entire Continental.

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