Hella India working on siren horns for Germany
Working jointly with the Fraunhofer Institute, Hella India Automotive is developing special trumpet horns which could find their way into cars. Shobha Mathur tunes in.
A novel experiment to be undertaken by the German government will see siren-emitting microprocessor-controlled trumpet horns that can warn people of an impending natural calamity. It is believed that the German authorities are mulling a public warning system across the country deploying these horns. The siren horns will have a radio frequency-based receiver; once the authorised signal is distributed, every car horn will receive it and the microprocessor will start sounding the siren with all cars blowing their horns at the same frequency simultaneously. Facilitating this new product development is Hella India Automotive Ltd (HIAL) which has developed this next- generation trumpet horn with multi tones wherein the microprocessor is programmed for different sound emissions. In the long term, Hella is targeting the entire German car market with this new trumpet horn, once the German government gives the green signal for the product, confirms Naveen Gautam, MD of HIAL.
Hella has developed this horn in association with the Fraunhofer Institute of Germany. Earlier, the institute had demonstrated the feasibility of providing a public alert effect by widely audible broadcast signals, similar to the characteristic siren sound, but produced by the horns in parked cars. Clubbed the Chorus Project, the entire initiative was born under the aegis of the Indo-German Research Cooperation Programme in 2011.
Fraunhofer is currently studying the sounds emitted by the horns provided by Hella; these will be subsequently shown to the German government for facilitating their use by German OEMs. Once these horns are okayed for use in Germany, they could see market potential in other parts of Europe.
Made in India, for the world
The trumpet horns have been developed at Hella’s Centre of Excellence for horns and switches at Dhankot, near Gurgaon. Once the use of siren horns becomes mandatory in Germany, every car manufacturer will perforce have to fit them in its vehicles, a move which will offer a large business opportunity for Hella. In an interaction with Autocar Professional, Dr Guido Huppertz of Fraunhofer says, “There is no decision yet to implement this public alert system in Germany. Technically, such a concept can be realised. However, there are still questions to be answered concerning the complete system, which involves civil protection authorities and radio infrastructure.”
Sound of music
Meanwhile, Hella India has for the first time developed an electronic horn with infinite life that can be harnessed in both disc and trumpet horns. These horns will start rolling out from the Dhankot plant starting end-June and will be sold both in the local and overseas markets. At present, the component maker produces electro-mechanical horns which have a shorter lifespan than electronic ones.
The Dhankot facility currently produces 7.5 million horns per annum; this capacity can be expanded by another 3-4 million units once the first export order is received for the microprocessor-controlled trumpet horns from Germany, says Gautam. HIAL recently expanded its horn-making capacity by 2 million to augment total capacity to 10 million units. About 70 percent of these are for disc horns. Exports, mainly to South Africa, Turkey, Europe, Korea, China and Singapore, account for 50 percent of this. The company is now exploring new markets in South East Asia as well as North and South America. The long-term target is to produce 30 million horns to meet global requirements but that is sometime away.
The Dhankot plant currently has a workforce of 809 with over 15 people involved in the design and development of horns at the CoE, catering both to local and global markets.
Additionally, this plant manufactures electronic products like the accelerator pedal sensor, headlamp levelling actuators, central locking actuators, air temperature sensors and switches. Future plans are to start producing a gamut of new products encompassing body control modules, fuel control modules and remote keyless entry. The unit recently began manufacturing vacuum pump assemblies for the new Mahindra e2o EV.
The Gurgaon centre will also undertake application development for vacuum pumps, mechanical design, validation and analysis of remote keyless entry and development, analysis and validation of body actuators in the coming years. Currently, development of the headlamp levelling actuators and climate sensors besides testing and validation is undertaken at this plant.
While the Dhankot unit functions as a full-fledged electronics production unit, HIAL’s Electronics Development Centre at Pune services the design requirements for the global and domestic markets.
Today, the component maker’s product portfolio comprises both electro-mechanical and electronic horns. Electric horns range from the disc variety to the trumpet type; overall, horns are in the 12-80 volt category and are targeted at cars, trucks and off-road vehicles in the local market. In India, the louder-sounding disc horns are more popular as an OE fitment due to the prevailing road and climatic conditions. The company says it holds a 48 percent share in horns in India in the four-wheeler segment.
Only Skoda and Volkswagen in India are believed to be harnessing trumpet horns in their cars while all other OEMs in the country prefer to equip their cars with disc horns. Globally though the scenario is different with trumpet horns more popular especially in Brazil, Europe and America due to their soothing tone. Moreover, drivers in these countries do not use their horns as much as their counterparts do in India where they say, the louder the horn the better it is, despite the fact that it adds to the ever-increasing levels of noise pollution. In India, the disc horn scores over the trumpet horn in terms of longer life (almost 50 percent more) despite having a shriller and sharper sound. The Dhankot plant manufactures both. Air horns are banned by regulations in India. The earlier variety of trumpet horns used a technology with a hole in the diaphragm that became clogged with dust, says Avinash Gupta, Head Business Division (Horns). Hence, customers stopped ordering them. But with new technologies coming in, the trumpet horn has evolved and become suitable for cars in the aftermarket. Hella will be the first to launch them for two-wheelers in the replacement segment later this month.
Horn of plenty
As regards supplies to new cars in India, HIAL’s disc horns go on the all-new Honda Amaze midsizer. It has also been confirmed for supplies to some upcoming models of Maruti, Honda and Hyundai including the new-generation Hyundai i10 model (codenamed BA).
While Hella supplies both trumpet and disc horns for the aftermarket, disc horns rule the roost as OE fitments with the company producing seven variants of the disc horn and four of the trumpet variety.
In terms of customer choices, while Maruti Suzuki India prefers more of manually assembled horns that are easily repairable, Honda Cars India opts for fully automated ones and Hyundai Motor India for semi-automatically assembled horns. Exports target the aftermarket as well as special OEs like construction equipment.
New product pipeline
In terms of its electronics product portfolio, Hella has bagged an order for body controllers from an Indian OEM and is revving up for the production of a remote keyless entry product. These will be launched by the year end. It is also developing a fuel control module for the local market. Typically, once the ignition is on, the module starts pumping so that about 10 ampere of the current is continuously consumed irrespective of the speed of the car. Hella’s new fuel control module recognises and pumps only as much fuel as required, eliminating the need to continuously consume fuel. Gautam says, “With our Fuel Control Module, the fuel pump current consumption is reduced up to 1/3 in normal city traffic condition.” There are also savings on the material side. General Motors has published a study which says that after using Hella’s fuel control module, it has managed to save 2 percent of its fuel consumption in the US. GM India has currently extended the use of the module to its imported models. Hella is also now talking to Tata Motors, Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra & Mahindra for the use of this module.
Lighting up the aftermarket
Meanwhile, the company’s R&D division for lighting at Chennai, which has been developing ambient lighting solutions for global markets, is now girding up to introduce them first for the Indian aftermarket.
So far ambient lighting has been limited to the C- and D-segment cars. Hella aims to offer this new product for the A- and B-segments by optimising costs. For the A-segment, the lighting solution can come with limited functional features that can be scaled up for the D-segment. The cost is expected to be around 20-25 percent of that for existing cars in Europe through scaling down of solutions. Hella is waiting for demand to pick up in the aftermarket before rolling it out as an OE fitment.
The company is also developing headlamps, fog lamps, and tail-lamps for Volkswagen cars globally. Discussions are underway to extend them in India as well. New features will also be added in Hella’s rain, light and humidity sensors portfolio that is currently imported including a solar sensor feature that senses the intensity and orientation of the sun and its direction and accordingly redistributes the circulation of air inside a car.
The heads-up display sensor that enables projection on the windshield through a small projector is another product in the pipeline. Hence the need to look into the console for directions or brightness intensity on the road is dispensed with as the directions are directly projected on the windshield. The feature enabler for the navigation system on windshield will be brought from Germany and Hella is awaiting OEM orders before introducing it in the local market. Once the first order comes in, software will be developed, calibrated and customised in India.
An oil sensor that enables sensing of oil levels with the option of adding the deficit without going in for a full oil change is yet another planned-for-India product. Hella visualises a business opportunity for it in the commercial vehicle segment for measuring oil pressure. The air quality sensor would be another area for evaluating the air quality and shutting down air circulation.
Hella has already expanded capacity for production of its electronic products at Gurgaon and supplies of body control modules plus remote keyless entry as an integrated package are expected to start by the year end to Tata Motors. After the expansion of its product line, the partsmaker is targeting a 20 percent growth YoY over its existing turnover of Rs 200 crore. About 30 percent of this constitutes exports from horns, temperature sensors and headlamp levelling actuators.
Clearly, Hella is on the growth trajectory and as it expands its products basket in India, its list of products is also set to grow.
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