Varroc looks to optimise costs for LED technology

by Amit Panday , 13 Jun 2016


Varroc demo prototype for full matrix technology. It is also equipped with laser headlamps.

The Rs 8,500 crore Tier I supplier of automotive lighting solutions Varroc Group, which is headquartered in Aurangabad, aims to further drive penetration of LED lighting technologies in the global vehicle population.

The company plans to do this by reducing production costs and utilising the design and energy consumption benefits of LED technology as against the conventionally used halogen and xenon (lamp) technologies across the automotive spectrum.

According to Todd Morgan, senior vice-president, global product development, Varroc Lighting Systems (VLS), halogen sources will remain a dominating technology for headlamps not only in India but also globally.

The prominent lighting technologies that are currently deployed in the automotive industry worldwide include halogen, xenon, LED and laser with several sub-types belonging to each of these heads. These lighting technologies come packed into the several optical systems (reflector optics, projector systems) for both headlamps and tail- lamps, depending upon the individual luminosity and design requirements of vehicles.

Morgan, who thinks that halogen lamp technology is far from being history, disclosed that his team is working on implementing new halogen sources that could allow for reducing the size of headlamps without compromising on their performance.

On the other hand, comparing the LED solutions with their xenon counterparts, Morgan explains: “LED will be rapidly replacing xenon due to the fact that we can now produce LED below the cost of xenon, and we get the added styling, weight and energy savings as well. Varroc’s strategy is to continue to grow the LED implementation by continuing to drive out the costs, and bring this technology to the mainstream. Due to recent regulatory changes, we see LED also starting to appear in India, and this will be really exciting time as we work with our customers with this technology.”

Optimising production costs

While halogen lamps continue to be the most cost effective technology, and as experts say, it will continue to be so in the foreseeable future, the demand for xenon lamps might fade away, as a result of the dramatic drop in the development costs of the LED technologies.

“The costs of LEDs are dropping dramatically, and with the recent regulatory changes regarding the requirement for automatic levelling, it makes it even more economical. OEMs are accelerating their interest in LEDs, and this is driven primarily by the design flexibility that the technology offers. LEDs allow OEMs to scale the performance from systems that are better than what we can achieve with halogen, to systems that exceed that of xenon today. We can also use reflector systems that are the most cost effective solution and still offer a unique appearance,” elaborates Morgan.

Passenger car companies are leading the pack in terms of deploying innovative lighting technologies as compared to two-wheeler OEMs. “However, that gap is rapidly narrowing, and you will see more LED headlamps appearing on two-wheelers in the very near future. Weight and package space are at a premium, and that makes LED a great choice in this market,” he adds.

range-rover-evoque-led-head-lamp

Senior officials at VLS have always propagated their company’s core focus of optimising costs and performance of new innovative technologies as a well-defined business strategy. The company is working on serial development of full-LED headlamps for B- and C- segment vehicles globally.

Throwing light on how VLS is managing to bring down the development costs of LED solutions, Morgan elucidates: “Although design and styling factors are primary drivers in the OEMs’ decisions, delivering on the cost targets is one area we achieve using our OPTI-LED optical systems. We are also excited about OPTI-MATRIX, which is a lower cost alternative to matrix technology to deliver adaptive driving beam (ADB) for the mainstream market. We have readied a fully functional demo vehicle and we are in active discussions with a few customers on this technology.”

Within its signal lighting product line, the team at VLS has developed new optical systems using micro-optics giving the lamps a very homogeneous appearance. According to Morgan, while these lamps are highly efficient, they also allow the usage of lower power LEDs, which are not only less expensive, but use less demanding driving electronics as well.

First to market

VLS is the first lighting supplier to deliver advanced front lighting systems (AFS) using a halogen source to Ford Motor Company for the Focus. The company, according to Morgan, was also the first to supply 25W xenon lamps, also to the same OEM.

todd-morgan

“25W xenon allows the OEM to equip its vehicles with this xenon technology without the need for expensive washing and automatic levelling systems,” Morgan adds.

High-end laser technology

The senior official also points out that laser beam solutions are likely to remain as a niche application. “We have a few programmes currently under development using laser technology as high beam contributor. However, this is limited to the premium vehicle segments. It will be a few years before we are able to realise the full benefits of this technology. This is by far the most expensive technology in terms of development costs.”

Besides running such high-end programmes, VLS is spending significant amounts on development on matrix technologies, which allow the driver to drive with high beams on continuously without glaring the incoming traffic.

“This concept is known as adaptive driving beam (ADB), and is rapidly gaining popularity with multiple OEMs due to the significant improvement in visibility and comfort while driving at night. Organic LEDs (OLEDs), on the other hand, are interesting solutions for signal lighting as they allow for very creative styling possibilities. However, this technology is relatively expensive as compared to the traditional LED approach. So we also look at some new micro-optic structures that will allow for very homogeneous appearances without sacrificing the optical efficiency. This will result in lower costs and power consumption as well,” says Morgan, summarising the direction of forward-looking developments.

For OEMs in India, VLS is working on LED headlamps with its OPTI-LED system to optimise costs, performance and styling.

INTERVIEW with Ravi Damodaran, president, Tech & Strategy

How big is the two-wheeler lighting unit within the Varroc Group?

Two-wheeler lighting has six manufacturing facilities in India, Italy, Romania, Vietnam and Mexico supported by two engineering centres, one in India and the other in Italy. Overall revenues for this business is around Rs 350 crore.

After acquiring Triom for two-wheeler-specific lighting technologies, has there been technology transfer within the units and implementation in the programmes developed in India?

Technology transfer is not the right terminology here. The two technical centres cater to different markets and customers and are both self- sufficient to meet the respective customer requirements. Hence, there has been no specific need to transfer technologies across these markets yet.

Engineering resources are used seamlessly across on a project basis. As an example, we are developing LED headlamps for the Indian market using resources from our engineering centre with support from our global centres.

Is the company still open to unorganic growth under this head?

Our company strategy has been flexible enough to be open to inorganic opportunities in our identified adjacents. However, we continue to be choosy on the options since we have very clearly defined criteria for growth in various customer, market and product segments.

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How do you see the two- wheeler lighting business by 2020?

Two-wheeler lighting will grow at over double-digit growth rates annually due to the extensive content addition driven by both market demands for styling and safety. We expect safety regulations to also tighten in this time-frame and hence are bullish on growth in this product line as we have the required technological prowess to lead the market.

How many programmes are under development within the two-wheeler lighting business currently? What technologies are at the centre of these developments — LEDs, halogens, projector lamps or others?

We have over a dozen key programmes in progress today in the two-wheeler lighting segment. Most of the requirements on headlamps continue to be halogen reflectors with a couple of them focussing on LED technologies. Rear lamps, on the other hand, have a higher content of LED in addition to bulbs.

What are your priorities on the two-wheeler lighting front for the next two years?

For the next couple of years, we are focussing on introducing LED headlamps into the two- wheeler market and expanding our electronics capabilities to support these technologies. There are continued efforts on operational efficiencies driven by standardisation and automation in our Indian plants.