German chemical major Henkel is eyeing smart gains with its strategic alliance with RLE International. The company says it can help OEMs shed vehicle weight, by a substantial 30kg in most cases while also increasing product strength and bringing down product development time. Barun Bharadwaj, Regional Head Of Automotive Oems — India, Middle East & Africa, Henkel India elaborates on the lightweighting initiatives and their impact on the overall industry dynamics.
What is your view on electric vehicle OEMs like Tesla, Fisker, Faraday Future and Nikola? Are you also working with start-ups?
This is a proud factor for us. You mentioned a couple of names, especially the start-ups coming out of California and there are also a few from China now. Our penetration rates with these start-ups are very high. As regards the approach between the start-ups and conventional auto leaders, the Volkswagen challenge has it that by 2030, they are building infrastructure so that they can continue to maintain the leadership they have in the auto industry. This correlates exactly with the programs that we are working on together with Volkswagen. Volkswagen is fully focused on EVs and will be a great challenger for many start-ups.
Of course, the start-ups are fortunate to have had good investors and will continue to keep their niche. Can a Tesla become a Volkswagen? Clearly, the answer is no, or my hypothesis is that they would never become Volkswagen.But can Tesla grow to be an Apple in the automotive industry? I think they will so there is going to be a niche in the market. The mass-market EV will be continue to see strong dominance by legacy players.
They (legacy players) are building infrastructure silently and have different problems to solve. When they start producing, their concerns are how to produce in several hundred thousand units and at a certain lower cost standpoint because until that inflection point they are not ready to get up to the market where they are selling IC-engine vehicles.
At present, the impact of EV sales is not significant. What EV OEMs require from now till the time they can hit big volumes is that they need to accelerate technology and infrastructure development to hit the cost point that they want to achieve.
Can you let us know about some interesting developments happening at Henkel?
There is one more interesting thing happening at Henkel, as we are going towards enhancing the crash resistance for vehicles and making noise levels more comfortable for passengers to sit through. As EV penetration becomes more significant in the market, there would be more silence; the only noise would be the other motorists honking. It would be a noiseless kind of a cabin so the one exciting thing we are doing is to utilise AI significantly.
How AI is working for us is that all the solutions today we are offering through the Henkel-RLE alliance is that we are putting all those data points that comes through a data server. We map the structural data points to the material that we have built and therefore that correlates and creates references.
The next time we come up with a problem from an OEM, all that we do is put the design in and the AI will tell us what is the type of chemistry that we need to build through to be able to provide the strength needed for that type of BIW. We have tied up with Uncountable, a Silicon Valley-based AI start-up. What it would do that is our speed to market would be significantly enhanced. Our ability to produce the right formulas the first time itself will significantly reduce the overall development timeframe and also the precision of the solution that is going to come out is also going to be much enhanced.
At present, our development cycle for a new material takes anywhere between 12-18 months; now with AI, we can crunch all that to a maximum three-four months. That’s the new timeline we are talking about. The material card that will come out of AI is going to significantly crunch the time that we will be able to produce new technologies and new products and also eliminate the stage of prototyping, because as these cards go through the finite element analysis that gives feedback that this is insufficient and that goes back and the Artificial Intelligence synthesises that further to provide the most optimal material card and therefore the accuracy level that we are looking at is 99 percent.
This interview was first published in the October 1, 2020 issue of Autocar Professional.