'Our focus is to develop new technologies and bring them to the mass market, provide very flexible customer service and expand our global footprint.'
Todd C Morgan, Varroc Lighting Systems' senior VP (Global Product Development) on the company’s India operations and the future of lighting. An e-mail interview by Amit Panday.
Varroc Lighting Systems' senior VP (Global Product Development) on the company’s India operations and the future of lighting. An e-mail interview by Amit Panday.
What are the new lighting solutions that Varroc has developed in the past year?
Varroc Lighting Systems is working on a variety of innovations for our customers. Adaptive Driving Beam (ADB), which is sometimes referred to as Matrix Headlamps, will allow the driver to permanently use his headlamps on high beam while not blinding the oncoming drivers. This will result in a significant improvement in visibility and safety. This system uses on-board cameras and sensors, and sophisticated electronics and software algorithms to adjust the beam pattern depending on road, traffic and other driving conditions.
We are also developing new headlamps that utilise lasers for more improved visibility with a compact package space inside the lamp. For signal lighting applications, LED innovations continue to evolve to allow customers to achieve creative front and rear signatures on their vehicles.
The next step will be implementation of Organic LEDs (OLEDs) which will allow very homogenous lit appearance with ultra-thin profiles. Their first applications will be on tail-lamps. OLEDs are ultra-sensitive to temperatures, an area we are working on currently.
In addition to these developments, one of the key elements of Varroc’s technology roadmap is to bring innovative technologies to the broader market by optimising costs without sacrificing performance. We have made tremendous progress in bringing LED headlamp technology below the price of Xenon applications. This allows LED headlamps to be used not only for luxury vehicles, but also for more mainstream vehicles that wish to sport a creative style along with excellent performance and visibility.
In India, we are currently working on 13 programmes and have launched six of them in the past eight months. Seven more programmes are in the pipeline to be launched till January 2016.
In your India operations, what are the possible synergies between two- and four-wheeler lighting?
We do have some synergies between the two- and four-wheel lighting markets. These synergies are primarily focussed around LED optical systems and the associated electronics. As the four-wheeler market continues to aggressively drive down the cost of LED technology, it will become more accessible to the cost-conscious two-wheeler market.
Varroc will be able to apply these lessons directly to quickly stay ahead of market trends. Also, the innovative LED light guides require proprietary software to ensure design meets customer expectations, both lit and unlit. These software tools can be leveraged for both two- and four-wheelers. Finally, there is a trend for carmakers to design their vehicles with multiple smaller-sized lamps as opposed to traditional large combination lamps.
Varroc’s experience in manufacturing small lamps for two-wheelers will be directly applied on these small auxiliary lamps on four-wheelers to provide the most cost-effective manufacturing process.
What new features are OEs demanding in their lighting solutions?
Among the most significant demand from OEMs in lighting is probably the development of daytime and night-time signatures. Whether or not it is an entry-level vehicle or a luxury car in the premium segment, designers strive to have their brand easily recognised, and lighting is one of the major elements used for brand recognition. Technologies that are used to do this can vary from simple bulb solutions with some creative optics to the more advanced innovations with LEDs and complex light guides.
The other new features are Advanced Front Lighting Systems (AFS) that are becoming increasingly more common with a range of functions available. AFS systems change the beam pattern for the driver as he turns a vehicle around corners, increases speed, and the newest systems even use cameras to detect on-coming traffic to provide unprecedented visibility without blinding other drivers. These systems can be designed with conventional light sources, or even with LEDs.
LED headlamps are designed for the life of the vehicle and not only provide low energy consumption but also the colour of the light is very white and gives the driver a very comfortable feeling when driving.
What are the highlights of daytime running lamps?
The purpose of lighting on a vehicle is ‘to see and to be seen’. Daytime running lamps (DRL) fall into the latter category, in that the intention of DRLs is to make the vehicle more visible during the day by other drivers and pedestrians.
This is a regulatory requirement in Europe and an optional safety item in most of the rest of the world. Although they are indeed a highly regulated safety feature, OEMs have embraced this function to define the daytime signature of their vehicles, and in many cases, define their brand. Audi was a pioneer in this and was hugely successful; other OEMs quickly followed suit.
The DRL can be a simple lit lamp with a bulb; however, given that the majority of driving is done during the day, LEDs became the obvious choice because of their longevity. The cost of an LED DRL can vary, and is dependent on design and shape of the DRL. Highly efficient optical systems are less costly but tend to be less homogenous. However, in all cases the LEDs used for the DRL application are high-power LEDs in comparison to the ones used for rear lighting applications.
VLS’s strategy is again to bring these kinds of innovations to the broader market by providing the most cost-effective way to design and manufacture this function. Standardisation of the cost drivers including electronic components, and still providing designers with flexibility to create their visions are key aspects of the development process.
How do you see the auto lighting solutions evolving over the past decade?
The most significant evolution that occurred over the past decade has been the rapid proliferation of electronic content. With the implementation of LEDs to support design and style demands, in combination with all the added functionality available, and allowed by the regulations, electronics can comprise the major portion of the cost of a lamp.
LEDs require driver modules, outage detection and power adjustments due to temperature conditions. AFS and ADB systems require complex control modules and software algorithms to interpret data on the vehicle network from cameras and other sensors, and then send signals to the lamps to perform the functions required. This added complexity has resulted in a drive towards modularisation to keep costs under control.
The industry can’t continue to custom design complex systems for every vehicle, so the balance comes with how to design, validate and produce cost effective modules but give designers flexibility. So lighting suppliers now get involved much earlier in the design process, a trend we see continuing well into the future.
Can you give us examples of some of your headlamp and tail-light projects over the past two years?
Among the headlamps, VLS has developed laser diode headlights for the Land Rover Discovery Vision concept, bi-xenon AFS with distinctive LED DRLs for the Jaguar XF, bi-xenon AFS with application of massive LED light blades for the Range Rover Evoque, bi-xenon AFS with LED light pipes for DRLs for the Land Rover Freelander, LED headlamp with xenon low beam for the Bentley Flying Spur, full LED headlamp for VW’s upcoming environment-friendly vehicle (XL1), bi-xenon AFS with signature LED DRLs and turn for the Tesla Model S and many others.
Among the tail-lamps, VLS has developed the LED rear lamp with infinity mirror effect for the Citroën DS3, full LED rear lamp with thick light blades for the Jaguar XF, rear lamp with patented solution of tail-light pipe for the Ford Focus, futuristic rear lamp with LED tail-light function for the Peugeot 208, shared LED stop / tail system for the Tesla Model S, stepped LED clinch frame design rear lamp for the Cadillac CTS Coupé and many others.
What are the most important steps VLS has to take to become one of the top three automotive lighting players globally by 2020?
We need to primarily focus on three broad areas for this. Develop new technologies and bring them to the mass market, provide a very flexible customer service and expand our footprint around the globe.
Besides Osram, VLS has also developed laser headlamp technology and delivered it to JLR for its Land Rover Discovery Vision concept. How long does it take to design and develop a new technology in this space?
Yes we have and Osram is currently leading on that front. We were just six months on that project when JLR demonstrated its Land Rover Discovery vision concept earlier this year. They are very prompt when it comes to latest technology applications.
Ideally, a new technology has a two-year development cycle which includes various stages such as presenting the business case, coordination with the OEM, validating the technology and others.
How different was it working with EV maker Tesla?
Tesla is a very interesting customer and is a very California-kind of a company. With that I mean that they are extremely sharp on the technologies and have an approach of implementing them at the ground level as quickly as possible.
We had to adapt according to their timelines. Also, there is no red-tape as one usually finds in the case of conventional OEMs. They are very flexible and inquisitive; Tesla officials would ask a lot of questions on new technologies. We worked very cooperatively with them in our studios while developing the head- and tail-lamps for them.
Can you provide a split of key global markets for VLS? What is your R&D headcount worldwide and how many are in Czech-based centres?
The European market does 61 percent for us. North America, China (via the JV) and India stand at 19, 17 and 3 percent of overall business for us.
R&D-wise, we have roughly 450 officials worldwide, of which 330 engineers working in the Czech Republic.
What about the Japanese market? And what is the company doing to increase its market share in India?
Japan is a tough market to crack. While Japanese lighting manufacturers are very aggressive, we do not have any manufacturing footprint there. The Japanese and Korean companies are also expanding their footprints aggressively.
While the share of business from India will definitely grow, we are working on cost competitiveness as one major area. Bringing the superior technologies for mass market use holds the key for us. To bring the costs down, we have started localisation of projector lamp technology in India; we have developed LED headlamps at the price of xenon headlamps.
A lot of work is going around the LED domain as a parent technology, which in itself includes hundreds of topics and hence the amount of simulation work associated with it is massive.
After raising USD 15 million from the Al Futtaim Group, River India plans to ramp up its manufacturing facilities and di...
The importance of India as a strong export base for auto parts suppliers is increasing, says Anil Kumar M R, President a...
In an exclusive interview, Radha Krishnan, President and Founder, Detroit Engineered Products (DEP) talks about how the ...