With InCar® plus, thyssenkrupp has continued to build upon its comprehensive development project in the area of automotive manufacturing, and in doing so, the company has combined expertise from three different business areas.
Axel Grüneklee is the overall coordinator for all individual projects and employees.
How were the thyssenkrupp InCar® plus projects selected?
Dr. Axel Grüneklee: Back in 2010, the group already had a three-person team – in which I was also involved – tasked with gathering car-related ideas. We evaluated over 100 suggestions based on their potential benefit to customers, the level of innovation required, the chances for economic success, and the compatibility of the idea with our group strategy. Eight companies at 15 different locations are currently working on the selected projects, which include over 40 individual solutions.
How did you manage all of these projects?
After the organization was established, I met with the managers of all the subprojects and individual projects – body, chassis and steering, and powertrain – every three months. They presented the results of their work, and we discussed and developed new approaches and synergies. We always met at different operation sites so that we could see how our colleagues work and to facilitate knowledge sharing.
So InCar® plus also serves as a means to transfer technology?
Definitely. For example, we developed a significantly lighter steering column made from carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP). Carbon Components in Kesselsdorf near Dresden were responsible for the material, thyssenkrupp Presta in Eschen, Lichtenstein developed the component, and System Engineering in Heilbronn worked on mass production readiness.
Were there ideas that didn’t make the cut?
Absolutely. Our managers made it clear that we should regularly check to make sure that the project was moving in the right direction. They insisted that we should not view it as a personal failure if we decided to stop working on a particular development once we had determined that the idea was no longer viable, or if we were not properly addressing the requests of our customers. Being able to make these types of decisions shows good project management skills.
To what extent were you able to use your experiences from the previous InCar® project?
The fact that I was entrusted with the leadership of the entire project certainly had something to do with my experience with the previous project. I know what it takes to work on company-wide collaborative projects and I maintain close ties with colleagues at different locations. Interpersonal relations are very important in this line of work.
These developments are designed to make cars more efficient. What does that mean?
We can construct lighter-weight vehicles and thereby reduce fuel consumption. We can also manufacture cars that cost less by producing more cost-effectively, for example by eliminating production processes. In addition, by employing new technologies, we can make cars that are more efficient: Over a distance of 100 kilometers, an electrical steering system requires up to half a liter less fuel than a hydraulic steering system. Using lightweight construction, we can manufacture vehicles that are up to 150 kilograms lighter.
What role does sustainability play here?
In the InCar® plus project, we look at the entire balance of energy use: How much energy does it take to produce lightweight materials, and can the car make up for that expenditure by consuming less fuel? Where can we save on materials by recycling? In many areas, steel is a very ecologically responsible material. It fulfills both economic and ecological requirements, and on top of that, steel is an attractive option. All of this makes it a superior choice of material.
The roadshows will put this project through its paces. How long will it take to implement these innovations?
We will market the project heavily for around two years, first in Europe, then in Asia and the Americas. How long it takes to implement individual innovations in cars is dependent upon the complexity of each idea. We have technologies that are ready for mass production today and could be integrated into vehicles almost immediately. On the other hand, we have ideas on the horizon that could take up to ten years to realize.