Nearly a decade ago, I presented a speech at SAE Brasil’s Diesel Forum titled "Diesel Engines Sealing–Helping Improve Emissions and Fuel Economy." The speech was prompted, of course, by the industry’s emphasis on better fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions.
At the time, government regulations were pushing manufacturers to start developing powertrain strategies for more efficient and eco-friendly engines that would require improved sealing and exhaust aftertreatment systems—technologies that are tested and proven today but were new to industry then. Presenters at the conference discussed such topics as Tier 4 emissions standards, exhaust aftertreatment systems, and new oil and fuel trends—all of which are realities today.
What was not addressed at this conference, however, was the impact these changes would have on the supplier-to-OEM relationship over the next decade. It has become clear since then that increasing thermal and mechanical loads have translated into a need for improved sealing systems, and increasing operational risks have forced OEMs to adopt strategies such as warranty management and partnerships with suppliers that can provide enhanced technology solutions and diversification across the value chain. Overall, Freudenberg-NOK expects these trends to continue over the next decade.
Globalization continues to be a key success factor to growth. It is no surprise that off-highway machinery manufacturers are focusing on emerging markets and especially the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. China is expected to remain the dominant market and focus of these efforts. Managing the challenges associated with domestication of technology in these rapidly developing countries requires adaptation and flexibility as industries evolve. The idea of local content for local consumption becomes very complex for global companies when issues beyond the establishment of a manufacturing facility—a trained workforce, manufacturing support, regional infrastructure, protection of intellectual property, and government regulations, among others—are taken into account.
The intense international focus of industry has pushed our company’s research and development activities to become increasingly local, and they are being increasingly conducted in the regions where our customers are doing business. The ability of a company to be innovative in all aspects of the design cycle—from material research and product engineering to final manufacturing and build—is a key element to the overall success of suppliers and OEMs alike. Manufacturers of mobile equipment expect sealing solutions that address multiple challenges like unpredictable working environments, changes in lubricant mixtures and alternate fuels, and extreme operating life.
Market changes and regulations are, of course, the drivers of innovation. Innovation plays a prominent role in the corporate culture and long-term business strategy embraced by Freudenberg-NOK. Our company’s business groups research, engineer, and manufacture customer-driven technology and product solutions for 32 different market segments—a diversity of applications and industries that has allowed Freudenberg to leverage and intensify its global capabilities, experience, and strengths.
Freudenberg-NOK has worked with industry-leading customers who require all of the above. Based on warranty analysis and market awareness, we have developed innovative material, design, and manufacturing solutions for our customers that can be shifted for use in new global regions as markets and demands evolve.
For example, the CASCO seal, a European-developed extreme long-life crankshaft seal, is based upon an Asian design that was updated to improve its manufacturing ease through use of updated materials and new process technologies. The market driver behind the CASCO seal was a global need for the "million mile seal," and the product can now be produced locally for local consumption on four continents.
Another technology breakthrough that will help customers address mobile equipment challenges is AU30000, a new hydraulic seal material developed to meet customers’ global demands for higher temperature capabilities, better chemical and water resistance, and overall performance improvement in any environment. Development of AU30000 was driven by customer requests for a standard sealing product that can handle wide global applications; prior to its development, customers were required to rely upon unique materials to address sealing challenges in different conditions or geographic locations.
Our Curve Gasket is a new family of optimized gasket sections that are thinner and can be used with thermoplastic covers in applications that require broader temperature ranges. The Rotomatic 2C is a co-molded two component sealing solution developed to replace existing elastomer-energized PTFE seals in rotary actuator (swivels) applications that require longer life and easier assembly. Freudenberg-NOK’s low temperature fluoroelastomer materials were developed to help customers address the challenges of fuel resistance and high temperature capabilities as well as low temperature capabilities for use with alternative fuel sources such as compressed natural gas. And the list goes on and on.
In the end, as OEMs compete for global market share, total cost of ownership is becoming essential. Demands on equipment continue to rise to a 24/7 duty cycle and the cost to the end user is being weighed against the down time caused by field failure. Equipment is only as good as the weakest component in the system. Working with competent, innovative, technology-driven suppliers is essential to solving these problems. New solutions can take time to develop, and project deadlines are often driven by the requirements of end users who forge closer working relationships with OEMs than with Tier One operations. OEMs must be confident that their suppliers can solve challenges in ways that allow them address their own technology and customer satisfaction objectives.
Of course, we cannot predict the future, but in our minds the supplier-OEM relationship will become even more crucial over the next decade. The ability of a supplier to address global needs, solve current and future technology challenges, and improve product value for the OEM’s end-use customer is instrumental to the success of both. While cost will remain important, the ever increasing, 24/7 world we live in is driving total value (function divided by cost) as the new differentiator. Because our company has a long history of innovation, is uniquely vertically integrated, and has a complete global footprint through its Freudenberg and NOK relationships, we are well positioned to help customers grow into the next decade and beyond, and we look forward to the future.
Joel Johnson, Senior Segment Director, Mobile Machinery Sector, Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies, wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.