Rather than limit itself to three-year product planning cycles, Freudenberg is also looking 35 years into the future to further drive its R&D work.
Freudenberg’s Odyssey 2.0 initiative, a project that began in 2015, went far beyond the typical planning period. For the 30 Freudenberg product, technology and marketing specialists involved with the project, the underlying goal was to envision the world in 2050.
“With this very long-term look into the future, we are looking to predict how mega-trends and other factors will affect Freudenberg’s business. That is enabling us to invest in technology that can fill the gaps,” said Bob Evans, Freudenberg’s president for North America, in an interview with Automotive Engineering during SAE WCX17.
Each of the company’s 11 different business groups has their own R&D group. But long-term R&D work is primarily handled by corporate R&D.
“Our central R&D organization has been rebuilt/retooled and is now known as Freudenberg Technology Innovation (FTI),” explained Evans. “FTI’s higher-level, longer term focus looks at fundamental R&D opportunities that are applicable across—hopefully—more than one business group.”
The revamped central R&D is using the findings from the Odyssey 2.0 project to provide a framework for technology and product development work.
“With this central R&D reorganization, we increased our investment. And we have more engineers working in the organization,” said Evans, noting that from 2015 to 2016, the number of employees dedicated to R&D activities went from 2700 employees to more than 3100 specialists.
Dr. Fernando Portela Cubillo, Technical Director for FTI, said the reorganized central R&D group is focused on long-term technology research. “Although we have to identify technology that will be needed in the near future, the one- to three-year timeframe is really the responsibility of the R&D centers for our business groups," he explained. "FTI is focused on being ready with technology that’s needed five to 10 years from now.”
R&D work for e-mobility, as one example, is occurring both regionally within a specific business group as well as within the FTI organization.
Evans said some of the short-term needs for e-mobility are clearly evident.
The non-woven business, Freudenberg Performance Material, has developed separators for Li-ion batteries, while Freudenberg Sealing Technologies is producing sealing products for Li-ion batteries. “We are continuing to look at what we can do within our technology base to support e-mobility now and in the future,” Evan said.
Although no company can claim perfect 20/20 future vision, Evans said the privately-owned Freudenberg has a lengthy track record of success.
“There are 300-plus Freudenberg family members who are descendants of the founder of this 168-year-old company,” said Evans, adding, “This company has an evolutionary culture in terms of its development activities.”