Bosch Engineering grows with niche projects

  • 01-Aug-2008 03:17 EDT
Can_Am_Spyder_Technology.jpg
A Bosch Engineering vehicle dynamics software solution was developed for Bombardier Recreational Products’ new three-wheeler, the Can-Am Spyder roadster. Its steel frame in surrou­nding spar technology has a low number of welds and high structural integrity. The frame’s low weight and slender shape help to bring down the center of mass.­

­Engineering services have been a growing business for years, fueled by the increasing complexity of electronic vehicle systems such as engine management, safety system software, and many more. The market dynamics were further pushed by the tendency of vehicle manufacturers to increase the responsibility of their suppliers. It has been and continues to be primarily the stringent emissions legislation that has raised engineering requirements in Europe ever since the early '90s when the first Euro emissions standard took effect in 1993 (Euro 1). During the same period, it has been a growing supplier and OEM challenge to ensure that a new vehicle meets the current standar­d.

While it was quite manageable to justify the growing engineering efforts for large series production vehicle projects, the situation was quickly deteriorating for the makers of niche models since the mid '90s. Says Bernhard Bihr, Managing Director of Bosch Engineering GmbH: “Niche-model OEMs always had a down-to-earth understanding of the resources that could go into adapting series car products for their vehicles. However, with emissions legislation getting tougher and competition getting harder, they realized that they needed more parameters and functions to be customized for their make. Mere homologation was not sufficient any more.”

When Bosch Engineering was founded in 1999 with 13 Bosch employees under the initial name of Asset GmbH, the start-up company focused on Bosch gasoline system applications for vehicle makers such as Ferrari. From day one, Bosch Engineering had full access to all Bosch product data. Soon, the engineering portfolio began to include the full range of drivetrain applications, safety and comfort, E/E integration services, testing services (capabilities include a high-speed 350-km/h [217-mph] dynamometer) and consulting.

Today, the focus “is on anything that moves” says Bihr. Currently, the company is also getting a foot in the door of the aircraft piston engine market via its Austrian division. Among other things, Bosch General Aviation Technology is developing control technology and injection systems to power small aircraft with common rail diesel engines. “However, the initial effort in the aviation field in general is considerable,” says Bihr.

In January 2008, the worldwide number of Bosch Engineering employees passed the 1000 threshold. By July, this figure was 1200 and growing, according to Bihr who adds: “We have just doubled our human resource personnel to be able to hire the required two-digit number of new engineers every month.” While the company’s financial results are only published within the results for the whole Bosch Group (sales 2007: €46.3 billion), the speed of growth suggests that Bosch Engineering is inline with the general requirements of the group, which announced a sales growth of 6% (automotive +4.5%) in 2007 at a profitability of 7 to 8%. Only the motor-racing activities of the engineering company, which is e.g. working for Audi, Porsche, and Peugeot (Le Mans diesel direct injection) and providing technology for the DTM series and to NASCAR, are just about in the black, says Bihr.

Managing the speed of growth is one of the daily challenges, he agrees: “As we have to live up to the expectations linked to the name Bosch, we sometimes find it hard to say no to a project. On the other hand, we have to be careful not to overheat this growth. Getting young new people up to speed and to our corporate standards is a daily challenge.” Though the market for engineers is a difficult one in Germany, the manager sees it far from the Japanese situation “where the availability of qualified engineers impacts development cycles”.

Today the work for small customers and niche models of big OEMs mostly consists of adapting software of series products to the special needs of low-volume models. “Ninety-five percent of our work is software and system configuration.” It is not surprising that the company’s share of software experts is between 40 and 50% of all employees—or associates as the engineering specialist prefers to call them. Says Bihr: “Our only asset is people.” Given the importance of project management and software development, the company has one process quality level for all work in place. “We have CMMI maturity level 3, which is the result of a lot of effort.”

A recent example of the company’s business is a vehicle dynamic control solution for Bombardier Recreational Products’ (BRP’s) new three-wheeled vehicle called the Can-Am Spyder roadster. To make this powerful 79-kW (106-hp) vehicle safe for driving, Bosch Engineering adapted software modules from its ESC library to come up with a new software solution that meets the requirements of a three-wheeler and helps to keep the vehicle from rolling over at high cornering speeds. At an expected 25,000 units per year, the Can-Am Spyder is roughly in the middle of a typical niche model definition “which for us covers everything from a single to 40,000 units per year,” says Bihr.

However, not just small OEMs are among the customers of Bosch Engineering. “Makers of luxury limousines also work with us to get emission­s-relevant solutions for low-volume high-end vehicles.” Audi cars with eight- and 10-cylinder engines provide one example.

In comparison to the growth in Germany, the Bosch Engineering activities in the U.S. are still quite small. The North American company was only founded in June 2007.

Among future challenges Bihr rates CO2 emission hurdles very high: “We are getting to the point where we have to make sure whether future legislation goals are technically feasible.” Asked about a paradigm shift from internal combustion to electric driving that may already have begun, Bihr is confident that any such change process will take decades. The need for hybrid vehicle technology and electric driving for passenger car and light commercial vehicle applications, however, translates into growth opportunities for Bihr. “In the U.S., for instance, heavy trucks would clearly benefit from electric boosting on steep slopes.”

­In his view, the diesel engine is also in for further growth as there is no other engine that can equally contribute to meet CO2 fleet emission targets. “Therefore, I am also convinced that the diesel will make it in the U.S. If there is such a thing as a perfect fit for the compression ignition engine, it is to the U.S. market. The diesel offers the beefy torque of large-capacity gas guzzlers for satisfying acceleration plus the economic cruising at low engine speeds."

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