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What It Takes to Be A Competitive Supplier: Lessons from Bosch

Although it might seem that some automotive suppliers—like Bosch—are so wired into the automotive in...

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Robert Bosch Corp.

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Fuel Injector System

Testing a common-rail type fuel injector system at Bosch's plant in Bamburg, Germany.

Rig

This rig, in Bosch's plant in Feurerbach, Germany, is used so that fuel injector pumps and both common-rail and unit-type injectors can be tested on a real engine.

Electronic Capabilities

To be sure, conventional machining is part and parcel of producing fuel injection systems (here a three-cylinder high pressure pump is being machined at Bosch's Nuremberg plant), but the electronics capabilities cannot be underestimated. Bosch's capabilities with electronics are expected to provide new business opportunities, especially with such things as integrated cockpit modules.

BOSCH Briefly

Here are some aspects of one of the world's leading automotive supply companies, one that is broad-based (product-wise and geographically), investment sensible, and forward-looking.

Automotive Is Big At Bosch

Basic points, first. Robert Bosch GmbH is based in Stuttgart. Within the Bosch group, according to Dr. Bernd Bohr, deputy member of its Board of Management, "With a share of about 64% of total sales"—with the total being approximately 52 billion DM in 1999—"and with 123,000 employees, automotive equipment is the most important business sector of the Bosch Group."

With regard to automotive, Bosch designs, engineers and manufacturers components, systems, and modules for:

•Chassis: Brake actuation, foundation brakes, electronic brake modulation, steering

•Engine & powertrain: Gasoline engine management, diesel fuel injection, transmission management, engine cooling

•Body: Actuator motors, airbag electronics, body electronics, wiper equipment, climate control, locking and access control, dashboard, lighting technology, parking

•Mobile communications: Radios and accessories, and vehicle navigation and telematics

 

The other sectors within the company are Communications Technology, Consumer Goods, and Capital Goods.

With the exception of Antarctica, Bosch automotive products are represented in some way shape or form (from service to manufacturing) on all continents. Bosch has automotive equipment manufacturing at 111 locations in 27 countries.

 

Putting Its Money Where Its Business Is

In 1999 the Bosch Group invested approximately 3.7 billion DM in research and development. That's 7% of sales. Of the total, 2.7 billion DM went toward automotive R&D.

The consequence of R&D investment is reflected in the fact that in 1998, nearly 2,000 Bosch-generated patents were published by the German Patent & Trademark Office. Most of those patents were related to automotive technology (remember: the company also produces things ranging from power hand tools to refrigerators). Patent wise, Bosch is in second place in Germany, second to Siemens, which is a significantly larger concern. Dr. Bohr notes that even though Siemens has more patents, when the sales of the two companies are taken into account, Bosch has a bigger relative number of patents.

R&D is not the only thing it spends money on. Capital spending is nontrivial. For example, in 1998, the Engine Management, Gasoline Div., spent 300 million DM on machinery and buildings. Meanwhile, the Diesel Injection Technology Div. spent 800 million DM on the same. And these instances are the rule, not the exception.

 

It'll Never Fly in Cars

One of Bosch's most important automotive products is the fuel injector.

In 1937, Bosch starting providing series-produced gasoline injection systems—for aircraft engines.

It wasn't until 1952 that gasoline direct injection systems made it into cars: for a two-stroke, 600-cc engine produced for a vehicle built by Gutbrod—a company that no longer exists.

But in 1954, the Bosch injection system made it into a vehicle produced by a company that still exists (though now in a modified form): DaimlerChrysler. The then-fully German company put fuel injection in the '54 Mercedes 300 SL, which is undoubtedly more famous for its gullwing door design than for what was beneath the hood. It is worth noting that between 1954 and 1957 a total of just 1,400 gull-wing models were produced—not exactly a number that would lead someone to believe that a business could be built on it.

However, there is something to be said for patience and persistence.

According to Dr. Ludwig Walz, president, Engine Management, Gasoline Div., in 1998, Bosch produced gasoline injection systems for some 5.6 million spark ignition engines. This is a global market share of 15%. An additional 1.2 million systems were produced under license from Bosch.

 

The Systems Approach

There are two basic types of fuel injection systems. One is the common rail system. It includes a high-pressure pump and a tubular accumulator, or "rail," into which the injectors are fitted. The opening and closing of the fuel injector nozzles is controlled by a solenoid valve. The next-generation common rail systems will have injector pressure up to 1,600 bar. What's more, work is underway to build common rail injectors that use piezoelectric actuators in place of magnetic actuators. Advantages include a more compact design, and a better control of injection timing and fuel quantities.

The latest type of system (Bosch began production of them at the end of 1998) is the unit injection system (UIS). The UIS approach combines the pump and the nozzle into a single-compact unit. There are fewer parts in a UIS. The unitized approach facilitates use in engines with any number of cylinders. The maximum pressure that can be produced (so far, that is) is 2,050 bar.

 

Pressure Matters

There are various reasons why high-pressure, direct injection is superior to indirect injection (which utilizes a pre- or intake chamber for the fuel). For one thing, the direct approach results in a less noisy engine, a characteristic that is critical in this ear when low NVH issues are essential. And, more importantly, it makes the engine more fuel efficient.

One of the key aspects of direct injection systems is that the fuel droplet size—the droplets, in effect, form a cloud in the combustion chamber (it is critical to control the fuel-air mixture that forms this cumulonimbus-like object so as to minimize the formation of soot—or particulates—so the electronic control system for a fuel injection system is enormously important)—is small: less than 20 mm (or about one-third the diameter of a human hair). The need for small droplets, as well as appropriate droplet distribution, which permit thorough and quick combustion, is taxing. "These demands to the injectors can only be fulfilled with the latest, extremely precise manufacturing technology, such as the kind Bosch uses," Dr. Rolf Leonhard, manager of Development, Bosch Engine Management, Gasoline Div., understates.

The injector nozzle has a bore diameter on the order of 0.6 mm. It is produced with electrical discharge machining (EDM). The fuel is actually in the form of a film when it enters the nozzle, having been passed through a swirl chamber. There is a small needle that moves up and down within the nozzle; its travel is on the order of 60 microns. Given both the bore diameter and the travel of the pin, it is clear that tiny dirt particles can cause big problems in injector function.

There are some environmental regulations that inhibit direct injection systems in the U.S. However, that's not so in both Western Europe and Japan. Bosch management anticipates that by 2005, 40% of the spark ignition engines in Western Europe and 25% of those in Japan will have direct injection systems.

 

The Regulatory Environment

One of the differences between European regulators and those in the U.S. is that an objective in Europe is to minimize the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2). One direct approach to the reduction of CO2 is to minimize the amount of fuel consumed in vehicles. This means, simply, that they are looking for more-efficient engines, those that use less gas. (And, certainly, consumers are in favor of pumping less fuel: the per liter price of gas in European countries is generally higher than the per-gallon price in the U.S.) Consequently, the use of both direct injection spark ignition engines and diesel engines have a favorable reception in Europe because of their fuel efficiency. For the point of view of NOx and particulate production, however, these engines are more problematic. Since those things are of bigger concern to U.S. regulators, they don't have the same opportunities in the U.S. as they do in Europe. (To say nothing of the bad reputation that seemingly everyone remembers—even people who weren't born then—of GM's diesel installations of the late `70s.)

 

Fuel Injector Redux?

Although it could be thought that Bosch's key competencies lie in the areas of mechanical objects, like fuel injector systems, in point of fact, the electronic aspects of fuel injectors, anti-lock brake systems, etc., are fundamental to the performance of those devices. Speaking of electronic engine management, Klaus Krieger, manager of Development, Diesel Injection Technology Div., points out, "Ten years ago we were still using an eight-bit processor; the latest generation is being developed with a 32-bit controller, comparable to a Pentium II processor. The processing power has been raised by a factor of 40 and the memory capacity by a factor of 30."

Which brings us to two Bosch divisions, one dealing with mobile communications and the other with on-board electronics. According to Dr. Helmut Schwartz, executive vice president, Automotive Equipment Div., K6, Body Electronics, electronics, integration, and human-machine interfaces are among the key competencies of Bosch. So on the one hand, the company is pursing multimedia and navigation systems, and, on the other, it is looking at providing cockpit modules that will integrate all manner of electronics with the physical support structure (for this it would look for a partner with a core competency in plastic injection molding, for example).

One of the companies that is part of the Bosch group is Blaupunkt, which is, perhaps, best known in the U.S. for the audio systems that it produces. Blaupunkt has been pushing forward amplifier and speaker technologies, producing products like DREAMS, the "Digital Enlargement AutoMotive System," which provides a veritable "surround sound" experience.

But what is, perhaps, less well known is that Blaupunkt has a leadership position in navigation systems. In many ways, navigation systems in the U.S. today are what fuel injectors were to cars circa 1954. Sure, there are some being promoted and still more being developed, but overall, navigation systems are not a big deal in the U.S. Elsewhere, this is not the case. Blaupunkt has sales of 1.4 billion DM in 1998. Of that, 74% were accounted for by car radios. It is said to be the biggest independent car radio manufacturer in the world. The remaining 26% was accounted for by navigation systems. It is the number-one navigation system supplier in Europe today.

Looked at in the context of the three major geographic regions, Japan is where the greatest number of navigation systems have been installed. Europe comes in second. The U.S. is third. By the year 2005, Europe will be number one in navigation systems. The U.S. will remain third.

Navigation system numbers may be comparatively small now. They may remain small in the U.S. But when a company is truly a global concern, it is concerned with markets beyond those defined by 50 states.