Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Knorr-Bremse: from brakes into steering

Knorr-Bremse’s acquisition of tedrive Steering Systems looks like an important strategic move that will allow the family-owned business to expand into commercial vehicle steering systems.
Knorr-Bremse is buying tedrive Steering Systems GmbH based in Wülfrath, Germany.
     With this acquisition, the worlds leading manufacturer of braking systems for rail and commercial vehicles is adding state-of-the-art steering systems to its portfolio.
Its aim is to supply highly integrated systems to its customers, as well as new functionalities in the field of autonomous driving.
Both parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price. This is hardly surprising as Knorr-Bremse does not readily publish its financial performance.
Knorr-Bremse sales for 2014 are shown as €5.206 billion which yield a net income of €560 million. Worldwide employees are shown for that year as 23,916 and incoming orders effectively amount to one year’s sales, namely €5.510 billion. This gives a turnover per employee figure of €217,678.
The acquisition is subject to approval by the anti-trust authorities.
                                        Logical next step
For us as a manufacturer of braking systems, entering the steering market is the logical next step in expanding our systems expertise,” explained Dr. Peter Laier, Member of the Executive Board of Knorr-Bremse AG responsible for the Commercial Vehicle Systems division.
“Through the smart connection of systems and subsystems we will be able to generate added value for our customers, be they commercial vehicle manufacturers or operators, in the development, production and operation of their vehicles,” he added.
This is particularly important against the backdrop of increasingly widespread driver assistance systems and the automation of driving functions developments that not only offer greater safety but also reduce total vehicle operating costs,” he continued.
“Coming from the global market leader in electronic brake control systems, our new generation of Global Scalable Brake Control products is designed to support the complex control procedures required for autonomous driving. Together with the steering expertise of tedrive, this core competency of Knorr-Bremse opens up additional opportunities to supply our customers with highly integrated and efficient system solutions,” he noted.
With some 320 employees and locations in Germany, Turkey, Russia and the USA, tedrive is a specialized development partner and manufacturer of steering systems for the global vehicle market.
The company manufactures and markets an extensive portfolio that includes rack-and-pinion as well as recirculating ball steering gear systems across all vehicle segments.
The acquisition will be yet another example of a very large fish swallowing up in minnow. In the circumstances it will be interesting to see how the minnow flourishes against the backdrop of a world leader in braking systems that is anxious to enter a new market. How long before the individuality and innovative capability of tedrive Steering Systems is completely subsumed into Knorr-Bremse?
Knorr-Bremse claims tedrive Steering sets the standards in the development of competitive, high-performance steering technology with its lightweight steering solutions and award-winning intelligent Hydraulic Steering Assist (iHSA®) technology.
This hydraulic system with electric steering actuation was developed with a view to meeting the demands of autonomous driving in commercial vehicles.
Autonomous driving predicates control of longitudinal and lateral vehicle dynamics independent of driver input.
Today, Knorr-Bremses electronic brake control systems already control longitudinal motion and at the same time ensure the dynamic stability of the vehicle.
The new partners state that “In combination with iHSA, in future Knorr-Bremse will be able to offer extended automated driving functionalities that were previously restricted to the passenger car sector, such as active lane-keeping on motorways/freeways, as well as functionalities specific to commercial vehicles, such as platooning automated driving in convoys with short distances between vehicles or autonomous yard maneuvering.”
Mention by Knorr-Bremse of the word ‘platooning’ raises an interesting question: Have executives of either, or both German companies already addressed this issue?
At present there is no legislation directed explicitly at platooning. On the other hand, there could be a very interesting test case in the courts in the event of an accident of one truck running onto the rear another when both are deliberately platooning as part of a strategy by the trucks' owners and/or operators to reduce costs – namely by saving fuel. The matter of product liability - and 'fit for purpose' - of any component even closely associated with such an accident is likely to be of special relevance in the test case.
This whole development is no doubt one that Knorr-Bremse executives will be monitoring closely because of any possible implications for their company, or employees, in any potential litigation. One implication of the technology will surely be the requirement for back-up systems in the event of primary system failure. And who will be ultimately responsible for signing off the systems - the systems sypplier or the builder of the vehicle intowhich the system is integrated?
Platooning is, in itself, a subject that at some stage will have to be addressed by lawmakers, especially in Europe where, in Finland and Sweden, for example, on certain domestic routes, legislation allows vehicle combinations grossing 60 tonnes and measuring no more than 25.25m.
Such vehicle combinations, both in terms of combined weight and length, offer major implications in terms of road safety alone.

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