Up to 300 marking labels and film-based functional components are installed in a mid-size car – making them an essential, although largely hidden part.
A new generation of flexible printed circuit boards and labels is helping automotive OEMs and Tier suppliers to make processes leaner and reduce costs, while at the same time improving vehicle safety and reliability. They have been developed by the Schreiner Group, which produces 126 000 kilometers of functional labels a year for a variety of industries.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Thomas Köberlein, President of Schreiner ProTech how important the automotive market is for the company, given its wide customer base. Köberlein: Although we have a strong position in other industrial markets, we certainly have a dedicated focus on the automotive sector where we offer a wide product range extending from parts marking and RFID solutions to pressure compensation seals and printed electronic components. Our solutions help optimize processes – and through this, save costs for automotive industry customers. Our reach is quite prolific: expressed in terms of the aggregated content we deliver, as many as 300 of our parts might be installed in a modern midsize car.
AI: How do you assess the requirements in the automotive sector compared to other industries? Köberlein: Based on my experience, the requirements for automotive applications, for instance from a product development and quality standpoint, are the highest of any industry. However, even in the automotive sector itself, we’ve been seeing added stringency in many requirements. For example, in the case of safety-relevant components such as printed circuits and films for airbags, the standards are much higher than, say, for marking solutions that exclusively serve logistical control purposes.
AI: How has your automotive business segment changed in recent years? Köberlein: Sales of functional components have significantly increased in recent years. Just 10 years ago marking solutions accounted for about 80% of our sales and functional components for only 20%. Today, functional components account for 70% of our total sales.
AI: How do you benefit from internationalization in the automotive sector? Köberlein: For us it is a huge opportunity to continuously expand our position as a strategic partner for major automotive OEMs and suppliers. The ability to locally produce and support our products in key regions is a prerequisite for this. This applies especially to the global platforms of major automobile manufacturers. Without your own manufacturing operations at the customer’s location, you have no chance of being selected for a global platform product. That’s why, for us, being represented in Europe, North America and Asia with our plants is of paramount importance.
AI: Product piracy is a hot topic in the aftermarket business. What products do you offer for protection in this area? Köberlein: Our modular kit for product and brand protection encompasses an extensive range of solutions with overt and covert security features. As a result, we are able to offer customized concepts for all customers. For products exposed to a very high piracy risk, customers demand a higher security level than for products with a lower counterfeiting risk. We have provided product and brand protection solutions to many OEMs and suppliers – from simple color-shifting inks to highly secure solutions with digital features that can, for instance, be read with a smartphone to determine whether or not the product is an original part.
AI: The German DIN66405 Guide addresses these issues. Do we need global standardization? Köberlein: It would be highly desirable if the standards were more effectively harmonized on an international level, and to have coordinated regulations identifying product groups requiring mandatory protection via security features. For instance, I feel it is important to ensure that safety-relevant aftermarket components are original parts. The same applies to components intended for use in future automated driving functions. They must be protected against tampering. This should not be up to the manufacturers themselves, but be defined by means of standards. In this respect, the pharmaceutical industry is a step ahead of the automotive sector. However, advances in this direction are already being made in individual areas of technology relating to autonomous driving.
AI: A common standard is also lacking for RFID labels. How do you ensure global usability? Köberlein: Basically, RFID labels are suitable for both of the commonly used global frequency ranges. However, in the automotive industry, we are in a special situation because the RFID labels are used in metallic environments or even directly on metal. This requires unique technical solutions, because the achievable read range of RFID labels on metal is significantly shorter. For these use cases we have developed our “RFID on metal” product family. With them we are able to offer an RFID marking solution that is suitable for both frequency bands, across Europe, North America and Asia, with full VDA conformity. In this way we make the basic benefits of RFID technology – such as higher transparency, better information management, optimal control of inventories and easier data acquisition without line of sight – available to our customers worldwide. This results in significant cost reductions in the logistics chain.
AI: Industry 4.0 is an industry-wide megatrend. How can Schreiner ProTech support automotive OEMs and suppliers in achieving this goal? Köberlein: Our range of products and services extends from processing advice for the rollout of RFID technology in Industry 4.0 environments to product-specific RFID solutions. We offer suitable solutions for diverse requirements, such as special ESD RFID labels for returnable transport items used for electronic components requiring special protection against electrostatic discharges.
AI: How much can companies save by implementing Industry 4.0? Köberlein: Between 10 and 15% of logistics and warehousing costs can be saved due to higher transparency in logistics and avoidance of misapplications and reduction of inventory levels, according to some estimates. Obviously, in absolute terms, this translates into considerable savings for automotive OEMs and suppliers.
AI: What innovations can we expect from Schreiner ProTech in the near future? Köberlein: One major innovation area is the development of electronic components produced using printing technology, such as printed electronic circuits that are provided on a film and are easy to apply in the assembly process. In conjunction with the functions of highly automated driving we have launched some exciting product developments such as those for heating sensors. Autonomous vehicles are equipped with a large number of sensors and cameras to capture the vehicle’s surroundings. They must function under all circumstances and not be prone to icing up or fogging. We developed printed heating elements for these use cases. They require only minimal design space, are highly flexible and do not influence sensor activity. Vehicle connectivity via the 5G communications network is another development path we pursue. This results in a significant increase in the number of onboard vehicle antennas. With printed electronics we are able to produce flexible, extremely compact and cost-efficient antennas with powerful reception capacity that can be easily integrated into diverse components, from outside mirrors to add-on interior and exterior components.