It's clearly no secret that change will be the overriding megatrend in the automotive industry. While it's a bit less certain at what rate such technologies as electric vehicles and autonomous driving will emerge, the suppliers that are proactive in keeping ahead of the curve will be best served.
Cooper Standard and Toyoda Gosei represent two companies that aren't sitting around waiting for the industry to pass them by. Both are diligently working on such issues as the continued need for lightweighting in vehicles and the need to abate non-engine noise in electric vehicles.
Both also say that whether the Trump administration does ease up on regulations in the U.S., lightweighting will continue to be a factor, as the U.S. represents only 14 percent of the global market.
Both of the automotive suppliers are using a variety of methods to keep up with the industry's landscape.
TG has partnered with the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business to form a Global Executive Development Program. The nine-month program, in its second year, works with senior executives from TG worldwide to develop leadership talent.
Bringing along talent is especially important as these new changes begin to take shape in automotive, as a fresh perspective can help suppliers find new solutions that may not be apparent to those currently in leadership positions.
Innovation is the cornerstone Cooper Standard is using as the keystone to its plan to meet the quickly changing needs of its automotive customers. It just opened a new global technology center in Michigan that it says will offer solutions along the whole chain of its business: from materials, tooling and development, to production and product validation.
By having this capability all in one place—one of three such regional technical centers Cooper Standard has around the world—will enable the firm to speed up its technical innovations. It will look for ideas from production level employees on up using its i3 program, representing imagine, initiate and innovate.
Cooper Standard already is rolling out some new technology. Its Fortrex elastomeric material—combining the best of EPDM and TPVs—has brought 30 percent weight savings compared to EPDM in sealing systems and doesn't have the compression set problems common with TPVs.
Its goals are lofty. Cooper Standard already has sold $385 million in what it calls "innovation orders" through the first half of 2017, and targets having $1 billion in innovation-related revenue by 2025.
So as the future unfolds for automotive and other industries, it will be interesting to see what else rubber product makers such as these two develop to remain relevant in a changing world.