Electrification is shaking up the automotive parts supply chain, forcing rubber product companies to add new capabilities to their established areas of expertise in materials science and technology.
In particular, electrical vehicles will use far fewer components, as software and semiconductor devices replace mechanical parts traditionally used in power-transmission and handling systems. These developments are of significant concern to suppliers of rubber materials and products based on the wide range of commodity and speciality polymers.
Pressure to respond to these trends is high: Claus Moehlenkamp, CEO of Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, for instance estimating that FST could lose 70 percent of automotive sales if it does not adapt accordingly.
"Any supplier who is heavily focused on the powertrain systems derived from the internal combustion engine is at risk and will be challenged in the long run," Moehlenkamp said in a recent presentation.
That said, he expects internal combustion engines to remain crucial in the near term, especially as sales of plug-in hybrids with electric powertrain and internal combustion engines grow. FST has spent years developing components that address some of the automotive industry's toughest ICE challenges, with developments such as friction-free seals and gaskets.
"These solutions must now be reoriented to address unique battery-powered and fuel cell systems challenges as well," Moehlenkamp said. "Sealing technologies that lower friction, increase power and efficiency and address light-weighting and compact design requirements, for example, will be equally important in an era of new mobility," he said.
FST, Moehlenkamp added, is introducing "unique sealing solutions" to address thermal management, higher safety standards, electrical transfer, electromagnetic shielding and a longer service life, among other trends.
The emergence of EVs and hybrid vehicles is contributing to high growth in demand for electrical cables and connectors, believes Hans Peter Wolf, manager of research and development for silicone rubber at Dow Silicones Deutschland GmbH.
Demand for automotive electronic systems is expected to grow around 16 percent annually, according to Wolf, who expects electric/hybrid vehicles to account for a third of car production by 2025.