How GKN Automotive industrialises driveline advances

GKN Automotive has a history of industrialising and globalizing key technologies. Chief operating officer Helmuth Rohregger explains how the company does it.

How are current changes in the automotive industry impacting GKN Automotive’s manufacturing operations?

As the industry’s leading driveline supplier, we are at the forefront of huge changes in the automotive industry. The public is watching progress towards electrification and autonomous driving, but at an engineering level the big shift is actually a consolidation of platforms that have significant implications for manufacturing and sourcing strategies.

With megaplatforms underpinning a huge variety of different brands, vehicles and powertrains, automakers want proven technologies that improve efficiency and that can scale in mass-production, worldwide. These challenges and opportunites are what GKN Automotive is focusing on.

For decades GKN Automotive has been a leading supplier of essential driveline components and all-wheel drive systems. Following the development of our eDrive and torque vectoring modules, we have emerged as a leader in these fields as well.

How will CV joint production shape eDrive manufacturing operations?

GKN Automotive’s intention is to do for eDrive systems what we have done for conventional drivelines. Our roots are in the design and production of constant velocity joints (CV joints), a market we now dominate because of the way we developed our global footprint.

CV joint production is complex. CV joints live in the engine bay and have a direct impact on the feel and performance of a front-wheel drive vehicle. Their development and integration requires close working relationships with customers. Local production is essential to ensure the best possible balance of cost and performance for the customer.

This is why GKN was one of the first suppliers to globalize.

From the outset, manufacturing and engineering have had to work even more closely to find the right solution. Advanced R&D still requires closer much collaboration between the product and manufacturing teams than in other vehicle systems. And we need to be able to do this globally.

This combination of local manufacturing and engineering expertise was also how GKN Automotive grew its all-wheel drive operations globally. Our production and development teams collaborate to develop more highly integrated systems that are lighter with higher outputs and they scaled up volumes in step with customers.

How does GKN Automotive’s manufacturing strategy link to its business strategy?

GKN Automotive develops products for mass-production. We source raw materials and components from a well-developed, cost effective supply chain and we apply lean manufacturing and cost-effective processes that add value throughout the manufacturing chain.

Operating in close local partnerships with our customers started as a business necessity. It is now how we optimise our position in major supply chains. We achieve above-the-market volume growth because of this.

A strong global presence has always been essential for us. It’s the nature of the CV joint business. The growth of global platforms means that we can now leverage that presence more than ever.

How is GKN Automotive working to take eDrives into mass production?

GKN Automotive has a history of setting up early, laying the foundations that enable it to sustain growth above the market. GKN was the first major Tier One supplier to establish a joint venture in China in 1988, which led to strong growth for our CV Joint business in that market. We were among the first to recognise the strategic importance of Poland as an automotive manufacturing hub for Europe. And we have also been steadily scaling up production of more advanced eDrive modules.

GKN has been pioneering the production of more advanced eDrives since 2002. The company has spent the past 15 years acquiring the production experience needed to transfer the technology from niche vehicles to high-volume mass-market applications. More than 300,000 units of the industry’s most successful eDrive range have now come off the production lines at GKN’s eDrive centres of excellence in Bruneck, Italy and Tochigi, Japan, and we are planning to grow production capabilities in other parts of the world.

The product has passed a key production milestone at a time when demand for both all-wheel drive and plug-in hybrids is rising strongly. Automakers want suppliers that can scale these new technologies effectively.