Taking innovation to the mainstream

GKN Driveline has a proven track record of industrialising key innovations on a global scale. GKN Driveline CEO Helmuth Rohregger explains how.

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

Driveline manufacturers are at the forefront of huge changes in the automotive industry. While the media is focusing the attention of the public and marketeers on autonomous driving, the big shift in the industry 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 innovations that improve efficiency and that can scale in mass-production, globally.

These powerful market forces are actually pretty favourable for GKN Driveline.

For decades the company has been a leading supplier to automakers of essential driveline components and all-wheel drive systems. Following a series of high-profile contract wins for more advanced systems on some high-profile vehicle launches, the company has emerged as the leading supplier of both torque vectoring and eDrive systems.

How do GKN Driveline’s roots in CV Joint production shape its manufacturing operations as it grows its eDrive business?

GKN Driveline plans to do for eDrive what it already does for conventional drivelines. The company has its roots in the design and production of constant velocity joints (CV Joints). A market that GKN Driveline now dominates thanks to the way it has developed its manufacturing 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, and so their integration into a vehicle requires a close working relationship with the customer during their development. Local production is essential to ensure the best possible balance of cost and innovation for the customer.

This is why GKN Driveline was one of the first suppliers to globalize. From the outset, manufacturing and engineering have had to work closely together to find the best possible solution. In seeking to shave weight from or enhance the material characteristics of a lightweight CV joint, advanced R&D often requires closer collaboration between the product and manufacturing teams than in other Tier One suppliers. And we must have the capacity to do this wherever our customers manufacture.

This combination of local manufacturing and engineering expertise was also how GKN Driveline grew its all-wheel drive operations globally. Its 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 Driveline’s manufacturing strategy link to its business strategy?

GKN Driveline is essentially a high-tech manufacturing business developing new 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 close to our customers and in close partnerships started as a business necessity and evolved into how GKN Driveline optimises its positions in major supply chains.

GKN Driveline consistently achieves volume growth that is above the market because we made a conscious decision to lead in our chosen market. We make things that help cars drive better.

For us, a strong global presence has always been essential. 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. We design, engineer and manufacture locally. And, by continuously developing our geographic spread, we can grow in existing markets and expand into new markets.

GKN Driveline also has a strong culture of operational excellence and through continuous improvement processes, we focus on delivering exceptional quality and customer service. We aim to be a manufacturing employer of choice with a culture that recognises great work and motivates people to lead and to do the right thing.

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

GKN Driveline has a track record for setting up early, laying foundations that enable it to sustain growth above the market. For example, GKN Driveline was the first major Tier One supplier to establish a joint venture in China in 1988 and that has led to the strong growth of our CV Joint business in that market. It was among the first to recognise the strategic importance of Poland as an automotive manufacturing hub for Europe. And it has also been steadily scaling up production of more advanced eDrive systems.

GKN Driveline 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.