MAHLE corporate start-up teams put their
first innovations on the road
Solutions you simply believe in. That’s the first step to pushing ahead with an idea. And you make more progress when you do it together. MAHLE launched the Incubator innovation program last year and encouraged all employees across Germany to submit their ideas. These were ideas that came to them during a chat in the canteen, on the way home in the car, or at work on the production line itself. And all of the ideas have one thing in common: the desire to do something better. Two teams succeeded in impressing both the internal jury and their first customers with their solutions. These solutions prove that MAHLE’s innovations don’t just catch the attention of our customers, they reach out to everyone.
From a change of perspective ...
Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt / Germany. At the heart of MAHLE’s headquarters. “We’re not doing any other work now. We’re just focusing on chargeBIG,” says Dr. Walter Krepulat, responding to our opening question about whether they’ve come straight from their “proper” jobs or from their Incubator project. chargeBIG is a full-time job. This statement describes the dimension of their idea well. But let’s start again at the beginning.
»Everyone’s always striving for higher, faster, further. And now we come along and say, you don’t need to do that.«
As the name suggests, chargeBIG means charging on
a large scale, so it’s tackling one of the most important aspects of e-mobility.
Although an increasing number of battery-powered vehicles are on our roads, one
question remains unanswered: How are we going to charge all of these electric
vehicles? From individual charging points to a nationwide network infrastructure,
chargeBIG now has the answer in the form of an intelligent charging system, which is
user-friendly and can be installed anywhere.
Sebastian Ewert offers up a decisive calculation: “On average, a car is driven only 40 kilometers per day. That means it’s standing still for around 23 hours. So, there’s no rush when it comes to charging it!” This ingenious change of perspective clears the way for intelligent charging. “It no longer needs to be charged as quickly as possible, only as quickly as necessary.” And with that, the room goes quiet and there are smiles all around. These few words reveal what makes chargeBIG unique: simple and low-cost connection to the existing electricity grid.
... to a trailblazer of e-mobility
We stand outside in MAHLE’s parking lot. The idea moved on from the Post-it stage a long time ago. “This is the charging cabinet,” explains Nicole Heinrich, indicating the electrical enclosure she’s standing next to. “Distributors, fuses, relays, electronics controls, communication, and safety are all tucked away behind one large door.” Sebastian Ewert adds: “It’s just what electricians are used to. This way, our charging cabinet is easy to connect and equally easy to maintain.” One charging cabinet and lots and lots of parking spaces with charging plugs. chargeBIG’s vision is for every parking space to be equipped with a plug in the future. And the way to achieve this is through an intelligent software package, into which the team has invested a great deal of hard work. Today, they can smile about it, because “Now it works!” How exactly, the team won’t reveal. The cables and plugs, which are attached to the outside of the charging posts, are always in view. “This way, drivers no longer have to carry cables with them.” Sebastian Ewert knows what he’s talking about. As a driver of an electric car, he keeps a lot of cumbersome loops of cables and other equipment in his own trunk.
Sixty to seventy colleagues have collaborated on the prototype so far. When asked if they can assist the team, the response from every department has been “Of course,” “Sure,” “No problem!” Or even: “Can I help?” That’s teamwork in action. Also from Max Gerstadt, a recent member of the team, who has been involved too, developing an important component for chargeBIG as part of the final year project for his degree.
»We give a lot and get a lot back. It’s one of the best parts of the experience.«
»It’s quite possible that there’s never been a scenario before where a manufacturer of child seats has worked together with a manufacturer of air conditioners.«
CHARGING FOR EVERYONE!
chargeBIG is a charging infrastructure that builds on existing grid connections and makes maximum use of them. One charging cabinet supplies up to 36 charging points, to which a corresponding number of electric cars can be connected. The intelligent system optimally controls charging and prevents overloading of the existing grid by ideally distributing the available electricity.
»Charging as quickly as necessary is better than charging as quickly as possible.«
»In our team, you can tell that people really want to achieve something. I got caught up straightaway.«
A mobile chargeBIG prototype charging cabinet can charge 18 electric vehicles. The first customers were convinced by its potential immediately. The next target is one hundred vehicles. “We’re working closely with our customers on this project so we can incorporate their feedback directly.” And what feedback has there been from MAHLE? The team members grin. The internal decision makers were also in agreement. At the last meeting, they simply asked: “What resources do you need to progress further?”
Incidentally, the chargeBIG team is already celebrating its first customer order. The MAHLE corporate start-up is carrying out a project for Stuttgart Airport that includes up to 110 charging points on its parking lots for fleet and staff vehicles.
From large-scale expertise ...
A MAHLE co-working space in Stuttgart-Feuerbach /Germany, just a few kilometers from the company headquarters. A child’s car seat lies on a table. Nothing unusual so far. Dr. Mario Wallisch, Franziska Erhardt, Matthias Ganz, Michael Conze, Seyit Suemengen, and Yvonne Maier from MAHLE have gathered around the seat. A child’s seat and MAHLE: something new is happening here.
Dr. Mario Wallisch expresses the idea in a nutshell. An intelligently air-conditioned child’s car seat, which warms the child or prevents overheating. Franziska Erhardt takes us back to where this completely new idea came from: “In fact, Mario’s always saying that his children are sweating in their seats when they drive to France on vacation, which is very unpleasant for them and therefore also unpleasant for everyone else in the car.” Matthias Ganz adds that many parents have tried to deal with the problem: “There are concepts where you seat the child on top of ice packs placed inside the seat.” Smiles all around. “But that’s bad simply from a safety perspective, because it involves modifying the seat.” The team has been closely examining the world of children’s seating in the last few months. They’re familiar with every problem. And every attempted solution.
»Our product brings the comfort of the adult world into the world of children.«
The Mahle Incubator
MAHLE employees throughout Germany are encouraged to submit their ideas
Selection of the best ideas
The best ideas are presented by their originators via an internal marketplace.
The teams that make it onto the short list take part in a Concept Day, where they develop their ideas.
The top teams pitch their ideas to a MAHLE jury to qualify for the boot amp. The winning teams are chosen after the boot camp.
With their own budgets and largely released from day-to-day work, the teams develop their solutions into marketable products over three to six months.
The prototypes are presented to customers.
With the heating function of the seat, the team has also improved safety. In conventional car seats, children are often strapped in wearing thick winter jackets — with the result that the belt doesn’t work as well as it should. If the seat is warmed up in advance, jackets are no longer needed and the belt mechanism is fully effective again.
This begs the question: Why can’t you buy such a product already? “There have been market trials offering a kind of air conditioning,” Yvonne Maier tells us. But MAHLE’s home advantage lies in doing it properly, not “kind of.” “Thanks to our thermal management systems, we’re specialists in vehicle air conditioning. Now we’re applying this expertise to seats for children.”
... to comfortable mobility for the little ones
Thermal comfort for kids — from the moment they get into the vehicle to the moment they leave it. The Com4Kids team has put this feature in a compact module that connects to the child’s seat. It turns the rigid plastic seat into a place where air is circulated — and where children finally feel comfortable. Matthias Ganz holds the module in one hand. What looks to the uninitiated like a small work of art has been specifically developed for children. “In our team, we’re able to reach out to colleagues with 20 to 30 years of professional experience, for whom making a new product reliable and marketable is a piece of cake,” says Dr. Mario Wallisch, showing how the corporate structures in the background support the start-up spirit. What’s more: “The MAHLE name has meant people are willing to put their trust in us. Manufacturers of children’s car seats know they’re not talking to amateurs with a crazy idea.”
The experts from MAHLE have held in-depth discussions with customers throughout the development of the air-conditioned child seat. It may be this unusual cooperation that explains why the seat has not existed before. “The manufacturers have their areas of competence in design and ergonomics, but as soon as the focus moves to thermal comfort, they’re out.” And it’s over to MAHLE. With its great expertise in thermal management and with lots of ideas to get people moving in their everyday lives. Achieving greater comfort. For all ages.
And let’s not forget ...
... all the many other product solutions, projects, and initiatives that we delivered, initiated, and drove forward in 2018. Here are some highlights.
As an innovation manager at MAHLE, Mujib Bazhwal has been following the Incubator program since its inception, and he’s just as positive about it as he was a year ago, when the initiative enjoyed a productive launch in Germany. That’s not only because of the successful innovations that emerged from the first round, but also because Incubator has now been enthusiastically taken up by other locations too. Mujib Bazhwal had barely sent off the inquiry to other countries when China came forward with a positive response and promptly got started. “It was crazy just how fast and flexible they were,” remembers Mujib. In cooperation with Kun Hu at MAHLE in China, the program was introduced at the individual Chinese locations and the first ideas have already been selected. Out of 120 ideas, ten are currently in the running. “And you need to realize that, in our culture, we’re not so familiar with thinking outside the box,” says Kun Hu. “But when I saw the ideas, I knew that I was mistaken.” Above all, Mujib is excited by the subjects: many of the ideas are associated with digitalization. And so, MAHLE’s Incubator has begun its worldwide rollout. Further regions will follow. And when it comes to the question of whether the individual teams are also able to exchange ideas nternationally, the answer is more than just a YES and even clearer: “We are One MAHLE!”
Innovations are shaping the working environment at MAHLE. Another such development is now raising quality inspection to a new level. Inspekto, a piece of software based on artificial intelligence, is helping MAHLE employees with visual quality inspections by performing them in a fully automated process. The program was developed by a German–Israeli start-up in which MAHLE is a participant. The software is highly flexible and can be implemented on any production line. Inspekto prevents defects and thus saves time. This results in an even higher level of quality assurance.