For decades now, the car industry has been the spearhead of industrial innovation. Huge investments in R&D, sophisticated production processes, highly qualified human teams… all in search of a goal: to design and build smarter, more sustainable and, above all, safer vehicles. However, despite all the progress and innovations, the most important vehicle safety factor remains the human factor. For this reason, educating, sensitizing and raising awareness among drivers is absolutely essential work today. Therefore, for all of us at Gestamp, agreeing to participate in the Emotional Driving project is, in addition to a source of pride, a priority. Because every accident we avoid are lives we save.
An automobile accident is always associated with a very characteristic sound that is instantly and disturbingly recognizable to anyone who has experienced it. It is the result of the deformation of enormously resistant materials as they undergo the pressure of collision against other objects. It is a sound that often comes prior to dramatic situations, although on many occasions it hides a reality: vehicles today are safer than ever before in the history of automobiles.
The automotive components Sector, a big unknown
The automobile sector is one of the world’s most sophisticated sectors for its production processes, heightened technological aspect and innovative activity. However, most of society is unaware of the role played by the automotive components sector, that is to say, all those companies that are responsible for 75% of the added value of a vehicle, and which work for the manufacturers designing, developing and producing essential parts for automobiles, for their exterior and interior, their motors, steering systems and electronic elements. In Spain, according to figures by the industry organization SERNAUTO, in 2014 this sector represented 29,723 million euros in turnover and employed, directly and indirectly, 318,000 people. The Spanish sector is highly important, occupying the sixth position in terms of revenues on a world level and the third position in Europe. In Spain, the automobile components sector represents 4% of industrial added value.
In the specific case of Gestamp, a Spanish multinational company with around one hundred production centers and a presence in twenty countries, our contribution to the GDP of the automobile industry in Spain was 1,836 million euros, equivalent to 2% of the total sector.
At Gestamp, we think that the large manufacturers of vehicles and the companies in the components sector should join forces in respect to competitiveness, quality and results. And, of course, we must work closely with one another in such an essential aspect as safety.
Innovation as a form or progress
The automotive components sector is an industry in which innovation is of the greatest importance. According to SERNAUTO’s figures, the sector in Spain spent the equivalent of 3% of its turnover on R&D in 2014, a sum three times as much as the average Spanish industry.
At Gestamp, we believe R&D is the best way to offer solutions to our customers, proposing innovative products that fulfill the requisites of performance, weight, cost, quality, safety and sustainability. For this reason, we have twelve centers and a thousand employees dedicated entirely to R&D, which focus their efforts on achieving advances in two aspects that are essential to our customers: reducing the weight of the vehicles – fundamental to reducing CO2 emissions – and improving safety.
The products we design and manufacture at Gestamp have a huge relationship with safety: for example, pieces such as the metallic structural components that make up the vehicle’s frame are the most important defense for passengers in the face of lateral and frontal impacts or in case of flips; the chassis is the key element to guaranteeing stability and control of the vehicle in brusque maneuvers; and we have even developed pyrotechnical systems installed under the hood which reduce injury to pedestrians in case of an accident. All conceived with the premise that their true value is revealed at the most decisive moments for those of us who drive every day, far from the enormous amount of effort and resources dedicated by the more than 32,300 people who form part of Gestamp to watch over our integrity.
 La transformación Digital de la Industria Española, Ministerio de Industria Energía y Turismo, October of 2015.
lighter and Safer: Gestamp’s obsession
Lighter and safer products. This is the highest priority we believe must exist in the present and future of the automotive sector and these are the strategic lines Gestamp daily develops and strengthens through its activities of research, development and innovation.
a) Lighter: the relationship between weight and emissions reduction
On the one hand, we must recognize that the period of use of the vehicle is what matters most from the environmental point of view within the vehicle’s lifecycle. According to the Observatorio Industrial del Sector de Fabricantes de Automóviles y Camiones de España, the largest percentage of CO2 emissions, almost 90% of what is produced over its lifecycle, occurs during the vehicles period of use.
As suppliers of products for car bodies and chassis, the heaviest elements of the vehicle, our contribution to improving emissions during the vehicle’s period of use is made through weight reduction, given that less weight means less fuel consumption. We estimate that a 10% weight reduction of a vehicle weighing around 1,500 kilograms translates into a reduction of between 10-20 grams of CO2 for each kilometer traveled. As the European Environmental Agency (EEA) confirms, new technologies have made it possible to lower (gCO2/km) emissions in new vehicles by 33.7% in respect to those manufactured in 1995.
With the goal of reducing the weight of each piece, Gestamp expends considerable effort to encourage new concepts, new materials and new manufacturing technologies.
b) Safer: protecting pedestrians and passengers in the vehicle, essential to the sector
On the other hand, buyers of vehicles no longer look solely at the lines or features of the car, but are also concerned about safety and want cars that offer the highest level of protection possible. Thus, safety and reliability are the other two important lines of research for Gestamp, focused on identifying formulas that make it possible to increase the safety of the occupants of the vehicle as well as that of pedestrians. The products must in turn improve comfort, durability, recyclability at the end of the vehicle’s useful life and quality, variables that are all essential in the design and manufacturing processes of our products.
In this context, collision tests are a confirmation of the good workmanship of the components sector, not only in movement (active safety), but more importantly in case of collision (passive safety).
Given that this is a priority of the first order for Gestamp, we use tools such as CAD/CAE in our day to day work to simulate different solutions and make design adjustments, numerically validating collision tests, stress tests and rigidity tests, as well as noise, vibrations and hardness.
The company has laboratories for testing the resistance and reliability of mechanisms, with specific machinery to evaluate the developments designed in a material way through prototypes. In laboratories such as the one Gestamp has at Lulea (Sweden), pieces are subjected to collision and real force tests. To cite an example, we have been able to show with the results obtained that a vehicle equipped with high-resistance crossbars suffers 60% less deformation than a vehicle equipped with standard crossbars of the same weight.
In view of the results of the tests, we can propose and validate solutions in situ for our customers. In fact, this competitive advantage facilitates the fact that we participate in all of the projects of our principal customers, always with a medium and long-term perspective.
In this context, Gestamp also strives so that the vehicles equipped with our products pass with excellent marks the tests realized by the global network, NCAP (New Car Assessment Program, a European program to assess new cars), an independent organization started in 1997 that carries out collision tests and gives marks according to the behavior and safety offered by vehicles to their occupants, which means that any user from any continent can compare models of cars and results.
Processes and technologies make the difference: the importance of hot stamping
Under the clear strategic line of “Lighter and safer” that guides Gestamp’s work, innovation in manufacturing processes also plays an important role.
Especially notable in this sense is the use in our plants of hot stamping, a technology in which Gestamp, with 56 production lines in 2014, is a reference as a specialized provider for its customers. This is an innovative process through which ultra-resistant steel is molded into complex forms in a more efficient way than traditional cold stamping. The process involves heating the steel until it becomes malleable, molding it and then quickly cooling it in especially designed dies, creating during this process a transformed and hardened material. Thanks to this capacity to effectively combine resistance and complexity, hot stamping produces lighter pieces, while also improving their behavior and resistance in case of collision, thereby guaranteeing greater passenger safety.
Within hot stamping, we have developed a specific, patented process called “Tailored Material Property”, by which we can obtain different levels of hardness in different zones of the same piece, controlling the different temperatures of cooling during the hardening process. We can thus create softer, more easily deformable zones in each piece, by which we can control the deformation of the structure of the car and offer improved behavior in case of collision.
Companies have become aware that their future depends on their capacity to innovate not only in terms of products or technology but also in processes, organization, quality and even dialogue with their target public. Many companies now understand that to innovate they must develop the creative thinking of their teams in order to come up with new ideas that are transformed into realities that contribute value.
In this sense, Gestamp has strengthened open innovation as a new strategy whereby the company goes beyond the internal limits of its organization and where cooperation with other actors, such as universities and technological centers, has come to play a fundamental role.
We are also open to such new phenomena as Manufacturing 4.0, in which greater degrees of efficiency and learning are pursued through digitalization, with new fronts such as the analysis of big data, collaborative robotics, and sensorization. All of this poses new challenges in terms of training people with new skills, transforming organizations and the technological adaptation to change.
From the perspective of the user, the automobile sector is evolving towards more intelligent and sustainable vehicles with an ever shorter time-to-market need, looking to respond to the needs of society in terms of mobility while at the same time improving the safety of vehicles.
This is a thrilling challenge for a sector that represents the true spearhead of industrial innovation. A sector that contributes enormous benefits to society in terms of economic progress, prosperity, social development and the capacity to connect people. A sector that knows its efforts are rewarded every time an accident is avoided or its consequences are reduced. To this end, we work every day.