The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by the extensive use of expandable microsphere foams, and growing importance of technologies such as electromechanical actuators, sensors, and air brakes, and connected and autonomous vehicles. In the last three years alone, there have been over 1.2 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in Automotive: Expandable microsphere foams. Buy the report here.

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

290+ innovations will shape the automotive industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the automotive industry using innovation intensity models built on over 619,000 patents, there are 290+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, resilient spoke wheels, auto-transmission lubrication circuits, and ignition switching engines are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Engine purge actuators, electro-dynamic braking, and adsorptive vapour recovery system estimation are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are collision avoidance braking control system and direct injection type engines, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the automotive industry

Expandable microsphere foams is a key innovation area in automotive

An expandable microsphere is a substance that can function as a blowing agent when combined with a product and heated to cause expansion within the matrix. Microsphere foaming is a type of core-shell structure, with an alkane gas-filled plastic sphere that serves as the core and a thermoplastic polymer shell that can release hydrocarbons.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 60+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established automotive companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of expandable microsphere foams.

Key players in expandable microsphere foams – a disruptive innovation in the automotive industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to expandable microsphere foams

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Dow 139 Unlock company profile
Sekisui Kasei 117 Unlock company profile
BASF 109 Unlock company profile
Kaneka 86 Unlock company profile
NIKE 74 Unlock company profile
Mitsubishi Gas Chemical 59 Unlock company profile
Eni 58 Unlock company profile
Kyoraku 53 Unlock company profile
Compagnie de Saint-Gobain 41 Unlock company profile
Sumitomo Electric Industries 41 Unlock company profile
Sika 39 Unlock company profile
Henkel & Co 39 Unlock company profile
Sekisui Chemical 36 Unlock company profile
TotalEnergies 36 Unlock company profile
Synthos 36 Unlock company profile
adidas 35 Unlock company profile
RAG-Stiftung 35 Unlock company profile
Cooper-Standard Holdings 32 Unlock company profile
Omya International 31 Unlock company profile
TSRC 30 Unlock company profile
China Petrochemical 29 Unlock company profile
Bridgestone 26 Unlock company profile
Mitsui Chemicals 25 Unlock company profile
Orbia Advance SAB de CV 25 Unlock company profile
Nitto Denko 24 Unlock company profile
Huntsman 22 Unlock company profile
Saudi Arabian Oil 22 Unlock company profile
Zephyros 17 Unlock company profile
Covestro 15 Unlock company profile
Daikin Industries 15 Unlock company profile
Continental 14 Unlock company profile
Hyundai Motor Group 13 Unlock company profile
Aspen Pharmacare Holdings 13 Unlock company profile
Toyobo 12 Unlock company profile
Toyo Seikan Group Holdings 12 Unlock company profile
Compagnie Generale des Etablissements Michelin 12 Unlock company profile
Autoneum Holding 12 Unlock company profile
Lotte Chemical 11 Unlock company profile
Miracll Chemicals 11 Unlock company profile
Averis 10 Unlock company profile
Trinseo 9 Unlock company profile
International Business Machines 9 Unlock company profile
Stepan 8 Unlock company profile
Synthos Dwory 7 Sp zoo 7 Unlock company profile
Kia 7 Unlock company profile
Hyundai Mobis 7 Unlock company profile
Webasto 7 Unlock company profile
LyondellBasell Industries 7 Unlock company profile
Eurosuole 7 Unlock company profile
Golconda Holdings 6 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Dow, with 139 patents, is one of the top companies to file for expandable microsphere foams patents. The company is accelerating its plans to offer product and process enhancements such as low density, improved dimensional stability, increased impact strength, smoother surface finish, greater thermal insulation, and cost savings. BASF, NIKE, and Kaneka are a few other notable patent filers in the same industry.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the automotive industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Automotive.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.