The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity in strain wave gear is driven by efficiency and performance improvements, durability and reliability enhancements, electric and hybrid vehicle trends, and growing importance of technologies such as advanced simulation and modeling software, flexspline, wave generator, and circular spline. In the last three years alone, there have been over 1.7 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in automotive: strain wave gear. Buy the report here.

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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 stabilizing 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.

300+ 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 one million patents, there are 300+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, integrated multi-motor drivetrains, electric power steering (EPS), and post-collision handling are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Variable compression engines, V2V distance monitoring, and turbocharger shaft bearings are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among the maturing innovation areas are kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) and plasma-jet ignition, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the automotive industry

Strain wave gear is a key innovation area in automotive

Strain wave gear, also known as harmonic drive, is a type of compact and high-precision gear mechanism that provides a high gear reduction ratio in a small space. It consists of three main components: a flex spline, a circular spline, and a wave generator. The flex spline possesses teeth that engage with the teeth of the circular spline, and the wave generator induces deformation in the flex spline, allowing it to interlock and reduce gears with the circular spline.

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 30+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established automotive companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of strain wave gear.

Key players in strain wave gear – a disruptive innovation in the automotive industry

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

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

Patent volumes related to strain wave gear

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Gree Electric Appliances 2 Unlock Company Profile
Hiwin Technologies 7 Unlock Company Profile
Schaeffler 3 Unlock Company Profile
Harmonic Drive Systems 724 Unlock Company Profile
BYD 6 Unlock Company Profile
Siemens 4 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 7 Unlock Company Profile
Nidec 119 Unlock Company Profile
Nissan Motor 15 Unlock Company Profile
Hitachi 42 Unlock Company Profile
Robostar 5 Unlock Company Profile
Qinhuangdao Boostsolar Photovoltaic Equipment 2 Unlock Company Profile
SKF 8 Unlock Company Profile
Delta Electronics 9 Unlock Company Profile
Porsche Automobil 3 Unlock Company Profile
NOV 9 Unlock Company Profile
Nabtesco 75 Unlock Company Profile
Raytheon Technologies 20 Unlock Company Profile
ECA Medical Instruments 6 Unlock Company Profile
JTEKT 7 Unlock Company Profile
Boeing 4 Unlock Company Profile
Airbus 3 Unlock Company Profile
Denso 5 Unlock Company Profile
Sumitomo Heavy Industries 245 Unlock Company Profile
Seiko Epson 11 Unlock Company Profile
Matex Sp. z o.o. 2 Unlock Company Profile
Beijing West Industries 3 Unlock Company Profile
SAMICK HDS 2 Unlock Company Profile
BeijingWest Industries 2 Unlock Company Profile
Zhejiang Laifual Harmonic Drive 7 Unlock Company Profile
Wittenstein 21 Unlock Company Profile
Circular Wave Drive Partners 6 Unlock Company Profile
Shunde Polytechnic 3 Unlock Company Profile
Leader Harmonious Drive Systems 4 Unlock Company Profile
Lakeview Innovation 7 Unlock Company Profile
Yang Qinghua 2 Unlock Company Profile
Chen Bo 2 Unlock Company Profile
SBB Tech 9 Unlock Company Profile
Uni-President China 3 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Harmonic Drive Systems is one of the leading patent filers in strain wave gear, The company has developed advanced and precision manufacturing methods to achieve highly accurate and precise components critical for strain wave gears, enhancing gear quality and performance. It innovates in materials and surface treatments to improve the strength, wear resistance, and durability of strain wave gear components, resulting in longer-lasting and higher-performing gears. Some other key patent filers in this space include Sumitomo and Nidec.

In terms of application diversity, NOV leads the pack, while Denso and Airbus stood in the second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, Nissan Motor held the top position, followed by Nidec and NOV.

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.