Martin Stüttem

Martin Stüttem

Continuing just-auto/QUBE's series of interviews with global component suppliers, we caught up with Martin Stüttem, Member of the Board of Directors, responsible for the Wiring Systems Division, Leoni. He explained how increasing data transmission volume is making higher demands of cable assembly. Data protocols and special cables are very complex to produce manually hence automatic manufacture of data cables will become standard.

Leoni has developed a number of solutions for increased automation and robot support in the manufacture of wiring systems. The supplier started fully automatic production of partial cable harnesses in 2014, using machines to cut lines, attach contact parts and insert them into the housings provided. Power distributors such as fuse and relay boxes are also produced automatically. Since 2015 Leoni has operated fully-automated production of solid power distribution lines (busbars) to replace conventional under-floor battery cables. Flexible battery wires are also produced fully automatically and in series by the supplier. Leoni says it is now planning to introduce a fully-automated assembly of smaller cable harnesses by 2020. 

In terms of Leoni's market offering, where is the company at today?

We are extending our offer as a full-service provider of power and data management.

Leoni has a new orientation. While we are historically known as a wire harness manufacturer, we are extending our offer to our customers as a full-service provider of power and data management.

Is your message getting through?

Given the pace of the market towards electromobility and further development of the conventional drivetrain, our customers need partners who are capable of providing a full-service solution and comprehensive know-how. 

Although we are getting our message across, we are not quite there yet. We are already very strong in electromobility. In terms of data management, we can offer a number of technologies in that area and we are further investing in our competencies.

Does that mean more technical tie-ups?

If you want to enter a field where you need a lot of creativity and flexibility then a start-up environment makes sense.

It will be a combination of everything. Today we have to look for partners to see if we can find a win-win situation where we can use common competencies. We also consider startups. If you want to enter a field where you need a lot of creativity and flexibility then a start-up environment makes sense. So we are open to such offerings as well as organic growth.

Can you tell us more about your strategy to meet the demands of the next generation connectivity and autonomous driving?

Our new vision of becoming a full-service provider is based on our investment some 15 years ago on strengthening our competences. 

We understand what fast, efficient and reliable data transmission means. From our experience with data centre and office wiring, Leoni has a deep knowledge of industrial Ethernet cables, which can be partially transferred to the automotive environment. When it comes to the assembly of in-car data systems, we are already there with some customers and helping them develop new decentralised architectures for an efficient and secure routing of power and data streams. 

What does that mean?

The traditional, centralised design of the wiring system disappears in favour of a so-called ring architecture. Potentially at the four corners, we would place intelligent power distribution units. In case of failure, they would isolate the defective part of the system and guide the energy to an alternative route. This ensures the power supply for critical functions under all conditions.

In September 2016, Leoni purchased 51 percent of the wiring harness manufacturer Wuhan Hengtong Automotive in China. How is your automotive wiring business in China shaping up following this investment?

We are participating in the Chinese market. Our investment Wuhan Hengtong Automotive forms just one part of that participation. In 2015, Leoni entered a joint venture with Beijing Hainachuan Automotive Parts, which is a subsidiary of state-owned BAIC, by selling half of our plant in Langfang. Although we are both well positioned in China - with customers such as BMW and GM - we would also like to focus more on local Chinese customers. We continue to study the Chinese market and consider ourselves well placed. We are going after the local Chinese customers also in the area of electromobility. 

To what extent has greater functionality led to complex architectures in modern vehicles? 

In terms of the value content of automotive, it is still rising. A clear trend towards autonomous driving means even lots of small cars are sold with ADAS [advanced driver assistance system] technologies. This, in turn, supports the trend for more complexity and electrical connections. Our goal is to reduce this complexity and to limit the wiring system's increase in terms of weight and space. Moreover, our products contribute to the safety of the passengers in autonomous cars.  

We are hearing about a new wave of collaborative robots in tomorrow's factories. What is your view and how is Leoni responding to that? 

Leoni is currently running trials with collaborative robots. For instance, we are testing their use in the area of cable preparation. Initial observations suggest that collaboration with robots make life easier for employees in production while at the same time increasing efficiency.

What are the most promising alternatives to the traditional wire harness?

The wiring harness is one of the most important and most complex systems inside the car. New requirements like autonomous driving and electromobility will further increase the need for new technologies. Rather than a general alternative, we see the need for modern architectures as well as the enhancement of the wiring harnesses by intelligent distribution and management systems. In our point of view, there will not be a replacement of wiring harnesses but an evolution to cover the future needs. We feel well prepared and well positioned for this upcoming change.