Continental used a 600-square metre booth at this year’s commercial vehicle show at Hanover to display its innovations for the automotive megatrends of safety, environment, information and the industry trend of efficiency. In the second of three interviews with Continental, Matthew Beecham talked with Klaus Hau, Executive Vice President, Sensors & Actuators, Continental Powertrain and Leif Reinhold, Business Development Director, Sensors & Actuators, Continental Powertrain to find out more.

Could you sum up the ways in which the megatrend towards alternative fuel vehicles is driving innovations in sensors and actuators?

Klaus: For us, the sensors and actuators are a means of measurement and control in and around the powertrain. Zero emissions, lower CO2 and affordability are the key megatrends that are driving requirements for more accurate sensing and actuating and therefore innovations in sensors and actuators.

Translated into system trends, there are basically four key drivers. The first is after-treatment –particularly in the diesel-based commercial vehicle sector. In the diesel segment, legislation has driven a lot of technology, for example in the field of advanced aftertreatment solutions. Yet we are increasingly seeing aftertreatment solutions that are not only driven by emission control regulations, but also increased requirements in the onboard diagnostics (OBD) that monitor the systems. This is where new sensors are coming into play.

The second system driver is combustion optimization. There is a strong need to optimize the internal combustion engine which needs to be supported by improved accuracy of sensors and controls.

The third is alternative fuels. In specific markets and over time, we will see that alternative fuels will play a greater role. This has led us to define some key areas where we feel that advanced sensor capabilities are needed.

And finally, there is the electrification of the vehicle. This is driving more actuation as well as new sensor technologies.

Also, following tighter legislation regulating urea quality and quantity, SCR systems are another area where we are seeing a need for OBD and hence for new innovative sensor solutions.

Is there an issue with urea tanks running dry?

There are different issues driving OBD requirements for SCR. Misfilling, whether intentional or unintentional, must be avoided to prevent system damage, but OBD can also ensure that all the components, such as the SCR catalyst, are functioning properly. This is where a urea concentration sensor is increasingly needed – to meet these more stringent and more complex OBD requirements in the future.

So it’s big business…

Sensors and actuators are high-value parts that are important to ensuring proper system function, monitoring and control.

In addition to NOx, soot and urea concentration, there are high temperature sensors. Here we are developing a new technology based on thermocouples.

On the combustion side, we see a growing need to manage the air intake into the combustion chamber, both of fresh air and with regard to exhaust gas recirculation. This is necessary for two reasons: to improve combustion control in order to avoid raw emissions; and to optimize control of the combustion process in order to drive down fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. When it comes to air intake systems, in the passenger car segment we are a key supplier of mass airflow sensors to measure the oxygen going into the combustion chamber. Here we are working on more robust solutions which we intend to use in commercial vehicles as well in the future. We are also currently working on new oxygen intake sensor technologies to directly measure the amount of oxygen going into the combustion chamber.

You mentioned high temperature sensors. I believe that Continental has developed an active high temperature sensor to avoid the DPF getting damaged during the regeneration phase.  What is the status of that development project?

We launched the first application with a commercial vehicle customer earlier this year. High temperature sensors are nothing new in the system – what’s new is that we are using an active sensor. The benefit of these new thermocouple-based technologies is that the sensor can measure a greater range of temperature. With our technology we can go up to 1,100°C, which is not needed in most of the after-treatment applications, but is, for example, essential to turbocharger protection. Here we are currently working with a pilot customer to ready the turbocharger protection sensor for volume production. Using the sensor for turbocharger protection will allow our customers to push the turbochargers much closer to the limit of the technology and keep them controlled by accurately and closely measuring the temperature the turbocharger is experiencing. When you have heated ceramics, you always have to protect them against water splashes, for example, so the ceramics do not break. This is not an issue for our sensor because it’s a closed measuring probe. And the other advantage of having an active sensor is that the sensor can diagnose itself. These are the principal benefits of our high temperature sensor technology.

Leif: We’ve laid it out so we can have multiple probes on one active set of electronics. This means that regardless of the system configuration – whether you have a single probe, double probe, triple or quadruple – you don’t have to duplicate the electronics in the system. You can have up to four probes on one set of electronics which then communicates to the engine controller.

For some time, we have seen micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) being used as a primary future technology in the sensor market. What are the notable trends for MEMS in that sector?

MEMS technology is a key ingredient, already vital to pressure sensors. This is where you really have the high-volume applications today in the automotive industry. A year ago we were the first to launch a MEMS-based single-chip integrated mass airflow sensor. In terms of new sensors for automotive applications – in addition to pressure, where MEMS have been used for some time now – mass airflow is a good example.

As we understand it, Continental is playing a role in the consortium known as IQ Fuel to develop a highly integrated micro-sensor. What does this fuel-quality sensor aim to offer and what’s unique about it?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto’s QUBE research service