Valeo’s Visibility Systems group designs and produces lighting and wiper systems that improve driver comfort and safety in all weather conditions. Continuing just-auto/QUBE’s series of interviews with tier one component suppliers, we caught up with Christophe Le Ligné, Chief Technology Officer of the Visibility Systems Business Group at Valeo to learn more about its wiper systems and innovations.

What market trends are you seeing with wiper blade technology?

The market trends that we are seeing with wiper systems technologies are globally the same as those of the automotive market. Safety and reducing CO2 emissions being the ones which stand out the most.

To respond to these trends, technologies are evolving and Valeo is strongly working to innovate and put in place new technologies.

First of all, the electronisation of motors brought a major change in technologies, allowing not only a significant weight reduction, enabling us to reduce CO2 emissions, but also safety by enlarging the wiping surface of the windshield, giving better visibility without neglecting styling impacts. Electronic motors are giving us the possibility of making the blades disappear while being unused. 

Hydrophobic windshields also require a specific rubber quality for a longer lifetime.

The blades are not left out of course. The quality of wiping always holds a major role to keep perfect visibility at all times, which is why Valeo continues to enlarge its own range of rubbers, in order to be able to respond to any type of need. For example, from one region to another, there may be specific needs: frost and snow in cold countries or dust in more polluted areas each bring a different challenge. Hydrophobic windshields also require a specific rubber quality for a longer lifetime.

Then, we have developed intelligent systems such as the AquaBlade®, another giant step initiated by Valeo in 2011. It is a unique technology on the market, which distributes fluid directly through a multitude of nozzles along the blade, giving a perfect cleaning of the windshield. It was proven in a study led by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany that the use of the AquaBlade® allows an important reduction of the reaction time when braking in case of emergency. At 50 km/h (30 miles/h) you will stop your car in four metres less.

The fact that the washing fluid is spread more precisely also makes it possible to reduce its use by 50 per cent, an important step in reducing CO2 emissions.

To what extent are you seeing more digitalisation of wiper system functions?

Valeo was already a kind of precursor for digitalisation by launching the first wearing indicators through pads. It seems basic but it was a real revolution at the time as it was giving extremely useful and important information on the state of your wiper blades.

Now with the evolution of technologies, digitalisation having given us the opportunity to make a great step forward for the development of our innovations, we’re able to work on much more ‘digital’ solutions which will allow the driver to know the actual wear state of each blade, every time he starts his car. Then the carmaker or driver can be warned when it’s time to change their wiper blades, and why not propose a dedicated service to the changing of the blades. This way the repurchase is easier, procrastination being a real problem for this specific type of case. Again, safety is increased through a more frequent change of blades.

Another great technology that we’ve developed thanks to the digitalisation is the Clean4U™. The AquaBlade®, combined to digital solutions, enabled the creation of a completely new service, never seen before on a car: debugging, defrosting or desnowing windshields from a distance, without even having to get in the car thanks to a Smartphone.

Not only does it make the driver’s life much easier and his driving much more comfortable, but it also makes it safer. When you have a windshield full of bugs, of course the visibility is reduced. This also works for snow on the windshield – if the snow is not scraped off properly, the field of view can be considerably reduced.

What advancements do you see in the wiper segment over the next few years? And can we expect to see more use of remote control windscreen washing and de-icing?

Digitalisation has already impacted several systems. What we’re expecting from tomorrow and the next few years is, after having a connected digitalisation where the driver is still doing something through his smartphone, it will go all the way to completely autonomous systems thanks to the information given by the cloud.

For example, right now we’ve developed digitalised wiping systems named Clean4U™ Defrost and Debug: it allows the driver to launch defrost or debug his or her windshield from a distance, without having to start the engine or even be in the car, thanks to the remote control made possible through a smartphone.

So now we have the Clean4U™ debug and defrost that work through digitalisation still handled by the driver, and in future times, we will have technologies such as the Valeo Desnow function.

It consists in connecting the wiper system to the cloud, and thanks to weather conditions being broadcasted to the car; the wiper system understands it has to wipe off the snow from time to time, to avoid the accumulation of snow.

We’re moving from a remote control function decided by the driver, to a remote control function given by the information given by the cloud.

We’re moving from a remote control function decided by the driver, to a remote control function given by the information given by the cloud. It wouldn’t be surprising for Artificial Intelligence to intervene on future systems to adapt to use cases and driver’s habits, linked to his comfort.

We are seeing more cars fitted with ADAS technologies, specifically cameras fitted behind the windscreen. How are you addressing his trend?

Of course this trend for ADAS systems is extremely strong. It is clear that the cleaning of the camera which has been positioned on the central high area of the windshield is not easy to reach. However, we’ve anticipated this trend when in 2011, we elaborated the AquaBlade®. Associated to an electronic motor, Valeo offers an elegant and very cost effective solution to ensure a perfect cleaning of the windshield.

Another solution consists in having longer blades with a nozzle at the end, dedicated to cleaning the area occupied by the camera. This nozzle, since it is closer to the camera, is not so sensitive to the aerodynamic effect. 

We are also seeing a proliferation of optical sensors around the car. What is Valeo doing there to ensure an uninterrupted video flow for driver safety and comfort?

Autonomous vehicles are equipped with various types of sensors, LiDAR (Valeo SCALA is the first 3D laser scanner compliant with the requirements for automotive volume production aka ‘automotive -grade), cameras, radars so we easily imagine that the camera needs to stay clean under any circumstances. Just like a driver needs to be able to see clearly.

In the case of (heavy) rain, mud, salt or even ice, the visibility of the sensors and cameras is strongly affected.

Valeo developed a complete range of solutions and components that allows all of these sensors, cameras and LiDARs to be clean and work continuously, without any exterior disrupts, whether they’re integrated into robo-taxis, fully autonomous vehicles and of course current personal vehicles.

Valeo is, for example, the first to have developed a new and unique product which allows cameras to see in extreme rain or snow conditions.

According to the object to clean, and to its position, on the vehicle it can be based on nozzles, on air blowing, even on small wiper systems sometimes.

Behind these cleaning devices there is an impressive network of hoses, electro valves, motors, and so again we must develop an electronic intelligence which will ensure the perfect and safe achievement of the function. The role of the electronic is also to reduce, indirectly, the weight of the car: no need to consume a lot of washing liquid if we know that we have just a small quantity of dust to remove.

To what extent does the aftermarket follow the OE trends for wiper products?

To begin with, Valeo makes sure that replacement wiper blades are delivered to the aftermarket as soon as a vehicle starts sales, and to be efficient in this, Valeo launches the blades on the market straight after the start of production of the vehicle. It’s important that the driver of a vehicle will systematically find his type of blade, easily in any sales point to ensure his safety. Used blades due to inaccessibility will only accentuate the procrastination mentioned earlier and so reduce safety by reducing the visibility.

Another strong point at Valeo for the aftermarket is that we have created specific systems to make the latest technologies, such as the AquaBlade® which is not standard, available for every type of car, even if it is ten years old. We consider that it is important to be able to propose innovations that bring better comfort and safety to anyone, even on vehicles which are originally not adapted.

Rear wiper blades appear to have reached “designer” status these days. In what ways does that impact your business in terms of the aftermarket?

Indeed the global style of vehicles has evolved, the beltline is higher than in the past for style reasons, and the roofline is going down at rear for aerodynamic reasons, so that the rear glazing is smaller and smaller, which means that rear wiper blades are smaller and smaller. It impairs the rear view and doesn’t motivate end-users to spend money to have efficient wiping and cleaning.

To improve again this ‘service/price’ ratio we must offer rear wiper blades at a lower price. For this we are now proposing blades with what we call ‘multi connectors’, these new connections enable to assemble a unique type of blade on more types of vehicles: more sales for fewer references. It enables to limit our part price, but also to improve the sales/square metre ratio of our retailers’ shops.

I guess drivers do not always replace their blades as often as they should.  What initiatives has Valeo done to raise awareness and ensure they do?

On average, drivers replace their blades every three years, while we recommend to at least replacing them every year.

On average, drivers replace their blades every three years, while we recommend to at least replacing them every year. It is extremely important to ensure proper wiping quality and a safe drive in adverse weather conditions.

In order to reach out to end users and professionals, we put in place various communication tools.

For end-users, we develop and broadcast videos explaining the various defects that you can observe on your windshield, how to correct them if possible, and when to change the blades.

For professionals, we inform them through videos and internal catalogues, but also organise regular training so that diagnostics can be done. Demonstrate it to their own clients. Wiper blades are important; they take care of the driver’s vision, the most important sense you have to drive safely.

On the medium term, we want to make the changing of blades easier, for this we have new digitalised tools. We’re moving from the small wear indicator pad mentioned at the beginning to a full digitalised service, so that the user is guaranteed to benefit from good visibility at all times.