In addition to machines, automatic assembly lines and medical devices, engineering and production company NiniX Technologies also manufactures - specifically for the automotive sector - electronics and sensors. The latter specialisation was discussed with co-founder and director Harold Haspeslagh. Watch the video.
Hi Harold, could you please introduce yourself and your company?
Hello Ward. I’m Harold Haspeslagh. I’m one of the co-founders and directors of NiniX Technologies. My role is mainly in business development, but as an engineer, I’m also involved in various innovations and also work on developments in encapsulation and the reliability of electronics. NiniX Technologies is located in Bruges. We’re an engineering and manufacturing company, with about 30 people, many of whom re engineers. We have three lines of business:
First, we build prototype machines. Many people here in Flanders know us as machine and automated assembly line builders.
Our second line of business is the development and manufacturing of medical devices.
Last but not least, our automotive business: developing and producing electronics, sensors and also sensor sealing technology for harsh environments for automotive industry suppliers.
We have a long history of expertise in sealing and encapsulating electronics to improve reliability in harsh environments. We offer subcontracting services on our production lines to manufacture for customers, companies that supply electronics to automotive OEMs.
How important is your business in the automotive field for your company?
Well, actually, it’s our most important activity. We like to keep it that way because it has several advantages. It gives us stable production work with contracts lasting 5 to 8 years, but we’re also enthusiastic about the way we can develop and learn.
Most of the products and services we offer to the automotive market are based on our potting and sealing expertise to improve the reliability of electronics in harsh environments.
Harold, as far as I know, you’re a Tier2 supplier for the most part. Can you give some examples of cars that include your sensors?
We supply companies that build transmissions and dual clutch systems. Our sensors are inside the aggressive motor oil. So again in a harsh environment: high temperature, aggressive fluids, vibrations. This combination makes it hard to maintain electronics reliability. We’re not targeting very high volumes, mainly niche markets.
We have position speed and temperature sensor modules with combined functions for power control of high-performance engines.
Some of our newest sensor and sealing developments are for E-mobility and are placed in the cooling liquid or even the fuel tank. So, in most cases, a harsh environment in a car: chemically aggressive environments for electronics combined with shocks and vibration.
We also seal connectors and headers for control units in the car, such as ECUs (Engine Control Units) and TCUs (Telematic Control Units).
We have managed to achieve IP68 accreditation for our sealing technology.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in terms of automotive sensors and electronics?
I can only answer this looking at the kind of applications NiniX is involved in. There are probably more challenges than that.
In my opinion, other challenges are also important, those related to autonomous driving, E-mobility, reductions in CO2 emissions but also with regard to developing markets (like competition from China and elsewhere, for example):
Safety: like self-cleaning of light sensors, self-driving cars in bad weather
- ,…Reliability: the sealing and packaging of the electronics also plays a very important role in terms of reliability. Prognostic health monitoring might even be included;
NiniX Technologies is a partner in a European project known as ‘iRel4.0’, aimed at improving the reliability of electronics across the entire value chain and at making electronic systems smarter.
Other challenges include:
- Weight reduction
- Fusion and combinations of functions
- Communication of data: central or decentralized ECUs, harnesses, bus systems, etc.
- Pricing of consumer electronics with the extensive reliability and quality of that of the automotive sector, etc.
Of course, the automotive industry is highly competitive. From your point of view, what are the key factors for survival in this business?
Competition and price are genuine issues. We have a broad view on this because we also manufacture automated assembly lines. We choose the niche, with smaller volumes and act more as a solution provider based on our background and expertise. Another important aspect is our IATF accreditation in the automotive industry. This allows us to level with engineers and purchasers at larger companies. They see us as a true partner and this is another important aspect for survival: not only technical expertise, but also providing quality and our the way we work.
You’ve recently developed an active noise-cancelling sensor. Can you explain how this works? And what were the biggest challenges in its development?
Yes, Ward, indeed, we’ve developed a new sensor module that senses chassis vibrations and structure-borne road noise. The sensors are mounted in close proximity to the wheels, with one or two sensors used per wheel.
The application is typically in active road noise cancellation systems, which also include other components such as microphones inside the car, the audio system and a feedback system generating noise mitigation output. The result for the driver and passengers is that unwanted noise inside the cabin is reduced by the noise mitigation generated by the system.
It’s also interesting that this also applies to electric cars, reducing costs and requiring less acoustic insulation material.
In terms of the technical challenges, the first is the integration of new A2B bus communication in the sensor. This bus works as a daisy chain (in sequence): this is a great way to reduce the number of wires in the wire harness, resulting in reductions in weight and cost. The second challenge was the manufacturers’ requirement for an IP69 sealed sensor with a connector.
Even so, there are challenges other than the technical ones.
Firstly, during the development of a noise cancellation solution for a specific car, close collaboration was required between three partners: the sensor system supplier, the audio system supplier and the OEM.
The second challenge is price: noise cancellation can also be achieved using analog sensors. The A2B bus may be very innovative, but it has to compete against existing technology, which is still cheaper for now. So price is always important. It’s quite a challenge for a small company to convince component suppliers to quote at very competitive prices.
What would your advice be for companies that want to become active in the automotive industry?
I think it’s definitely worth becoming active in the automotive industry. There are lots of technical challenges to solve, new technologies to develop, as an engineer you have plenty of room to be creative, there is plenty to be developed. There is ample opportunity for a company to be part of real breakthroughs, making greener, safer cars, reducing CO2 emissions, working towards climate change, etc.
Even so, when you become active in automotive, you also need to be aware that it’s not a walk in the park. Beside the technical challenges, a lot of effort is also required to achieve IATF accreditation and to maintain that. The hidden organizational cost is often underestimated.
Automotive procurement and quality agreements are not simple matters either. Customers want to make automotive suppliers, including small ones, responsible for all the sins of the world, to claim all kinds of costs from them when anything goes wrong. Don’t underestimate insurance costs; negotiation skills are also required.
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