Schaeffler Heads Back to CES with New Acquisition, Capabilities

Appearing in Las Vegas for the first time since 2019, the supplier has big plans for EV motors and axles – and even batteries.

The darker part of this image shows two stamped pieces that are welded together to form Schaeffler’s e-axle. The company says it saves weight versus traditionally formed axles. (Schaeffler)

Schaeffler Group, energized by a new acquisition and a new tagline “we pioneer motion,” will showcase new capabilities at CES in January — its first appearance at the Las Vegas show since 2019.

The company says its complex-assembly experience allows it to produce future-focused items such as this battery pack. (Schaeffler)

CEO of the Americas Marc McGrath said during an online preview of Schaeffler’s CES presence that the company has a new electric beam axle and rear-steering system, and that the company has plans to enter the EV battery space. Schaeffler is even targeting solid state batteries – while admitting that technology remains years away.

Though its acquisition of Vitesco Technologies and its power-electronics expertise still is evolving, McGrath said the company is planning a new factory in Ohio, which will primarily produce e-drives and e-axles. “We need to be in the Midwest to be close to our customers. These are larger units and we need to be just-in-time to our customers,” he said.

Schaeffler makes this industrial robot actuator that is power dense and small thanks to use of a strain-wave gearbox. (Schaeffler)

He said that the company’s goal is that by 2030, 45% of what it produces will be new products that did not exist in 2020. “And climate neutrality by 2040 is another big target,” McGrath added.

Schaeffler CEO of the Americas Marc McGrath. (Schaeffler)

Chief Technology Officer Jeff Hemphill expanded on how the company’s expertise helps its new efforts. For instance, he said the company’s sheet-metal stamping expertise has multiple uses in the EV world. “The housing for our beam electric axle,” he said,” is actually two stampings that are welded together. Not only does that save 50 kilograms [110 lb.] of mass over the conventional axle design and offer better performance, but it also allows us to continue to use our existing presses.” That means when the facility no longer makes torque converters, it can still use those capital assets to produce new revenue.

Hemphill also mentioned the capability to stamp its own lamination stacks for electric motors, something it discussed in an October briefing on its flexible e-motor manufacturing capabilities. He said Schaeffler’s ability to design and produce e-motors in-house is a real competitive advantage. “So when [competitors] are trying to innovate an electric motor, it’s a little more difficult for them to work through NDAs and other things to get the stamping supplier at the table with the engineers,” he said. “All we have to do is call a meeting.”

Hemphill said that the company’s flexible approach — versus offering a static product lineup — means it’s also willing and capable of making any subassembly of something like an e-axle.

CTO of the Americas Jeff Hemphill has been with the company since 1988. (Schaeffler)

Hemphill said the company is even innovating the bearings for electric axles, tying the topic back to its very first product, roller needle bearings. “We're innovating bearings right now that can conduct electricity around the rolling elements. So they avoid electrical damage or they can prevent electricity from passing through the bearing – all new topics for electric axles.” Both McGrath and Hemphill talked about the company’s new emphasis on actuators for EVs. Hemphill said one of the most-significant examples is its rear-steering technology, which is being called for in more EVs. “When you go to electric vehicles… you put a large, flat battery pack in the bottom of the vehicle and that drives you to increase the wheelbase. And that means that you increase the turning radius, which you don't want,” he said. “That makes rear-steer a real performance enhancement for electric vehicles. We see a big future for things like that.”

Up to 27% of Schaeffler’s business is industrial, compared to the 60% that is automotive and 13% the auto aftermarket. On the industrial side, Hemphill said the company will be showing a new line of actuators, including an electromechanical actuator for a robot joint for which the company produces the motor, the control board and what he said is the “ratio-creating mechanism.” He said that by using a power-dense strain-wave gearbox that uses a flex spline, it creates a “very high ratio in a small space.” In answering a question about the future of the mechanical manufacturing business, CEO McGrath said the hoopla over the software-defined vehicle ignores a simple truth. “Clearly, software plays a huge role and AI becomes a big part of the future,” he said. “But at the end of the day, bearings, rolling elements are not going to go away.”