Inside GF

Innovation as key strategic topic

Innovations are a key factor for profitable growth at GF. They ensure competitiveness and therefore the future of the company. At the fifth Technology Day in Schaffhausen, the divisions showcased their latest developments and informed about the trends and technologies of tomorrow.

“In all three divisions, we are aiming to grow in higher margin businesses,” explained CEO Yves Serra on the occasion of the GF Technology Day in Schaffhausen at the end of September 2016. “Innovations,” he added, “are key to our success.” With this statement, the CEO clearly expressed how the topic of innovation is perceived within the company: at GF, innovations are products, solutions, and services developed in partnership with customers in order to address a genuine need. After all, it is only possible to generate true added value and expand into new market segments, if you fully understand the problems customers are facing. This is why the topic of innovation is a main pillar of Strategy 2020. 

In all three divisions, we are aiming to grow in higher margin businesses. Innovations are key to our success.

Yves Serra, CEO

In the coming years, GF aims to enhance its innovative capacity and increase its pace of innovation with the support of the design thinking approach. At the fifth Technology Day, the divisions impressively illustrated that GF is already pursuing this path successfully.

Revolutionary cooling system

At the Technology Day, GF Piping Systems focused on the efficient cooling of buildings. With COOL-FIT 2.0, the division has developed a pre-insulated, corrosion-free plastic piping system for transporting cooling media in air-conditioning systems for larger buildings. It is perfectly suited for use in air-conditioning for shopping malls, hospitals, hotel and office complexes, as well as for cooling large data centers where special requirements apply in terms of safety and efficiency. The revolutionary new system not only reduces energy consumption in water-cooled buildings by up to 30% but also makes installation incredibly simple.

The market potential is highly promising. While the air-conditioning market has been dominated by heavy steel pipes to date, there are signs of change now. More and more metal solutions are being substituted by plastic as building owners seek to avoid rusty, corroding pipes that result in leaks. The future belongs to light, durable systems such as COOL-FIT 2.0 which is also easy to handle. Steel pipes require a lot of effort to be welded, installed, and then, in a separate stage, covered in insulation material. COOL-FIT 2.0 significantly shortens this process due to the fact that it is an integrated solution. The comprehensive system with a globally unique combination of pre-insulated plastic pipes and fittings as well as cutting-edge electrofusion jointing technology eliminates several steps in the working process. As a matter of fact, installers who opt for the new GF Piping Systems solution are twice as fast as those still using conventional steel piping.

After the successful market launch in Switzerland, Germany, and the UK in 2016, the revolutionary cooling system is now being employed in several trend-setting representative buildings such as the Empa “Nest” in Dübendorf (Switzerland) and the “Triangle” at Cambridge University, UK.

COOL-FIT 2.0 is a combination of pre-insulated COOL-FIT pipes and fittings with state-of-the-art jointing technology which is unique worldwide.

The revolutionary new system reduces energy consumption in water-cooled buildings by up to 30%.

COOL-FIT 2.0 is perfectly suited for cooling large data centers where special requirements apply in terms of safety and efficiency.

Lightweight expertise in e-mobility

Casting, machining, coating: GF Automotive is constantly improving its processes, tools and production lines in an effort to provide customers with more stable components at a lower weight. Several million lightweight components sold to date reflect the success of this approach. A look ahead to the future reveals that this development is set to continue: in 2025, every fifth new car worldwide will be equipped with a hybrid or electro engine, while production of vehicles with conventional engines will remain more or less constant. Consequently, more and more manufacturers are working together with GF Automotive to reduce the weight of their vehicles. The most important parts include structural parts, gearbox housings, and wheel carriers in bionic design, as well as battery and electric motor housings in the e-mobility segment.

In addition, GF Automotive specialists are working increasingly on ready-to-mount components in order to provide finished parts to the customers. In doing so, the division is responding to a central customer need and aligning its production accordingly. More and more customers are asking for one-piece components in which various functions are integrated. This makes processes more streamlined and vehicles lighter. Especially with regard to the discussions revolving around the ranges of electric cars, weight reduction is a pivotal factor. Structural parts previously manufactured out of steel can now be made much lighter using aluminum or magnesium. Bionic design and the functional integration offered by casting technology offer additional weight savings potential: while automobile manufacturers previously had to install door frames composed of ten steel parts, GF Automotive is now offering a much lighter and more functional component as a single unit.

With this know-how spanning all engine types, GF Automotive is endeavoring to proactively shape the future of the automotive industry. This can be seen for example in cooperations with car visionaries such as Rinspeed, a Swiss think-tank conducting research into the car of the future. In addition to technology know-how for autonomous driving, Rinspeed studies involve a lot of bionic lightweight construction expertise contributed by GF Automotive.

Lightweight expertise in e-mobility: in cooperations with car visionaries such as Rinspeed, GF is working on the car of the future.

Rinspeed studies involve a lot of bionic lightweight construction expertise contributed by GF Automotive.

While automobile manufacturers previously had to install door frames composed of ten steel parts, GF Automotive is now offering a much lighter and more functional component as a single unit.

Future-oriented laser technology

Industry 4.0, automated production, interconnected machines – innovation has many facets at GF Machining Solutions. In addition to the development of intelligent systems, the focus is also on future-oriented manufacturing technologies. One of these is femtosecond laser technology, which is heralding a new era in the field of micro-processing. The technology enables application of functional surfaces to any kind of mold or part. Moreover, femtosecond lasers allow optimum processing of extremely small parts and cavities. This opens up outstanding opportunities – even at a microscopic nano level.

Femtosecond lasers allow optimum processing of extremely small parts and cavities.

In creating these new functional surface structures, the developers of GF Machining Solutions drew direct inspiration from nature itself, be it self-cleaning surfaces that function like the skin of a fly’s eye, or surfaces that completely repel water and ice like lotus leaves. There are virtually no limits to applications; thanks to femtosecond laser technology, customers can create surfaces with entirely new functionalities.

The new technology is deployed in a range of different segments. One example is the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, in which the structuring of camera lenses will now enable even higher levels of image sharpness. The aerospace sector will also be able to benefit from the various possibilities offered by femtosecond lasers, such as putting antifreeze surfaces on external airplane sensors. The pioneering technology offers advantages for the automotive industry, too. The beam response of headlamps can be improved by selective structuring of the glass surfaces, for example.

The acquisition of US micro-machining specialist Microlution in 2016 will support GF Machining Solutions in making the most of the numerous opportunities provided by the ICT, automotive and aerospace industries.

Smartphone cameras with incredible sharpness, improved beam lights or extremely fine engraving: state-of-the-art lasers can process surfaces in the nano range and give them completely new characteristics.

The femtosecond laser technology is heralding a new era in the field of micro-processing.

The technology enables application of special surfaces to any kind of mold or part.

Design Thinking for innovation excellence

Innovation excellence and innovation speed are key elements of GF’s Strategy 2020. This is why the company started to roll out the Design Thinking approach developed by Californian company IDEO in autumn 2016. The aim of this popular method is to develop solutions that address genuine customer needs. Success depends on clearly defined factors: multi-disciplinary teams, a “try early and often” culture and a structured process including rapid prototyping as well as an ongoing dialog with customers. In order to embed this Silicon Valley mindset in GF’s innovation culture, more than 1ʼ000 employees from research and development, product development, sales, and marketing will participate in trainings over the next two years. The first training sessions have already been held in Switzerland, China, and the USA. Further trainings, concrete projects as well as corresponding organizational measures are in the planning stage.