Automotive Business

Shifting to a value-oriented
mindset to shape the core technologies
in next-gen vehicles

Group Manager, New Product Development Department,
Automotive Technology Development Center

New technology that frees
steering mechanisms from layout constraints

The group I oversee is tasked with development of steer-by-wire (SbW) systems for next-generation automobiles. When you drive a typical vehicle, rotational motion from the steering wheel is transmitted through a shaft and mechanically converted to move the wheels left or right and control the vehicle’s direction. Power steering uses hydraulic pressure from the motor or engine to reduce the amount of force required to turn the wheels. SbW systems lack a physical connection between the steering wheel and tires. Instead, information from the steering wheel is converted to electrical signals that are sent through flexible cables (wires) to a steering mechanism that moves the tires.

This approach offers many benefits over conventional steering. A SbW system does not need to be positioned near the front wheels, opening up new layout configurations for a variety of components. Additionally, the precise control of SbW is expected to support self-driving vehicles by maximizing comfort, increasing safety with accident avoidance, and preventing drivers from taking control by mistake. While a range of automakers are racing to develop SbW systems, NSK is recognized as a leader in this technology.

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NSK’s technological expertise recognized
in next-gen collaboration with Volkswagen

NSK is working closely with automakers to develop and standardize SbW systems before release to market. In 2019, NSK entered a partnership with top German automaker Volkswagen to collaborate on product development in steering. NSK was commended by Volkswagen for its wealth of knowledge on production and column electric power steering (EPS) technology. The power assist actuator of a column EPS must be quiet as it is located in the vehicle cabin. NSK’s low-noise design and steering feel was recognized as a major advantage by Volkswagen–high praise from the company regarded as the world's benchmark for this technology!

People in my group come from a variety of technical backgrounds in machine elements, control systems, and software development. We work together to fully utilize each member’s expertise in developing our SbW systems. We don’t rely only on numerical data; rather, we use simulations and real-life evaluations in development and have created a prototype to test steering feel in an actual vehicle. We even brought a test vehicle to Germany in order to evaluate our SbW systems. With input from NSK's technology divisions outside Japan, we were able to glean new knowledge and learn about different approaches to development.

A new department devoted to providing
new value for the automotive industry

Until recently, new developments in steering and powertrains were conducted in separate departments at NSK. However, with self-driving and electrification transforming the landscape, we realized that these divisions did not serve our wider goal of charting out the next generation of automobiles, so we combined NSK's teams working on related technologies into the Automotive New Product Development Department. SbW systems are a main focus for the department.

In this way, we are tackling challenges on the new frontiers of automotive technologies. You can see the drive behind this effort in our vision “Setting the Future in Motion”, set in 2016 to celebrate NSK’s 100th anniversary. Our momentum is growing as we approach NSK Vision 2026 and other company milestones, and we continue to reach for new heights. NSK supports each and every employee’s efforts to explore ways to communicate their ideas to those around them and make new value a reality. Our own ideas are just the starting point; we work to expand our views and understand others' perspectives to conceptualize what “value” means in terms of society. NSK offers plenty of opportunities to engage in such meaningful work.

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Involving members from a range of product fields
to create new technologies that resonate with society

In our pursuit of new value, we do not see technical experience in the automotive industry as a requirement. Rather, we expect knowhow, viewpoints, development ideas, and values from outside the automotive industry to play a crucial role. In fact, several mid-career hires at NSK had experience in developing vehicle entertainment systems and home electronics. They are not constrained by the established playbook in steering development and play an active role via their experience and unique sense. While we of course invite those with experience in automobiles/transportation to join us in deepening our contributions to the industry, we also offer a big welcome to those with backgrounds in home electronics, industrial machinery, precision equipment, IT/communications, and materials.

Going forward, we must shift from the mindset of a supplier to that of an automaker and think about what we can offer to end users as we pursue future technologies. We embrace the rapid changes changing the automobile industry and will use this opportunity to further our presence and role in the field as an independent company.

NSK will remain a leader in bearing products, but we are also aiming our sights higher and working to expand our share in new fields. SbW systems are just one part of our efforts, and we approach each day highly motivated to turn our dreams into reality.

Message to Prospective Employees

NSK is a place where people from different backgrounds can thrive while sharing their skills, opinions, and ideas with each other. Our workplace culture fosters honest discussions that respect all members' abilities, allowing our whole team to give shape to new ideas daily. If you are considering a career change, I encourage you to consider NSK – it’s a place where you can take your own ideas and vision and develop them into new contributions to society. We are looking forward to welcoming more like-minded colleagues who can work together, challenge each other with new perspectives, and grow in the process.

Note: Department names and job titles reflect those at the time of the interview.

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