January 10, 2020

From Renewable Energy to EVs: Exploring NSK's Passion for Setting the Future in Motion at Tokyo Motor Show 2019

1.3 million visitors flock to check out TMS 2019

The 46th Tokyo Motor Show was held over 12 days from October 24 to November 4, 2019. Over 1.3 million visitors made their way to the show to explore its many future-oriented exhibits organized around the theme "Open Future." It had been 12 years since visitor numbers last broke the one million mark in 2007, when the event attracted roughly 1.42 million.

The event overall was a roaring success, and NSK's booth reeled in a multitude of visitors. To find out just what had everybody hooked, we sat down for a chat with the member of the team who put together the concept behind NSK's booth.

NSK booth concept: "Setting the Future in Motion."

The concept of this year's exhibit is "setting the future in motion," says Yousuke Shimomura, member of the Automotive Technology Development Center's Powertrain Technology Development Department. Mr. Shimomura was responsible for arranging everything from establishing the booth's concept, to creating the product exhibits on display.

Our company excels at creating a wide array of machine parts like bearings and ball screws, and we also manufacture and supply all sorts of products for the automotive industry such as transmission system components and electric power steering systems. We want contribute to the future of society with all of the technology we have cultivated up until now, and continue to grow moving forward.

── To that effect, this goal has come to take shape for Mr. Shimomura and his team through daily research into the trends and conditions of our society.

As a result of our research, we've identified three fields where NSK can apply its technology. The first is renewable energy. As we move into the future, we predict that efforts toward tackling environmental issues will shift to focus on developing sources of renewable energy. The second is infrastructure to use and store that energy. And finally the third is autonomous driving. We believe that these are areas in which NSK's technology can provide effective solutions.

The concept that best expresses this endeavor is "setting the future in motion." This phrase is also associated with NSK Vision 2026, which NSK established looking forward to the next 10 years when it was celebrated its centenary in 2016.

In line with the booth's concept, we have infused this year's exhibit with our strong desire to not simply respond to society's needs, but to unearth potential needs ourselves, and lead the world in setting the future in motion. Facing a future in which the shape of mobility is transforming, how will the relationship between people and automobiles change along with it? Nobody can produce an answer to that question with any certainty. But whatever kind of future we might be heading toward, our technology and innovative ideas are sure to make a difference. We created this kind of exhibit because we want to show the world what NSK can offer the future in seeking the ideal relationship between people and the automobile.

NSK's booth at Tokyo Motor Show 2019

NSK's booth at Tokyo Motor Show 2019

The booth's layout featured the Seamless Two-Speed e-Axle Concept, Steer-by-wire technology, and Ball Screw Actuator for Electric-Hydraulic Brakes on the center display, surrounded by EV Wireless Charging in Motion, the Wave Energy Converter, and the Cluster Rover Module Concept.

The booth's central display features exhibits of nothing but the latest and hottest technology. The Seamless Two-Speed e-Axle Concept is a motor/transmission combo unit equipped with a two-speed gear with intelligent shifting via electric shift actuator. The e-Axle provides a high degree of freedom in terms of compatibility with different vehicle body structures, making it ideal to further advance vehicle electrification.

This product employs a traction drive reducer that enables torque transmission through oil in place of gears, allowing it to achieve a 30% reduction in size and weight compared to conventional products. The combination of a two-speed gear and traction drive reducer enables not only superior acceleration and a high top speed, but also provides for a smooth driving experience and extended driving range.

Steer-by-wire is a system that converts the movement of the steering wheel into an electronic signal to change the direction of the tires. At NSK, we are developing this technology with the aim of increasing the level of safety and comfort of self-driving vehicles.

The steer-by-wire technology we exhibited this year is a system with a high output that can also be installed in large-size vehicles such as trucks. If autonomous driving becomes a possibility for large-size vehicles, the burden on drivers in situations like reverse parking in extremely tricky, narrow spaces will be dramatically reduced.

The Ball Screw Actuator for Electric-Hydraulic Brakes is a technology that supports the electrification of brake systems. This is essential for autonomous driving, as brake systems will need to be equipped with an electric motor for software to control vehicle braking. NSK's ball screw takes the rotational motion of the motor and converts it into linear motion to quickly engage the brakes with precision. Being a leader in ball screw technology, NSK has been able to achieve a compact and lightweight design in this actuator. In the future era of autonomous driving, this technology can be applied to collision damage mitigation braking systems (automatic emergency braking systems) to provide an extra level of safety and security.

I would like to further bring your attention to the technology being exhibited around the center display. In particular, I'd like to focus on the exhibits displaying technology for the creation, transmission, and use of renewable energy. In other words, the Wave Energy Converter which creates electricity, the EV Wireless Charging in Motion system that transmits it, and the Cluster Rover Module Concept that uses it for power.

Just as its name implies, the Wave Energy Converter is a power generating system that harnesses the power of waves on the ocean - renewable energy. The In-Motion Wireless Charging system is a technology that transmits electric power to an electric vehicle (EV) from coils embedded in the road surface. Then, there is the Cluster Rover Module Concept, which is an actuator module for EVs. It is being considered for use in box-on-wheels design self-driving cars.

In addition to this technology on display, the' Bearing Assembly Experience Corner' sat on the side of the booth, which has recently become a mainstay at NSK exhibition booths. Many visitors enjoyed the experience again this year.

NSK technology plays a key role in the spread of renewable energy

The Wave Energy Converter (WEC; InfinityWEC) was on display in the NSK exhibition booth as technology that creates renewable energy. This technology uses a buoy to capture the energy created by the undulation of waves on the ocean to generate electric power.

What's surprising is the sheer size of this device. The diameter of the buoy is approximately 11 meters. The nuts of the ball screws built in to the device move up and down with the motion of the waves, generating power.

── Moving on from our discussion of the booth's concept, we asked Mr. Shimomura more about the InfinityWEC.

My ears pricked up when I heard the words 'wave energy converter' around the office. I hear that the project started when a venture company in Sweden that had been trying to develop the InfinityWEC came to us asking if we would make ball screws for them. The power generator the company is planning to make requires large ball screws. These are extremely difficult to manufacture, and there are very few companies that are equipped with the engineering skill and knowhow to handle the project. This is what led them to our doorstep. Wave power generation is a method of creating renewable energy that is not yet known by very many people in Japan. By exhibiting this technology at the Tokyo Motor Show this year, I was hoping it could gain more widespread recognition throughout the world.

There are high expectations for wave power generation as a new attempt at harnessing renewable energy, but it is still five or six years away from practical implementation.

Furthermore, the crux supporting the new venture into wave power generation is the ball screw. In the InfinityWEC, the up-and-down motion of the buoy caused by the waves is converted into rotational motion by ball screws to produce power. In order to increase power generation efficiency, the ball screws need to move smoothly, and of course, high durability is also a requirement. To manufacture a screw of this scale calls for some intensive heat treatment and cutting, and a high technical capability is required to achieve the required roundness of such a large nut.

On the topic of renewables, we put the InfinityWEC on display this year as a new concept we are working on, but in terms of renewable energy, NSK's technology is already being used in wind and solar power generation. Our technology is used in wind turbines to efficiently transform the energy gained from the rotation of turbine blades into power, and the precise positioning of NSK ball screws is indispensable to the manufacturing of solar power generation systems. NSK technology is used not only in Japan, but all over the world.

── NSK technology is making huge contributions to the advancement of renewable energy.

At NSK our corporate philosophy directs us to build a safe, smooth society and preserve the global environment. As the spread of the automobile continues, rapid advancements have been made in vehicle electrification to curb global warming. Not emitting CO2, electric vehicles (EV) are seen as a particularly effective means to solve the global warming crisis.

That being said, how we go about obtaining the electric power for EVs is crucial. Securing naturally occurring renewable energy sources to generate electric power for EVs is extremely important in keeping them green as people enjoy increased mobility moving forward.

Furthermore, the sustainable growth of NSK itself hinges on its efforts to resolve these societal issues. Moreover, by engaging in open innovation with venture companies in all corners of the globe, we are working to light the spark that sets the future in motion.