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Competence in biofuels

Bosch Brazil became a world leader by launching the flex fuel system and the starter that runs on heated ethanol instead of gasoline

From left to right: Celso Fávero, Fernando Lepsch, Omar Del Corsso Júnior, Cleuby Santos, Erwin Franieck and Bruno Bragazza

Léo Ramos From left to right: Celso Fávero, Fernando Lepsch, Omar Del Corsso Júnior, Cleuby Santos, Erwin Franieck and Bruno BragazzaLéo Ramos

The Bosch group, with headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, is one of the world’s largest suppliers of automotive parts. Bosch has about 360 subsidiaries and regional companies in 50 countries. In 2012, the group’s sales revenue was €52.5 billion and investment in research and development (R&D) amounted to €4.8 billion, with 4,800 registered patents. In Brazil, where Bosch began operating in 1954 as a manufacturer of auto parts, the company’s headquarters are in Campinas, in the interior of São Paulo, where it has nine business units. In 2012, the Brazilian subsidiary posted sales of R$4.1 billion from automotive products and services provided to automobile manufacturers and the market for automotive spare parts, in addition to power tools, security systems, packaging machines and industrial technologies. The R&D investment in Brazil amounted to roughly R$170 million.

Innovative projects that have resulted in successful biofuel-related products, such as the flex fuel injection system, which cars can use to run on alcohol or gasoline or any mixture of the two fuels, have made the Brazilian subsidiary a leader in the area of alternative fuel technologies. “We are a global research and development center for alternative fuel systems and products, which gives us considerable leeway in choosing technologies that will be developed in the area,” says systems analyst Bruno Bragazza, 46, who manages innovation and intellectual property at Bosch for Latin America. Other R&D centers, which are not ranked as having global competence, are required to discuss their choices with the parent company.

Brazilian subsidiary
Campinas, São Paulo
Number of employees:
Main products:
Automotive equipment and services for automobile manufacturers and the market for spare parts, power tools, security systems, packaging machines and industrial technologies
2012 sales revenue:
R$ 4.1 billion

“More than 300 researchers are assigned just to issues related to biofuels,” notes Bragazza, who has been with Bosch since 1985, when he started as an intern while he was in a technical program studying electronics. He was promoted to technician and began to study at the School of Systems Analysis at the Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas (PUC/Campinas); shortly afterwards, he was transferred to Germany to learn the technology to develop electronic injection software and take it back to Brazil. Once back in Brazil, he returned to the university and became manager of the electronic injection software and hardware department, where he spent 23 years. “Until 2007 I managed a team of 44 researchers, both engineers and technicians, and since then I have been in a corporate unit that is involved in cross-cutting technology innovation.” His job is to see what the business units are doing in R&D and find funding instruments for research, in addition to partnerships with Brazilian and foreign science and technology institutions, such as those in India, China and Germany, and to protect inventions. “Today we have seven business units with 439 researchers who are involved in some type of R&D.” Other lines of research in Campinas include vehicle security, vehicle energy efficiency, and driving comfort, as well as a business unit for power tools that are developed in Brazil and exported to other countries. Bosch has projects with large groups of automobile industry companies, the names of many of which cannot be disclosed due to contract constraints.

Chemical purification system

Léo RamosChemical purification systemLéo Ramos

When development of the flex fuel injection system began in 1992, Bragazza was in Germany and was a member of the Brazilian research group that was working on the project led by mechanical engineer Erwin Franieck, a graduate of the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and manager of development at Bosch, where he has been working since 1986. “Once we resolved several challenges that had made it impossible to use flex technology, there was still a technical roadblock in terms of maintaining steady fuel pump pressure. To address this, we developed a robust product that allowed us to have a flex car in 1994 that traveled 100,000 km over a four year period,” says the 52-year-old Franieck. “The automobile manufacturers tested the product, but they said there was no demand,” he explains. For quite some time, he took it upon himself to spread the word about the innovation by giving lectures and making presentations on the system to cooperatives and automobile manufacturers. The product was not launched until 2003, eight months after the law was enacted that lowered the Federal value-added tax (IPI) on flex cars in Brazil. “Today, the Bosch flex fuel pump is used in 85% of domestic vehicles,” he notes.

According to Bragazza, despite the major innovation that the flex fuel system represents, from the time research began until the product was launched, Bosch’s main competitors were quick to launch products with similar solutions. “Not one patent was filed to protect the technology,” he explains. The lesson learned resulted in a well-designed plan to protect the second generation of flex fuel, the Flex Start system, which eliminated the gasoline tank used to start cars that run on alcohol when the engine is cold, since the ethanol is heated before it is injected into the engine. “Today we have 12 patents for this system, in addition to trademark registration for the Flex Start brand, and about 15 patents to protect the industrial design of the mechanical parts used to heat the biofuel,” Bragazza notes.

Installation of a flex fuel pump

Léo RamosInstallation of a flex fuel pumpLéo Ramos

“At one point, the project had 80 engineers from several areas,” says mechanical engineer Fernando Lepsch, 36, who has been developing products and conducting research from the inception of the project in 2002. “Our greatest challenge was to heat the ethanol quickly so that drivers do not have to wait long for the car to start,” says Lepsch, a graduate of Unicamp, where he is also earning a master’s degree in the same field. The researcher, who began working as an intern at Bosch in 2000, is listed as the inventor on 10 patents related to Flex Start. Seven years elapsed from the time the project started to the product launch in 2009. The novel product gained acceptance with the help of market research – comparing a biofuel car with a small gasoline tank for cold starts with another biofuel car with heated ethanol – conducted by Bosch itself with end-users. “We are still the only one in the market with this technology and the number of orders just keeps growing,” Bragazza says. As recognition, the Brazilian subsidiary won the Bosch Global Innovation Award.

Different requirements
The know-how that was acquired with the development of the flex fuel pump is now being used on motorcycles. Mechanical engineer Celso Fávero, 51, who manages product development engineering at Bosch, where he has been working for 26 years, coordinates the project, and the product is now in the final stage of approval. “The application for motorcycles has rather different requirements because the electrical system on these vehicles does not generate much power,” says Fávero, a graduate of Unicamp, where he majored in business strategy at the Economics Institute. A motorcycle generator, which is the equipment that converts mechanical into electrical energy, is small, so that any additional load creates an obstacle to efficiency. “Our research work focuses on this specification and we have successfully decreased the consumption of electricity from the fuel pump by 15% compared to our competitor in this segment,” he states.

The Bosch group has 43,000 researchers all over the world, with 1,300 working at a corporate research center in Germany. “Nearly all of them have master’s degrees and doctorates and they specialize in several fields,” Bragazza says. In Brazil, there are still only a few researchers who have master’s degrees and researchers with doctorates are few and far between. “Less than 10% have master’s degrees and doctorates. Most of the engineers ultimately enroll in study programs and specialization courses.” This explains why there are partnerships with research institutes and universities for some developments that require more detailed scientific knowledge. For heating ethanol for the Flex Start system, for example, Unicamp was the lead collaborating institution, in addition to the Sugarcane Technology Center (CTC). For specific matters, Bosch has a global knowledge network that consists of researchers that specialize in a given area.

Chemical analysis of organic compounds

Léo ramosChemical analysis of organic compoundsLéo ramos

Some research being carried out through university partnerships is focusing on meeting future demands, such as the project to develop a starter for passenger cars that is both more efficient and lighter in order to lower carbon dioxide emissions. This project is being conducted in cooperation with the School of Mechanical Engineering at Unicamp. “In order to obtain the same response with the new specifications for the C60 model, which replaces the starters that are already on the market, we developed other technologies for which we have filed 10 patents” says electrical engineer Omar Del Corsso Júnior, 38, a graduate of the School of Engineering of Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp) in Bauru, in the interior of São Paulo and head of the vehicle starter department. “There are six of us on the team, and we work to develop new platforms and new products for the market, notes Del Corsso, a specialist in corporate management and strategy at the Institute of Economics and in automobile engineering at the School of Mechanical Engineering, both at Unicamp. He began working at Bosch as an intern in 1999 and was hired a year later for the electric engine development group where he spent six years.

Cleuby Santos, 30, is an electrical engineer. He develops products in the area of automobile coils and sensors. In his opinion, the use of simulation programs has helped saved quite a bit of time in terms of research. “These platforms provide great technical competencies and thus we are able to identify and anticipate opportunities for better thermal, mechanical, electronic, electrical and magnetic simulations of coils and sensors,” according to Santos, a Unicamp graduate who started at Bosch in 1997 as an apprentice from SENAI (the National Industrial Training Service). Four years later the internship ended and in 2003 he joined the company as a staff development technician. In 2009 he began working in his current position.