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R&D and innovation

Innovating for positive impact

Many of our customers have committed to ambitious goals to reduce their impacts, and we recognise that our products and services help them shrink their footprints. We are helping make this happen by developing innovative products and solutions that enable customers to conserve resources; decrease fuel use and emissions; and make smart energy decisions through Internet of Things connectivity—all while increasing reliability, durability and safety.

We currently have corporate research teams in the United States, China, India, Ireland and the Czech Republic. In 2018 we launched our Centre for Intelligent Power in Dublin, Ireland. Here our data science teams work to expand our digital platforms and capabilities. We’re accelerating digital innovation across our portfolio by collaborating with a robust ecosystem of partners that includes academia, government agencies and research incubators.

Our corporate research teams around the world work to accelerate innovation across our portfolio of products. In 2018, we invested over $580 million in this effort, which in part helps to solve the challenge of modernising power grids to improve stability, flow and access to electricity. As an innovator in energy storage solutions, we help homes, businesses and utilities take control of their energy supply and move toward a more sustainable future. And we are exploring cutting-edge solutions in polymer materials, composites and structures to improve the efficiency, durability and recyclability of our products.

Additive manufacturing

With the emergence of 3D printing technology, we can build products and components by adding layers of materials, like plastics, other polymers or metals. Unlike traditional methods of manufacturing, which are largely based on subtractive manufacturing (like drilling or cutting away material) or forming (like forging), additive manufacturing has the potential to decrease waste and scrap from the production process by putting material only where it’s needed.

Our Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence (AM CoE) in Southfield, Michigan, USA, helps us meet the increasing demand for complex high-performance components, tools and fixtures, while improving speed to market and advancing sustainable manufacturing efforts. 

In 2018, the AM CoE earned its AS9100 Rev D certification. The certification, a comprehensive quality system for providing safe and reliable products to the aerospace industry, will enable us to supply 3D printed metal components to civil and military customers.

Internet of Things (IoT)

We’ve embraced the digital world and our place in it to rethink innovation. We’re leveraging technology to improve our customer experience and inspiring our employees with digital tools to drive productivity.

At the heart of these advancements are the “things” that generate, collect and process data to provide actionable insights to optimise power use and continuity and drive energy efficiency. Digital connectivity exists across the manufacturing floor, electric grid, buildings, healthcare facilities, transportation and in the home. We’re taking Industry 4.0 head-on, employing artificial intelligence and advanced machinery in our factories and developing technologies to help our customers do the same. And we’re generating the insights needed for customers to make better decisions with more products and services with IoT connectivity built in.

Vehicle safety

Our IntelliConnect product provides diagnostics and predictive analytics through transmission codes, engine duty cycles and terrain information to notify truck drivers and fleet owners in real time about vehicle faults—and their potential severity—so the driver can determine when maintenance is needed, improving fleet uptime and efficiency.

Data centre efficiency

PredictPulse is a 24/7 predictive monitoring service for our uninterruptible power systems (UPSs) that tracks and sends parametric data and real-time alarm information every 15 minutes to help ensure data centre uptime.

Microgrid optimisation

Whether on- or off-grid, our Power Xpert energy optimiser controller monitors and regulates every aspect of power. The controller is connected to an energy infrastructure and the utility grid via open protocols. Through diagnostics, predictive and prescriptive analytics and models, grids can operate under challenging conditions.

Power density

From LED headlamps to controlling powertrains, conventional vehicles are increasingly controlled and animated by electronics. We project that by 2030, electrified vehicles—from battery electric to plug-in hybrid, hybrid electric and mild hybrid—will increase to 38 per cent of the global passenger car market.

Our innovations in inductors and inverters are about providing the highest power density for this automotive future. As space is at a premium in automobiles, our high-power density inductors and inverters allow for compact lightweight designs that help maximise range in electric vehicles and save fossil fuel consumption in conventional vehicles, while meeting demanding performance requirements.

Design for the Environment (DfE)

A circular economy relies on designing out waste and pollution and optimising the use of natural resources. Our production processes follow several of these principles.

For example, we are developing solutions for second-life electric vehicle batteries, extending their lives before the batteries are ultimately recycled. We partnered with Nissan to use second-life lithium ion batteries from their electric vehicles in our xStorage energy storage systems. For example, the xStorage Buildings system installed at the Johann Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam uses the equivalent of 63 second-life Nissan Leaf batteries as part of the solution.

And our Transfer Switch Monitor 900 makes it easier and more cost-effective to upgrade existing equipment rather than perform a total equipment replacement. This approach prolongs the useful life of equipment and helps prevent unnecessary waste.

We continually take environmental concerns into account as a part of our product design process. The principle objective of Design for the Environment (DfE) is to reduce the overall impact of a product across its life cycle—production, distribution, use and end of life. Four characteristics guide our design decisions: energy efficiency, resource efficiency, recycling and compliance with regulations. We use Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to calculate the potential environmental impacts of a growing selection of products adhering to ISO 14040/14044 standards.

How we measure success

In 2018, Eaton invested over $580 million in research and development, helping solve the needs of our customers’ most demanding electrical, fluid and mechanical power management challenges—now and into the future.

We have a global network of six innovation centres and more than 10,000 engineers aligned on developing safe, reliable, energy-efficient, intelligent and connected products.

In 2018, 440 first-issued patents were granted to Eaton innovators. First-issued means the first patent granted on an invention, even if that invention is filed as a "family" of patent applications in multiple countries. When all family members of patent applications in those multiple countries are considered,1,488 total worldwide patents were granted to Eaton innovators in 2018.