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R&D and innovation

Innovations that improve the quality of life and the environment for everyone

Over the past few years, we’ve drawn on the strengths of our Electrical and Industrial Sectors and opened up new opportunities for us to grow and make a meaningful contribution to the world. We make what matters work—that’s our brand promise, and it means that we work on very important things that matter to people wherever they may be. We make those things work in ways that improve the quality of life and the environment for everyone.

We differentiate invention from innovation. Invention is developing something new, either new to our customers or new to the world. However, innovation is more than invention. For innovation to happen, our customers must see the commercial value in the novel products. This means that the benefits provided by our products must outweigh their cost.

We’re making forward-looking technology investments that impact the world we live in and the quality of life for all in a positive way.

In the ever-growing wave of the “Internet of Things,” we continue to infuse sensing, connectivity and data science technologies to extract more knowledge about our commercial vehicle transmissions, LED lighting and three-phase Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) systems in critical load applications, such as data centres, to improve efficiency and productivity. We continue to decode the power genome, which helps our customers manage fluid, mechanical and electrical power better and with improved total cost of ownership.

Advances in material science such as nano-materials that help tailor specific features like strength, electrical and magnetic properties are of interest to us. When we combine such materials with new manufacturing technologies, such as additive manufacturing (or 3D printing) of metals and non-metals, we believe we can deliver components with enhanced function very cost effectively.

A big technology thrust is focused on the changing needs of the electrical grid—both in developed and emerging nations. As the world population continues to grow, it is estimated that the demand for energy will double, while carbon emissions are targeted to be cut in half. These dynamics are pushing an increased use of renewable energy such as wind, solar and other non-hydrocarbon-based sources. In developed parts of the world where there is a well-established centralised grid system, the addition of distributed renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, impacts grid stability. And in emerging parts of the world, where there may be no centralised grid to begin with, renewables offer an opportunity to develop and deploy “islands of distributed power” to feed the needs of villages and townships. In both scenarios, we bring solutions to either modernise the grid, or to develop new ones, with our energy storage and microgrid technologies and solutions. We aspire to be the partner of choice to help modernise the grid in developed nations and to bring light to those who have none.


Eaton invests in resources to drive innovation

Our global Corporate Research and Technology group invests in critical forward-looking technologies to advance research and drive technological innovations. Eaton currently has 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. Recent investments in innovative technologies include:

Digital factory: A digital factory features technologies such as IoT, big data analytics, end-to-end real time planning and control, autonomous systems, cybersecurity and digital twins. It is a key strategy used by many manufacturers to achieve more sustainable manufacturing. We’ve embraced this digital world and our place in it to rethink innovation and facilitate digital transformation for our customers. We’re innovating Intelligent Power products using machine learning and artificial intelligence, which enables us to extract more knowledge and actionable insights from assets, thereby helping us to manage power more reliably, efficiently and safely. And we are bringing the digital factory to our operations, with virtual factories, operations analytics and inspections to optimise processes and reduce our overall environmental footprint. In 2017 we leveraged our expertise in discrete event simulation to improve the operational efficiency of some of our plants, using insights on layout planning, capacity prediction, resource optimisation and bottleneck analysis.

Additive manufacturing, biomimicry and light-weighting: Our Centre for Materials and Manufacturing focuses on additive manufacturing, biomimicry and light-weighting to advance our goals of organic growth and being active stewards of the environment. We are exploring cutting-edge solutions in polymer materials, composites and structures to improve the efficiency, durability and recyclability of our products. For example, one of our thermoset-to-thermoplastic products for an electrical enclosure will reduce its carbon footprint by up to 35 per cent over its lifetime. We are also innovating to reduce the environmental impacts of our manufacturing processes. Our innovation around low-pressure carburising can help reduce energy consumption by up to 45 per cent. We inaugurated our Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence in 2016. With centres in Southfield, Michigan (USA), and Pune, India, we are making significant investments to build the necessary infrastructure and expertise to advance the application of additive manufacturing to our products. We are committed to this technology and have the scale to explore more opportunities in this area. We are also committed to understanding the environmental impacts and hot spots of the additive manufacturing process, an area that has not been studied extensively.

Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS): DERMS help assure electrical energy, independent of utility grid availability, and can help optimise demand/load management. This reduces direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the life-cycle impact on the environment with increased efficiency and utilisation of renewable energy sources. And, in a crisis situation like natural disasters and fires, DERMS help to provide an uninterrupted power supply. We are one of the key system providers in this field. Our Power Xpert Energy Optimiser with advanced control algorithms helps maintain system stability, shave peak demand, shift load and manage black starts. Coupled with Eaton’s SMP family of controllers, I/O modules and Visual T&D HMI products, we are able to help maximise renewable energy contribution, provide utility demand response functionality and proactively manage generation assets to maximise the performance of DERMS, which helps to reduce the overall burden on the environment.

Our global innovation centres leverage local ecosystems of academic institutions and national labs that not only force-multiply our internal technology investments, but also help us attract top talent and enable open innovation. Technologies incubated at our global research centres are matured to the right levels of commercial, technological and manufacturing readiness using our New Technology Introduction (NTI) framework, before industrialisation through our New Product Introduction (NPI) framework, driven by our global product teams. One of the pillars of our engineering excellence strategy is effective programme management and applying a “Design for X” discipline to new product introductions. Our Design for Six Sigma (DfSS), Design for Reliability (DfR), Design for Environment (DfE), and Design for Manufacturing (DfM) processes emphasise predictable execution and ensure that sustainability matters are considered throughout the entire product development life cycle.

How we measure success

In 2017, Eaton invested $584 million in research and development, to help solve our customers’ most demanding electrical, fluid and mechanical power management challenges—now and into the future.

Over the past five years, we have invested approximately $3.1 billion in research and development.

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 2017, 480 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, 739 total worldwide patents were granted to Eaton innovators in 2017.