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.

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.

Measuring and reporting on progress

  • In 2019 we invested over $600 million in research and development. Over the next five years, we will work to accelerate the transition to a renewable energy economy, with investments in research and development while also repositioning our product portfolio and reducing our own energy use. Eaton is also helping to drive the movement to a more circular economy by focusing on product life extension, more recycling and product take-back programmes, and reducing our own footprint with zero-waste initiatives.
  • 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. 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.
  • In 2019, 431 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, 1,538 total worldwide patents were granted to Eaton innovators in 2019.
$600 m
The amount we invested in research and development in 2019
>10 k
We have a global network of 6 innovation centres and 10,000+ engineers
Design for the Environment is the process to reduce the overall environmental impact of a product across its life-cycle

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, transport 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 lorry 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.