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World premiere: Schaeffler rear-wheel steering system goes into series production

29 August 2023

The new mechatronic rear-wheel steering system from Schaeffler has its series-production premiere, bringing enhanced agility on bends and superior inner-city manoeuvrability to the new electric SUV of a renowned vehicle manufacturer.

By adding steering functionality to the rear axle, Schaeffler’s new technology improves handling in city traffic, enhances lane-change stability, and makes the vehicle easier to park. 

“Schaeffler has developed from a supplier of components for chassis systems to a provider of complete steering systems,” said Matthias Zink, CEO of Automotive Technologies at Schaeffler AG. 

“We have built up extensive capabilities around steering systems in recent years because we see this as a strategic growth area for our business.” 

The key to Schaeffler’s new rear-wheel steering system is the planetary roller gear – a world-first based on precision mechanical engineering from the company’s in-house industrial technology operations. 

The result is a highly compact system that is lightweight, quiet in operation, and optimised for easy vehicle integration. This innovative steering system has been well received by the market, with the first customer onboard and various other automakers likewise committed to using it in their vehicles. 

In fact, further vehicle models featuring the steering system from Schaeffler are due to go into production before the end of 2023, as well as in 2024.

Ahead of the pack with an innovative planetary roller gear
Schaeffler’s rear-wheel steering system consists of two sub-assemblies. The first – and the key to it all – is a precision mechanical system featuring a planetary roller gear from the company’s industrial division that has been specifically adapted for automotive applications. 

The second is the powerpack, comprising the electronics, electric motor and software. Schaeffler develops the overall system and takes care of its integration into the customer’s vehicles. 

The planetary roller gear sets the Schaeffler system apart from rear-wheel steering systems made by other manufacturers, which traditionally use trapezoidal screw drives. Consequently, the Schaeffler product not only meets the stringent safety standards of Automotive Safety Integrity Level D (ASIL D), but it also yields significantly increased efficiency, reduced friction, and shorter system reaction times. 

This allows Schaeffler to generate precise, as well as safe, vehicle motion. This is especially advantageous for drivers of electric vehicles because it compensates for the downsides of the longer wheelbase necessitated by the underfloor battery position common in such vehicles. 

A longer wheelbase means a larger turning radius and hence reduced manoeuvrability. The Schaeffler rear-wheel steering system overcomes this problem in a number of ways. 

First, when the vehicle is changing lanes at higher speeds, the system turns the rear wheels in the same steering direction as the front wheels, enhancing stability, handling and safety

Second, on tight bends, the system improves vehicle agility by turning the rear wheels in the opposite steering direction to the front wheels. This creates a virtual reduction in wheelbase, enabling the driver to steer through the bend with ease. 

In the same way, the system also reduces the vehicle’s turning radius, making it much easier to manoeuvre, park, and make U-turns in tight inner-city spaces. Finally, the technology improves the active intervention capabilities of automated lane change assist systems.

Lighter, smaller, quieter
Other benefits of the new Schaeffler system include an improved steering feel as well as increased safety and ride comfort.

“Thanks to its optimised inner design, our rear-wheel steering system is more compact and requires less installation space in the vehicle,” said Clément Feltz, Head of Chassis business division at Schaeffler. 

“As a result, automakers can save up to 15 percent in weight compared to alternative systems.” 

The solution, the first electrohydraulic power steering system specially designed for front wheel steering in commercial vehicles, will be used in series production for a Chinese vehicle manufacturer. This system will initially support Level 2 automation and subsequently higher-level autonomous driving functions. 

“Schaeffler first started out in the chassis systems market with precision mechanical components. Today, we are developing and manufacturing complete mechatronic chassis solutions of all kinds, ranging all the way to fully integrated rolling chassis concepts,” said Clément Feltz.

Feltz heads a division of the company’s automotive technologies business that will continue to be systematically developed into an integrator of chassis systems for large-scale automotive production and new forms of mobility. The company’s first key components for steer-by-wire systems will go into large-scale automotive production midway through the current decade, with plans that complete, fully integrated steer-by-wire systems will follow.

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