A Data Center on Wheels
“The automotive industry is going through lots of transformation,” says Joe Nelligan, CEO of Molex, “especially in the area of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, or ADAS.” These are the life-saving technologies that generate collision warnings and lane departure alerts. “These electronic vehicle components can reduce human error, which greatly enhances safety,” Nelligan said. “They also help pave the way toward AD, or autonomous driving. We expect the growth in ADAS/AD technology to continue and accelerate for years to come.”
For Molex, the emphasis is on technology. “Cars have essentially become a data center on wheels,” Nelligan said. “Car dealers can now upgrade vehicles with a flash drive. In the future it will happen over the air, just like the doctor who can remotely adjust your pacemaker without ever having you visit the clinic.” To make all that possible, a typical ADAS/AD application requires a vast array of complex components and solutions, including electronic control units to process data, sensors to perceive external data and software algorithms to synthesize the vehicle’s environment in real time.
What makes development of that technology even more challenging is the fact it must be capable of integrating with whatever new technology or application may be right around the corner.
Nelligan notes that when Molex was acquired by Koch in late 2013, “we had some first-generation automotive technology, including a plug-in for phones that we made for a major car company. But Charles Koch really challenged us to think bigger. Instead of just being a manufacturer making incremental improvements in our commodity products, he wanted us to really develop our innovation capability. He asked us to think about how we can create more value for customers while also capturing more value for the company.”
Molex learned the importance of pushing transformative innovation the hard way. Not long after it won the auto account, a competitor stepped in with newer and better plug-ins. Molex promptly lost the account. “We should have destructed our technology ourselves — that is, made it obsolete by coming up with something better,” Nelligan admits, “but someone did it to us. We got serious about advancing our automotive technology and created a multi-chip module that combines charging and a connection capability in a single device. It helped us win back the account. We’re also doing some important work on gateways for one of the world’s largest auto manufacturers.”