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« Everything hinges on our ability to develop smart materials… »

Hutchinson has operations in 23 countries, employes more than 30 000 persons, including 8 000 in France. We talk innovation with Jean-Pierre Bretaudeau, international research and partnership manager, at the Group’s Research Centre, near Montargis.
What is the speciality of the Hutchinson Group ?
Hutchinson is a world-leading supplier of “smart” solutions designed to enhance comfort and safety essentially in the automobile and aerospace industries. We design and develop technologies primarily for anti-vibration, fluid transfer and sealing applications, to optimise the energy performance of our customers. We rely on our knowledge of materials and their functions to strengthen our drive to become the worldwide reference in our fields.
What kind of strategy does Hutchinson implement to boost developement ?
In a nutshell, we can say that at Hutchinson, function precedes product. Simply put, we have gone beyond the simple logic of product and moved into a dynamic logic of function and efficienty. For example, we have designed an active, anti-vibration system for automobiles to help reduce vibration and optimise consumption. This has prompted us to think in terms of energy efficienty and thermal management, such that we have considerably exceeded the limits of our mission as a manufacturer of elastomer products, even though our elastomer culture remains one of our major strengths.
How do you shape you R&D policy ?
Innovation is at the heart of our strategy. The Group invests 5% of its revenue in R&D every year. For it is our belief that the future belong to “smart materials” that can be adapted to product functions. The engineers in our research centre develop new polymers, thermoplastics and composite materials as well as new manufacturing processes to create more lightweight products, promote better energy management and improve user comfort and safety. We also have state-of-the-art equipment to assist our work in chemical analysis, digital simulation, behaviour of materials, mechanical vibration, transformation processes, acoustic measurements and so on.
Does your research work bring tangible results in terms of performance ?
Oh yes, indeed ! Automobile constructors are always on the look-out for new technologies that lower consumption using lighter materials and improve efficiency. We have, for example, developed solutions that lighten our products by 20% as well as solutions that improve driveline energy output by 15%, at the same time delivering a significant reduction in consumption. We have also developed a kinetic energy recovery system for hybrid vehicles that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy under braking. Innovations such as these have made us a privileged partner for some of the world’s major constructors.
What is the nature of your collbaoration with LUTB-RAAC ?
We have been a member for several years now. The primary interest is to be in contact with the lead players in the automobile and transport sector, which allows us to share our energies with partners and create a real synergy. We will be taking part in June “Automotive Techdays” organised by the Rhône-Alpes Automotive Cluster to present three of our latest innovations. Our goal is to be in sync with manufacturers’ expectations so it is important to be in touch with them on a permanent basis. LUTB-RAAC provides the ideal forum for interaction and evolution.
Hutchinson – Key figures

• Date of creation ! 1853 in Châlette-sur-Loing in le Loiret (45)
• Locations : 96 sites in 23 countries across the world (with 28 sites in France)
• Workforce : 32 000 worldwide / 8 000 in France
• Activities : Sealing solutions / Anti-vibration insulation / Acoustics and thermal insulation /
Fuild transfer systems / Transmission and mobility
• Target markets : Automobile and heavy vehicles / Aerospace / Other industries
• Worldwide sales 2013 : € 3.274 billion (63% in Europe)
• Turnover invested in R&D : € 165 M (5%)
• 27 technical centres worldwide
• 175 research engineers at the Montargis research centre
• 750 current industrial patents / 100 new patents every year

“Innovation is a must

for a small business like ours!”

It was in 1845 that Jean Frappa, a wheelwright, created FRAPPA, the enterprise now run by his great-great-grandson, Julien Torre Frappa. This extraordinary family saga created an SME that today employs 150 persons on two sites (Davézieux and Vaulx-en-Velin) and is a reference in sustainable truck bodybuilding. This is the portrait of a company that has won several awards for innovation, seen through the eyes of its director and most ardent ambassador.
How would you define « sustainable bodybuilding »?
Julien Torre Frappa: Today’s road transport industry suffers from the uncomplimentary image of being a source of noise and pollution, and is often perceived as a « necessary evil ». Our mission is to design and develop refrigerated bodywork products that offer concrete ways to help improve our daily existence. In clear terms, industrial bodybuilding must be sustainable or it will not exist!
In real terms, how does this concept influence production?
All our products are developed within a philosophy of energy savings and environmental consciousness. For example, we have designed a silent refrigeration unit that produces no CO2 and reduces the annual CO2 production by 30 tonnes. The system is called « Silencio », and is designed for clean, quiet deliveries.
Do you work with partners to implement your products?
Yes, we do! Silencio was developed because our customer Casino wanted to operate silent refrigerated trucks that have no carbon footprint. We built the system in partnership with Cryofridge. We are also working with Renault Trucks to develop an all-electric truck with a cryogenic system that uses no fuel. We can also adapt certain applications like the « Trailer Tail » used in the USA: this is a wing installed at the back of the trailer to lower fuel consumption by 2 %.
You have received several awards for innovation. Is that a priority for you?
For an SME like us, innovation is a must! We need to constantly challenge ourselves to stay abreast of technological developments and anticipate market trends. We have our own R&D unit and are constantly imagining innovative systems to transport more efficiently while cutting fuel use and reducing our carbon footprint. We are very proud to have received the bodybuilding innovation award at the Solutrans Trade Show in 2010 and to have won the Transport Innovation and Vehicle of the Future Trophy at the BREF Rhône-Alpes Innovation Awards in 2013. Nevertheless, our first priority is to meet the needs of our customers. And of course, we get added motivation when our innovative capacity is recognised!
What type of relationship do you have with LUTB-RAAC?
We integrated the CITYBRID project to develop a vehicle running entirely on renewable energy. This is extraordinary recognition of our know-how! Pilot trucks are now being trial-tested to prepare the industrialisation process. The project has enabled us to reinforce our ties with Renault Trucks, our customer and the developer of the programme. I think that the cluster plays the role of facilitator and intermediary between the different players to further the development of sustainable transport. The goal is not simply to conduct fundamental research but also to expedite the market phase and secure profitable returns on investment. We are also very much open to interchange and to collaborative projects!

Frappa in brief

• Date of creation: 1845
• Location: Davezieux (07) and Vaulx-en-Velin (69)
• Turnover 2013: €33 million (+ 3 %) with 20 % coming from exports
• Workforce: 150
• Business activities: refrigeration bodywork, liquid nitrogen refrigeration system, servicing and maintenance, vehicle rentals, used vehicles.