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Leading innovators in turbocharger sliding contact bearings for the automotive industry

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Jun 07,2023


The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by strict emission regulations for enhancing fuel efficiency, and growing importance of technologies such as electric turbochargers (e-turbos), wastegate turbocharger and geometry turbocharger. In the last three years alone, there have been over 1.2 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in Automotive: Turbocharger sliding contact bearings.

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

290+ innovations will shape the automotive industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the automotive industry using innovation intensity models built on over 619,000 patents, there are 290+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, resilient spoke wheels, auto-transmission lubrication circuits, and ignition switching engines are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Engine purge actuators, electro-dynamic braking, and adsorptive vapour recovery system estimation are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are collision avoidance braking control system and direct injection type engines, which are now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the automotive industry

Turbocharger sliding contact bearings is a key innovation area in automotive

Higher turbocharger sliding contact bearings efficiencies are frequently required by newer engines, and in many cases, these efficiencies can be partially attained by minimising bearing system losses. Turbocharger bearing systems are advancing due to the need for lower engine emissions and fuel consumption. There are two main categories of modern turbocharger bearings: ball bearing systems and hydrodynamic journal bearing systems. Foil air bearings and active magnetic bearings are two additional potential bearing technologies.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 10+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established automotive companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of turbocharger sliding contact bearings.

Key players in turbocharger sliding contact bearings – a disruptive innovation in the automotive industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

BorgWarner is one of the leading innovative players in turbocharger sliding contact bearings and has filed 90 patents. BorgWarner’s product portfolio for light vehicles includes the regulated two-stage turbocharging system and the latest turbine geometry (VTG) turbocharger sliding contact bearings. The VTG turbochargers ensure precise adjustment to the relevant engine operative points. They are equipped with adjustable, electrically actuated vanes that regulate the pressure upstream of the turbine and deliver nearly instant acceleration and optimum power output. Other companies innovating in this technology domain are ABB, Toyota, and NTT.

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