Finding ways to improve cars’ acoustic and thermal performance is big business as consumers demand ever more comfortable and quieter vehicles. It’s why top brands including Aston Martin, Bentley Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and BMW all work with the AIM-listed Autins Group to design their cars.
The Rugby-based designer, manufacturer and supplier of acoustic and thermal insulation products is a leader in the €1bn European noise vibration and harshness (NVH) market, where manufacturers compete to enhance the passenger as well as driving experience. “We are brought in to remove the shake, rattle and roll,” says Autins group chief executive Gareth Kaminski-Cook. “Carmakers come to us with a concept for a new design and we help them find solutions to the NVH problems they experience.”
The company also provides solutions for commercial vehicles, such as buses and heavy plant machinery, to make drivers more comfortable in their cabins.
The current challenge for Autins and its automotive clients is around the growth in electric vehicles, where the lack of an internal combustion engine means there are different sound issues to solve. “When driving an electric car you hear things you might not have heard in the past, such as road noise, the air conditioning, the changing of gears and other localised sound,” explains Kaminski-Cook.
The company will discuss specific noise issues a manufacturer is having, then test different materials at a range of noise frequencies to come up with a solution. For example, if a car battery gives out a high-pitched sound, Autins will suggest what material to use to create a barrier or absorb the sound. Audio engineers may also support on-site customer testing to experience the challenge first-hand. The company is also being asked to help producers make their cars lighter and more energy efficient.
Autins manufactures a patented, lightweight, high-performance acoustic material with thermal properties. Called Neptune, the non-woven microfibre product provides acoustic absorption and improves performance by around 40pc. The company has already supplied the material to a number of electric cars, where its performance is particularly suited to create more comfortable sound and energy control.
Autins’ product development team is based at its technical centre in Nuneaton, where engineers offer ongoing support to customers. They also work collaboratively with car manufacturers and with suppliers to discover solutions to NVH challenges by analysing existing products and new materials.
The company launched as Automotive Insulations in 1966 and its turnover has now risen to around £30m, with 75pc of sales in the UK. The company wants to reduce this to around 60pc within five years, though, by using its continental sites to grow sales across Europe.
It has a state-of-the-art production site in Gothenburg, Sweden, for example, used for manufacturing a semi-rigid, low-density polyurethane foam used in the exterior and engine bay compartments of vehicles.
In future, the company wants to be less reliant on the automotive industry and it is already diversifying into other sectors including flooring, industrial, PPE, offices and apparel. “In the office sector, numerous studies have confirmed that noise is an ambient cause of stress and affects job satisfaction. A good acoustic office workplace boosts productivity and employee well-being,” says Kaminski-Cook. Meanwhile the flooring part of the business, which provides special acoustic underlay products and is run out of Autins’ German facility in Dusseldorf, has seen sales double from €2m to €4m in the past 12 months.
Kaminski-Cook is confident about the next few years after seeing how well the business has adapted in 2020 to counter the impact of Covid-19. It has demonstrated strong leadership by being agile enough to make quick business decisions.
For example it has generated an additional £1m of revenue by retooling its Neptune conversion and assembly site in Rugby to produce face masks. “We always knew our material had filtration properties, but with our day-to-day work in the automotive sector keeping us very busy we’d never really explored its potential any further.
“The car industry has taken a hit during the Covid-19 crisis with multiple original equipment manufacturer factory shutdowns, so we found we had the time to develop this further,” says Kaminski-Cook. Strong communication has also been critical during the Covid-19 pandemic to keep employees and clients informed. “We have been sending out videos from the leadership team to bind everyone to a common objective and remind them of the value they bring to our business, which offers very niche but crucial acoustic, thermal and filtration management expertise.”