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Dual Clutch Transmission

Nov 06, 2014 | Industrial Automation | Nikhil

Dual clutch transmission (DCT) also known as twin clutch or double clutch is creating a buzz in the automotive transmission systems market because of its novel features and performance standards it offers. Transmission systems are one among the essential and vital components in automobiles. Ongoing efforts by research institutions and automakers toward improving performance and efficiency of automobiles have led to various innovations and developments in recent years. Some of these developments include direct-fuel injection systems, start-stop systems, hybrid vehicles, turbochargers, utilization of light weight materials, and advanced transmission systems.

The performance of a vehicle is dependent on the number of systems and components in the automobile, of which the transmission system plays a vital role for determination of fuel economy. Driving experience improves with increasing number of gears and so does fuel economy. On the flipside, increasing number of gears makes designing complex, and also increases the weight of the transmission system. With this technical limitation, engineers face challenges with regard to designing DCT systems.

Some quick facts brought into the limelight by Kia Motors include: 10% reduction in weight improves fuel economy by 3.2%, acceleration performance by 8.5%, durability by 60%, and reduces carbon emissions by 3.2%. DCTs are 12% more efficient compared to automatic transmissions of the same gear range and capacity. Addition of other efficient features in automobiles such as gasoline direct injection improves thermal efficiency by 3% and turbocharged vehicles further add on to significant efficiency improvements.

Some aspects designers and researchers need to address to ensure high adoption of dual clutch systems include developing a downsized light-weight engine at par with high performance vehicles, housed in a mid-sized compact car, available at reasonable price, and complying with all the relevant safety and emission norms. Automakers are continuously making efforts to differentiate their products from others, in order to succeed and sustain in the market. Of the many aforementioned innovations, DCT presents potential growth opportunities.

Dual clutch transmissions are expected to grow twice as fast when compared with turbochargers market, 1.3 times than variable valve timing systems, 1.1 times than gasoline direct inject injection, and 1.3 times than common rail diesel injection systems in the coming years. Among transmission systems, DCTs are expected to grow twice as fast as continuously variable transmission systems, 2.3 times as fast as manual transmissions, and 1.7 times as fast as other transmission systems. Growth opportunity in this segment looks appealing to automotive producers. Some of the forerunners to have incorporated this technology include Volkswagen, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, Ford, BMW, and others.

Dual clutch transmission does not come with a clutch pedal; instead the gear-box houses two separate clutches, which keep the engine and transmission system perpetually in engaged mode; thus helping in mitigation of power losses. This function can be operated in fully automatic mode as well as the driver can shift gears manually. Incorporation of this technology helps in enhancing driving experience and comfort. Here, comfort and driving experience could differ as per the psyche of the end- user. In North America for instance, users prefer the continuously variable transmission option because of comfort; whereas, in Europe users prefer DCTs for its performance. DCT is a perfect mix of manual transmission, automatic systems, and intelligent computer systems, which helps to address comfort and performance requirements.

DCT technology has made its way from high performance sports cars right into the conventional passenger car segment. The launch of automated manual transmission systems in mass automotive markets such as India and China is anticipated to further lead to a shift in consumer demand toward automated or manual dual clutch transmission systems. This shift is further expected to stimulate demand for dual clutch systems in Asia-Pacific region. Even a slight increase in the adoption rate or penetration of DCT in transmission systems is expected to open up high volume markets for suppliers.

From the regional perspective, Europe is the largest market for these systems, accounting for around half of the pie by market volume, followed by North America and Asia. As of 2013, DCT accounts for between 9% and 10% of the automotive transmissions market share in Europe and expected to gain around 4–-5% share in future. In North America, DCT accounts for 4–5% share and is expected to gain 2–-3% in the next five years. Asia-Pacific is expected to witness tremendous growth in terms of adoption of DCT; with current share of DCT valued between 4–5%. This is expected to reach 12–-14% over the next five years. Globally, penetration of DCT is between 10% and 11% currently, and is expected to reach up-to 16% in the next five years. DCT market volume is expected to double from its current value by 2020, with the 7-speed DCT gearbox system expected to remain the largest market segment for the years to come.

DCT gearboxes are available in two types such as wet and dry.  The wet type is extensively used across all geographies. DCT is suitable where fuel economy is a top priority, along with preference for enhanced driving comfort. Companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Ford are continuously working on improving this technology, by reducing the gear shift time to few milliseconds. The dual clutch transmission unit developed by Volkswagen is capable of shifting gears in around eight milliseconds.

Getrag is one among the prominent suppliers of DCT systems. The company generated turnover of 3.2 billion Euros with approximate production of 3.88 million transmissions, of which 2.72 were manual and 1.16 were automatic. The company has set aggressive targets to expand its production capacity to 5.5 million units across its 23 facilities. Other major players include ZF Friedrichshafen AG, Oerlikon Graziano SPA, Fiat Powertrain, Aisin Aw Co., Ltd., Tremec, and Magna Powertrain.

DCT is available in the market under various names such as twin clutch, double clutch, power shift clutch, and direct shift gearbox. Most of the renowned automakers have partnered with component suppliers and research institutions for in-house production and development of DCT systems. This leaves a small window of opportunity for independent DCT systems providers to dominate the market.

Car models available with DCT systems include VW Golf, Passat, Skoda Octavia, Audi TT, Bugatti Veyron, Ford Focus, Volvo C30, BMW M3, Polo, and other mid- to high -range models. Recent introduction of these modules in the mid-range segment in the Indian car market has opened up wide perspectives for global players to tap into the Asian subcontinent automotive market.

For passionate drivers, DCT must be the primary choice for power packed performance, backed with the option of automatic or manual operation. Additionally, increase in comfort level due to effective responsiveness is another factor for consideration. For automakers, DCT becomes a preferred choice due to improved performance, fuel economy, and a medium for their audience to differentiate between  products. Incorporation of this technology in small compact cars will open up new opportunities for automakers in the years to come.