If you have been very observant, you would note that there has been a bit of a revolution insofar as wiper blades are concerned – the newer cars, especially the continental makes, are being supplied with a new, neater-looking, one piece, wiper blades. Bosch invented these new design wipers and calls them ‘Flat Blade Wipers’; says that flat is the way to go, at least insofar as wiper blades are concerned.
Those of you who have experienced these new flat blade wipers (they’ve been around for quite a number of years now) would agree that they do wipe better, operate more smoothly than the conventional wipers, and generally last longer.
First, let’s load you with some numbers – did you know that the automotive industry consumes approximately 110 million wiper blades are made each year? Bosch says it has a 20 percent share of that market, so they make and sell about 22 million wiper blades a year. That’s a whole lot of wiper blades, and now I begin to understand why Bosch would fly a whole bunch of media from South East Asia and Australia all the way to this little-known city called Changsha, Hunan, deep in the interior of China, just to visit a factory that makes mainly wiper blades. Of course Bosch also makes the entire wiper systems for many vehicles, which includes the wiper motors, wiper arms, and linkages too, but what we went to see was just the wiper blade section.
Throughout the factory visit, Bosch was very careful to repeat, more than a few times, that the Changsha plant manufactures to the same quality standards as the mother company in Germany – which we have no reason to doubt, after seeing the sheer size of the factory built up just to put together pieces of rubber onto a frame so that it can wipe water off a windscreen. There were also numerous ‘stations’ for testing of the products to ensure the strict quality standards are met.
The key feature of the flat wiper is in its construction – it differs from the conventional wiper in that it is a one-piece unit supported at only one point, usually at the centre of the blade, as compared to the conventional wiper blade that may have two, four or even six supporting points for the blade. Although the Bosch Flat blade wiper is supported only at one point, the secret is in the ‘vertebrae’, two metal pieces which support the rubber wiper (the part that does the actual wiping).
The ‘vertebrae’ (or spine) of the flat blade wiper is made of spring steel material that is individually ‘formed’ to follow the contour of each individual windscreen. The forming of the spring steel is a closely guarded secret – we were not even allowed to take pictures of the machine itself.
Basically it is a machine that is fed a long roll of thin spring steel – as the roll passes through, the machine bends parts of it to the required shape and cuts it to the correct length. The amount of bending is controlled by computer input, which varies according to the particular car model that the wiper is meant for. Of course, the bending angles and the amount of force or heat (if any) applied is another closely-guarded secret.
The bending of the vertebrae for each wiper is vital – each car model has a different windscreen curvature and thus Bosch says it is important when selecting wiper blades that we refer to the model chart on the package. Fitting the wrong wiper blade may result in poor performance.
The people at the Bosch factory also showed us how the flat blade construction also provides a better wipe (please read this in the context of wiper blades, LOL), and also pointed out that the major European makes are specifying flat blade wipers as standard equipment now. The reasons, as explained, are simply because of the better wipe quality, a much neater appearance and the mechanism takes up less space.
In addition to making wiper blades for OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers), Bosch also makes replacement wipers for the majority of cars. As a matter of fact, Bosch have been doing replacement wipers for cars for a long time now, but with this flat blade revolution, Bosch now offers flat blade replacement wipers for most cars as well, including Japanese car models. This means you can go to any parts dealer or accessory shop that stocks Bosch parts and ask for a flat blade replacement for your car which may be having a conventional wiper blade.
Some people may baulk at the thought of having to D.I.Y to replace a wiper blade, but in reality it is a relatively simple operation. An experienced technician will take about 30 seconds, and an inexperienced person about a minute or so. With the cost of living and the cost of labour constantly rising, there is certainly merit in doing some of the work ourselves. Besides, buying an R.E.M (Replacement Equipment Market) part is usually cheaper than the original, and an established brand such as Bosch should be easily acceptable.
Anyway, if your current wiper blade is of the conventional type, it might be a good idea to give the flat blade wiper a try. Wiper blades are actually a very vital part of vehicle safety because the state of the wipers will have a direct effect on driver visibility in poor weather conditions, so wiper blades should be checked and replaced regularly.
On a personal note, I do have a mixture of Japanese and European cars in the family, and these cars come with both the conventional and flat blade type wipers. New wipers always wipe best – naturally, since the rubber is new – but based on my personal experience, the flat blade type does last longer. Anyway, now that I am in the know, my replacement wipers from now on are going to be flat.