Will Auto Industry Cost Crunches Spur Optimization Uptake?
Bruce Jenkins posted on December 16, 2015 | | 5273 views

Could the unholy trinity of costs, competitive pressures and regulatory mandates spur automakers to accelerate their transition from physical prototyping and testing to digital simulation and, beyond that, automated-design space exploration and design optimization?

Industry analyst Monica Schnitger reports that ESI Group expects Volkswagen to use simulation as one tool to help recover from its emissions cheating scandal, according to ESI COO Vincent Chaillou. On Dec. 8, Schnitger wrote: “Dr. Chaillou and I spoke a couple of months ago about Volkswagen and the then-breaking scandal around emissions. This week, Dr. Chaillou mentioned that he had just met with VW and learned that VW’s recovery plan will focus heavily on simulation, putting ESI in a prime position to benefit from VW’s restructuring.”

Although VW’s position today is extreme, every manufacturer of combustion engine vehicles faces some version of these challenges. Fortunately, for virtually every discipline and domain involved in vehicle engineering, design exploration and optimization technologies offer potentially game-changing efficiencies and cost savings.

Design space exploration of combustion engine yields response surface model of fuel economy for varying engine configurations. (Image courtesy of Noesis Solutions.)
Design space exploration of combustion engine yields response surface model of fuel economy for varying engine configurations. (Image courtesy of Noesis Solutions.)

Powertrain electrification, CAFE and emissions compliance—Design space exploration and design optimization can be applied in conjunction with functional systems modeling and 0D/1D simulation tools to achieve compliance with aggressive regulatory standards while minimizing and sometimes eliminating costs from physical prototyping and bench testing of engines, cooling systems and exhaust systems. (For more information, see “Model-Based Design Exploration and Optimization.”)

Aerodynamic optimization and verification—Optimization can sharply reduce expenses of vehicle prototype fabrication as well as costs of constructing, operating and maintaining wind tunnels or of renting wind tunnel testing time. (For more information, see “Aerodynamic Optimization: Automotive Engineering’s Next Strategic Frontier.”)

Die design and tryout—Simulation and optimization of die design and stamping operations can reduce the number of die tryouts from what some report is an industry average of seven dies before the correct die face is arrived at to properly account for material properties and springback. With a single underbody stamping die costing as much as $500,000, the potential for savings is substantial.

Futures: Less capital-intensive vehicle development paradigms—Over time, we believe design exploration and optimization could emerge as critical tools to help automakers achieve greater commonality and reuse of major systems and subsystems. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has garnered notoriety for arguing that the staggering costs of developing new powertrains and other major vehicle systems, not to mention the new or modified manufacturing facilities required to produce them, are often wildly out of proportion to both the product value add and the return on investment they yield. (For more information, see Marchionne’s Confessions of a Capital Junkie: An Insider Perspective on the Cure for the Industry’s Value-Destroying Addiction to Capital.”)

Although Marchionne’s proposals for cost savings through radical industry consolidation have been predictably rebuffed thus far, the structural problem is real enough. We expect that new entrants to the industry such as Apple and Google will seek to avoid much of this capital burden by introducing vehicle engineering and production concepts taken from high-tech electronics, where product architecture innovation is paramount, while even major systems and subsystems are often viewed as commodities to be sourced from the most cost-effective supplier.

For this approach, design space exploration is a natural fit and could well borrow concepts and tools from the embedded-systems industry, where “design space exploration” comprises a rigorous set of methodologies for hardware/software codesign, configuration of software product lines and real-time software synthesis: “The set of all possible design alternatives for a system is referred to as a design-space, and design-space exploration (DSE) is the systematic exploration of the elements in a design-space” (Saxena and Karsai, “Towards a Generic Design Space Exploration Framework,” proceedings of 2010 IEEE 10th International Conference on Computer and Information Technology).

Bruce Jenkins is president of Ora Research, a research and advisory services firm focused on technology business strategy for 21st-century engineering practice.

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