The aerodynamic styling for the Jaguar XE was finalized without the need to build a prototype to test in a wind tunnel
Automotive News Europe
October 17, 2015 06:01 CET
Computer simulation for crash testing, aerodynamics and fuel economy is shaving years off of the time it takes to develop a new vehicle, which is helping to save automakers millions of euros.
The move to so-called “digital prototyping” has helped reduce the development time of a new model (from design freeze to Job 1) to 24 months from 36 months compared with the 1990s, according to research by analysts IHS Automotive. “The obvious benefits are lower costs, time savings and freshness of the product portfolio,” IHS senior manager Matteo Fini told Automotive News Europe.
Jaguar Land Rover head of r&d Wolfgang Epple named crash-testing, aerodynamics and fuel economy as the three most advanced areas of computer simulation. He said that the number of crash-test prototypes needed per new model has reduced to about 10 to 15 from 30 to 50 when testing was first mandated.
“Crash simulation is done over a maximum of two days nowadays, and that has taken the time out of the development cycle,” Epple told Automotive News Europe. With each prototype costing about 500,000 pounds (about 685,000 euros), that reduction has saved a lot of money. The JLR executive added that it also has improved crash performance: “Now you can hit a wall at 50 mph and leave the car without being injured.”
JLR’s 2020 goal
JLR wants to push simulation even further. By 2020 it aims to engineer new models entirely on a computer prior to the tooling phase, a source close to the firm said. In some areas the automaker is already close to this goal.
The aerodynamic styling for the Jaguar XE midsize premium sedan was finalized without the need to build a prototype to test in a wind tunnel, JLR said. That helps because JLR doesn’t own a wind tunnel, a situation that’s not going to change for at least another year, Epple said.
To test the XE’s aerodynamics JLR uses a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) program from U.S.-based Exa Corp.
Automakers are focusing more on aerodynamics as they look to reduce fuel consumption and meet tough new emissions regulations. But they are limited on the experimenting they can do on a prototype in a wind tunnel, Exa CEO Stephen Remondi said. “There’s only an inch of clay on that model. If you want to dramatically change the rake of the windshield, you can’t,” he told Automotive News Europe.
Exa also uses its CFD program, Powerflow, to address a range of other issues on new models, ranging from reducing dirt kicked up by the wheels to cutting wind noise and aiding cooling. Remondi said thermal simulation can help reduce the chance of cooling issues coming to light after the design has been frozen. “You stop that situation where, suddenly you can’t make this part out of plastic anymore because it’s melting. It’s now got to be steel and suddenly the profit margin has dropped,” he said.
Simulation’s single-biggest weakness is failing to give accurate dynamic feedback on how a car drives, JLR’s Epple believes. When it comes to honing a new model’s handling characteristics, a driver in a real-life car is still the best validator, he said.
UK-based Ansible Motion, which develops vehicle dynamics simulators, believes it has solved this problem with its so-called “Stratiform Motion Platform,” which costs between 1 million and 2 million pounds.
Ansible Technical Director Kia Cammaerts said that the Stratiform Motion Platform, which faces an 8-meter long wraparound screen, does what the dominant eight-legged hexapod driving simulators fail to do. “They’re mechanically not capable of providing the right sensations to the driver,” he said. “With our system you can develop vehicle dynamics in a virtual environment to a high enough level that it’s actually useful.”
Ansible last year delivered one of its systems to Ford. Ansible has made seven other systems, five have been sold to automakers and two to customers working with Formula One racing. The company declined to comment on its other customers.