How does virtual testing accelerate automotive vehicle development?

A CIMdata commentary on new ways of working in vehicle development and manufacturing with more sustainable, efficient, and safe practices from a PLM perspective

by Tom Gill
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This is an adaptation of an original article published by Tom Gill for CIMdata on October 21, 2021

Climate change, resource use, and toxic pollution are global issues in need of solutions. Consumer demand and government regulation are the main drivers for change and within the automotive market, improvements in energy consumption, safety, emissions, and reliability are the most important characteristics to be optimized. According to industry research, 60% of companies in the automotive industry have a clear sustainability strategy: They are striving to reach the “Mission Zero” targets for mobility products: zero accidents, zero injuries, zero emissions, and zero unplanned stops while providing hours of maintenance-free range. CIMdata has been observing sustainability trends for many years and is pleased to see solution providers enhance their design, simulation, and data management software to better support green goals.

ESI has been partnering with industry leaders for decades to leverage advanced digital technologies to achieve these bold Mission Zero goals. Automakers have started pivoting away from single-point numerical simulation to end-to-end virtual prototyping: they design, engineer, manufacture, assemble, and test new vehicle concepts completely virtually – reducing scrap and emissions while introducing more agile and safe processes. From a financial and business model perspective, numerical reference results from virtual prototypes are preferred over physical tests. Allowing engineers to make sense of analyses facilitates accurate performance predictions in the early development stages.

The role of predictive numerical simulation software for vehicle innovation

A common phrase, often attributed to a Daimler Chrysler CEO, is that 90% of innovation in the automotive industry will come from electronics and software. While this is likely true, electronics and software also contribute significantly to the classic domains of metalworking, materials, and system design. Software is used to design products and the manufacturing process, and in many cases to control the manufacturing equipment from an individual manufacturing step up to managing complete factories. Additionally, with the advent of smart, connected products, leading-edge vehicles have live diagnostics that “phone home,” and even download software updates over the air (OTA).

While electronics and software may provide breakthrough innovation in advanced features such as autonomy, they also provide significant incremental improvements in the traditional design of the body-in-white, chassis, interior, and other systems. These systems are core to performing the basic transportation function of moving people and goods from one place to another. Within these systems optimizing performance, weight, assembly processes, and service are critical functions that receive a lot of continuous improvement.

Improving customer experience with new capabilities and automation often combines many different physics domains with software. Mechanical, hydraulic, electric, and electronic capabilities are used to develop and produce capabilities such as electric vehicles (EV), advanced transmissions, safety-related systems, infotainment, and autonomy.

The most important trend in automotive is the transition to electric vehicles. Moving from petroleum-based powertrains to battery-driven propulsion systems in vehicles requires redesigning vehicle architectures and systems to meet myriad consumer, regulatory, and societal requirements and regulations. For example, battery development has been a multi-decade journey to improve battery energy density while ensuring safe operation at a reasonable cost. But ensuring that batteries can store enough energy is only one of the many challenges related to electrification. requirements.

Safety requirements and solutions developed over the years have led to advanced features we take for granted today, such as crush zones, side-impact door beams, airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control. Managing the heat generated in batteries to prevent fires is a major effort today driven by electrification.

Autonomy or self-driving vehicles cannot be done without simulation. The number of tests needed to sufficiently validate algorithms and automotive systems such as steering and braking cannot be done physically in real-time. The only way to fully validate a modern vehicle is to do it virtually with numerical simulation.

Having an innovative product is great, but if it can’t be produced to meet cost, quality, and time to market targets, it will fail in the marketplace. Capital investment and the effort to build up production lines and facilities are enormous. Complex factories with intricate layouts and a multitude of large and small machines are required to produce vehicles as well as their systems and components. Vehicle designs change regularly, often requiring significant changes to production systems and regular production also drives changes as many factories are flexible enough to build product variants and even different products. Physically rearranging factories and lines to validate production is not reasonable. Stopping production to rearrange or reprogram equipment and run validation tests won’t fit in the timelines and budgets companies need to achieve to be competitive. Virtual prototyping of production is a critical capability that leading manufacturers are adopting to shorten the design to production transition.

To address these many challenges, automotive companies need a comprehensive end-to-end digital solution that can support the breadth of simulations within the larger context of delivering a product that meets a wide variety of requirements.

Virtual prototyping of products and production is critical to new vehicle success

Virtual Prototyping is an approach toward creating more sustainable, safe, and productive processes, adopted by automakers and suppliers. It’s also focused on creating vehicles that are greener and safer yet still perform their intended functions with style and at low cost. This best-in-class approach uses a single logical source of truth for all data and product-related information.

Here at CIMdata, we see many examples of how ESI’s Virtual Prototyping approach is helping major automotive OEMs and suppliers meet the challenges they face in developing and producing new sustainable EVs. We encourage automakers and suppliers who want to efficiently design, test, operate, and maintain future EVs, while meeting the highest quality standards and lifetime performance, to consider partnering with ESI. Their proven solutions bring confidence early to all stakeholders involved in creating electrified vehicles that meet technical and financial objectives.

Learn from the Virtual Prototyping Experts

If you want to find out more about how virtual prototyping is applied by leading OEMs like Bentley, Ford, Audi, Honda, Renault, and Volkswagen CIMdata encourages you to download ESI’s eBook on sustainable mobility.

Sneakpeak into September 2022: Together with ESI's virtual prototyping experts, I will host a webinar on the topic of 'Designing multi-material assemblies for lightweight body and chassis'. The insights that we will share will be valuable to all managers and engineers specifically working in automotive design and manufacturing. Visit the event page for more information and registration.

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