The automotive and aerospace industries are undergoing huge changes brought on by the urgent demand for action towards reducing humanity’s carbon footprint. For the automotive industry in particular, there is an additional pressure to evolve the driver’s role, to liberate them from the reins, as it were. Not only will this allow the driver to use their travel time more productively, it will also open up mobility for sectors of society for whom it might otherwise be impossible to get from point a to point b independently. All these pressures have led to the frenetic activity that we see in both industries, from the large number of Electric Vehicles (EVs) currently under development, to the growing innovation in the electric aeronautical technology field including electrified ultra-short take-off and landing (eSTOL) aircraft.
As with any rapid expansion, efficiency and how best to achieve it is always at the forefront of considerations. It was with that in mind that the webinar “Developing Efficient Structural Concepts for the Future of Mobility” was hosted by Manohar Prabhu & Anup Iti from Dassault Systèmes, as part of the NAFEMS World Congress sponsor series. As I’m sure you can appreciate from the title, this is a huge subject and to best tackle it the hosts split it into three focused topics:
'Sometimes you don't have much money, but you need to have a lot of ideas.’-Dr Jean Botti
As the co-founder of VoltAero, Dr Botti knows better than most just how challenging the conceptual phase of a design can be. This is mainly because compared with bigger companies, the financial cost of innovation represents a much greater burden for start-ups. To meet this challenge, he encourages creativity, and when you discover how VoltAero on their continuing journey towards the development of a unique small aircraft with hybrid electric propulsion overcame the costly business of wind tunnel testing, you will be inspired.
Discussing the EV conceptual phase, Dr Xu says that ‘people want the product to look good, be fun to drive, safe, energy efficient, green, and also reliable, functional, but cheap and affordable’. it’s not as simple as designing the ‘best’ car, clearly there’s a balance to be struck. Which is where systems engineering comes in. According to Dr Xu, the challenge at hand is moving from historic document-based systems to new ways of working that take into account the dynamic nature of the conceptual development phase. Based on his experience with the development of EVs, he goes on to give us an insightful illustration of how this might work in practice.
Dr Botti and Dr Xu are in what might look, on the surface, like very different positions, i.e., one representing a large multinational and the other a start-up. However, during the discussion, you soon realise that there is much to be learned from each industry sector.
Larger companies might have the budgets to match their size, but that comes with increased time pressure. Reportedly, this has so far led to development time in the automotive industry shrinking by as much a 50% from the traditional 24 to 36 months to as little as 12 months. This makes coming up with efficient ways of working critical. And while a start-up’s larger financial burden might not be ideal, it creates an environment where creative thinking is the only way forward. Both pressures, financial and temporal, result in innovative ways of doing things and engineering as a whole benefits.
On this one, everyone is firmly on the same page; collaboration is the answer. Working across those silos and establishing connections between the various engineering departments is key. As Dr Zeguer puts it, there is a need to ‘empower people, our engineers, to be more creative and innovative’ . Dr Olivares steps in to give us a vision of us how this might look in practice, telling us that ‘a source of truth or a digital thread can connect all the different groups and analysis techniques that we have, from conceptual design to certification of the vehicle, and have them interacting with each other.’
During the discussion, the panellists go into detail based on their own experiences in their respective industries. They offer real-life insight into not just the challenges, but also the solutions to those challenges, some already being implemented and others at the research stage.
The mobility industry is undergoing a time of high pressure and facing a multiplicity of demands and according to Dr Xu ‘we don't have a choice; we have to innovate’. The potential reward of a cleaner, safer environment to live in with increased autonomy for a broader range of people in society is one well worth the effort.
Listen to the full webinar here for inspiration and ideas for how you and your organisation, big or small, can take that next step into the future.
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Dr Tayeb Zeguer, Jaguar Land Rover.
Dr Simon Xu, General Motors
Dr Jean Botti, VoltAero
Dr Gerardo Olivares, Virtual Engineering and Test Laboratories (AVET) at the National Institute of Aviation Research (NIAR)