How design is driving automotive efficiency

The design space for hybrid and electric vehicles is growing at a dramatic rate with many possible drivetrain configurations, but in light of increased pressures to maximise fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions, what is being done to develop low carbon electro-mechanical drivelines that can help drive efficiency? 

The last five years have seen a dramatic change in the buying behaviour of motorists and consequently on the rate of CO2 emission reduction.

Since the financial crisis, new car buyers have prioritised fuel efficiency more than ever and vehicle manufacturers have responded to this by redoubled efforts to enhance efficiency while reducing emissions across all vehicle types.

In addition to the changing demands of the consumer, manufacturers are also experiencing pressures from the European Commission to address CO2 emissions. According to the SMMT New Car CO2 report 2013, road transport contributes about one-fifth of the EU's total CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions from road transport increased by nearly 23 per cent between 1990 and 2010, and if it wasn't for the financial crisis this figure could have been even higher.

As a result, the EU put in place a comprehensive legal framework to reduce CO2 emissions from new light duty vehicles as part of efforts to ensure it meets its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol and beyond.

Car manufacturers are obliged to ensure that the fleet average emissions for new cars do not exceed 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2015 and 95g by 2020. Given that emissions beyond this level will result in fines of €95 per g/km per vehicle, and 15.1 million passenger cars were produced in the EU in 2010 (source: ACEA European Automobile Manufacturers' Association), automotive manufacturers have a strong financial incentive to meet these targets.

Along with these targets, the UK government and key associations have committed to establishing an infrastructure to support the growth in electric vehicles (EVs). This has involved funding major projects such as the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership programme to allow industry to develop its EV technologies.

The fallout of these initiatives has seen major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), led by some of the industry's biggest car giants, actively developing low carbon electro-mechanical drivelines and vehicle technologies in order to address consumer demands while meeting the requirements of the EU.

Romax Technology is an engineering and design specialist working across industries including automotive, aerospace, marine, and off-highway. The company has worked on numerous collaborative R&D projects in order to provide major OEMs with the ability to accelerate their design process.

It does this by utilising its virtual engineering simulation software, which allows vehicle designers to quickly and robustly create vehicle concept designs. This allows designers using the software to analyse vehicle performance, driveability, fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and many other aspects such as fuel economy effects on the driveline.

As a result of this Romax is able to provide customers with cost-effective solutions that allow the designer to reduce development time and cost during the vehicle development process while enhancing and optimising design capability - all while ensuring the highest levels of design and quality that support its mission to drive business sustainability.

Such is Romax's experience and expertise in the automotive industry it currently supplies simulation and analysis tools, as well as engineering services, to the top automotive OEMs worldwide.

In order to continue its support of efficiency improvement programmes for transmissions and drivelines, Romax works closely with a cross-section of carefully identified partners including universities and leading authorities in engineering and design, in order to continually position itself at the forefront of technology.

Examples of this can be seen with Romax's work with the University of Nottingham to collaboratively develop vehicle simulation software that could improve the understanding of noise, vibration and harshness. The result of this research allowed Romax to develop a detailed understanding of the dynamics of the whole vehicle and not just transmissions engineering.

Romax is also collaborating with Loughborough University who are running a research project investigating the energy use within the powertrain of a hybrid electric vehicle and a smart EV during 'real-world' driving.  The project is funded primarily by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and involves using an instrumented test vehicle to log data during various real on-road driving applications, testing the vehicle in the lab on a chassis dynamometer, and carrying out simulation work.

Most recently, Romax has been involved in a collaborative project alongside a number of automotive companies, aimed at looking at the simulation and optimisation of a highly integrated EV drivetrain. The focus of the project for Romax is to develop an electric vehicle drivetrain system with a highly integrated electric machine and transmission design. This will include furthering the integration of the gearbox design as well as revolutionising EV powering, with the aim of achieving up to 50% cost reduction for manufacturers.

The three-year project will look at innovating the driveline components and the early analysis of efficiency, noise, and vibration through whole-system simulation, amongst other focuses such as housing integration, cooling lubrication, and power electronics.

The design space within the hybrid and EV vehicles market is incredibly vast, with many possible drivetrain configurations ranging from pure electric to conventional vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.

Romax believes in the need for whole-system rapid analysis of a large number of candidate concept designs earlier on in the development cycle, in order to free design engineers to investigate competing solutions at the very earliest stages. Changes at concept design stage are easier to implement and less costly than later on in the design process, and allow the designers freedom for creativity within the design process.

These ideals demonstrate Romax's desire to drive next-generation technology development across the hybrid and EV automotive markets. In light of increased legislation and consumer demands a greater emphasis is being placed on addressing efficiency across driveline technology. Romax is meeting these challenges by providing software and design methodologies to ensure that the next generation of hybrids and EVs is as efficient and refined as their customers will surely expect.