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Streamlining the driveline development process

08 August 2013

Driven primarily by the shift from manual methods to digital tools and from physical to virtual prototypes, the process of driveline design generally works much more smoothly. However, Jamie Pears believes there is still some way to go.

In a ground vehicle, the term driveline refers to a group of key components, typically including drive shafts, differentials, rear and front axles and drive wheels. Together with the transmission, often simply referred to as the gearbox, the driveline translates the vehicle’s power into motion and therefore its design and development is of critical importance to the design of the vehicle itself. In a wind turbine, it typically refers to a range of key components from rotor shaft to gearbox and from generator to braking system.

Today, the driveline and transmission design and development process across these industries has reached a crossroads. While a great deal has been achieved applying technology to existing processes over the past twenty years, that progress has resulted in what could be termed a ‘new normal’ - where these gains have been planned for, and are now taken as a given. Driven at least in part by increasing competition, pressure is growing on organisations to break down silo-styled operational structures and to move away from legacy approaches to design and development. 

The industry has come a long way. Twenty years ago, it was heavily reliant on manual methods for design and analysis of components, gearboxes and drivelines. The typical design process was complex and longwinded: from initial planning to conceptual design to detailed design and analysis, building and testing a physical prototype and then on to manufacturing and ultimately production. The standard approach to finding failures was in the physical prototypes.

Slow development cycles, high development costs, limited creativity and innovation and the need for significant rework and rebuilding at many stages of design and analysis were the norm and collaboration between all those involved on a departmental basis was limited. Even within individual departments, computer aided engineering analysts and designers typically worked largely in isolation from one another, often using different software platforms and tools.  

Driven primarily by the shift from manual methods to digital tools and from physical to virtual prototypes, the process is now working much more smoothly. We are seeing shorter planning-to-manufacture cycles; improved product quality and reduced product development and warranty liability costs. But it is time to build on these gains and there is mounting pressure to move on from simply ‘technology-enabling’ the legacy processes.

It is crucial that the industry optimises or completely changes its processes, adjusts its organisational structures and adopts the latest tools to radically transform the way it works. To do this effectively the industry still needs to overcome certain key structural and developmental challenges. 

Automotive companies have to work in an environment which is characterised by a lack of data standards for exchanging parametric models and interfacing with sophisticated analysis applications. Software products like PLM and PDM have fallen significantly short of the promise of a seamless environment, at least in part because they are rarely application specific.

Change management is needed to implement these collaborative systems; and while there may be some reluctance to change tried and tested working practices, the rewards are out there. Working collaboratively rather than in departmental isolation shortens development cycles and reduces costs; it also reduces the workload across the design and analysis processes, and – significantly – it inspires creativity.

Moving forward from the ‘new normal’
The driveline industry is currently mired in that ‘new normal’ referred to earlier, and it has now become imperative to implement next-generation streamlined, cross-organisational processes that drive innovation, eliminate re-work and bring external suppliers into the mix, in order to remain competitive. But despite the operational imperatives to adopt these processes, there is a lot of inertia.

The drivers for change are in place. These include increasingly compressed development cycles due to aggressive start-of-production deadlines; increasing demands on packaging size and weight; product costs and efficiency; hitting emissions targets and significant competition for improved product quality and performance.

But change is complex and risky; changes to the status quo can have big cost implications. While the need for change is generally understood by the industry, the current generation of driveline planners, designers and developers lacks confidence in its ability to plan and lead change in a way that mitigates risk.

Nonetheless, there is an emerging group of forward thinking organisations that is leading the way in adopting new processes and approaches. And there are providers of software and services to help them meet the challenges and to support them in their bid to change they way they work.

The focus, so far as these software tools are concerned, is to support the process from planning to manufacture and achieve a development cycle that doesn’t accrue losses along the way – in other words, to support data and model movement from one system to another without the need for rebuilds. Design software is now available that effectively bridges those organisational barriers (be they structural or political), promoting innovation and eliminating unnecessary re-work. 

These new software tools promote a degree of integration that will have a significant impact on the day-to-day work routine - not just of driveline and transmission designers, but also for those working in the wider automotive and wind power sectors. For their part, the software vendors can play a key role in driving this integration forward by taking advantage of the single software platform approach, connecting all parties to the design process who hitherto work across different disciplines and departments.

By developing and delivering an integrated approach to design and development, vendors can be instrumental in enabling this new way of working while at the same time helping to reduce a business’ dependence on outside experts, cut costs and bring products to market faster.

Find out how technology can unlock the potential of the driveline concept stage. Click here to download the white paper.

Dr Jamie Pears is a product manager at Romax Technology


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