By: Gopal Musale – Regional Manager, Virtual Validation Centre of Excellence, Tata Technologies
The automotive industry has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past decade. In an era where global environmental consciousness has become a paramount concern for the well-being of future generations, the electric vehicle (EV) sector has surged in prominence across the globe. This growth isn’t confined solely to two and three-wheelers but extends to encompass commercial vehicles as well.
Traditional original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have been compelled to reassess their vehicle development strategies, pushing for rapid turnarounds, particularly within the EV sector. Moreover, startup companies worldwide, whether situated in Western North America or Eastern ASEAN nations, have demonstrated remarkable audacity by challenging established engineering norms and achieving the development of EVs in as little as 24 months, from the initial design phase to the showroom floor.
While EVs may boast a simpler mechanical structure when compared to their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts, it’s crucial to note that safety requirements, compliance standards, and validation criteria remain as robust as ever. In fact, EVs introduce a set of unique challenges due to their distinctive architecture, featuring high-capacity electric batteries (HEV) and all-wheel-drive systems equipped with two motors, one in the front and another in the rear. These intricacies compound the difficulties in meeting the ever-escalating safety standards such as US NCAP, ENCAP, and ASEAN NCAP, which are well-recognised by consumers worldwide.
In this dynamic landscape characterised by swift turnarounds and the unwavering commitment to stringent safety norms, the utilisation of Virtual Validation tools, commonly referred to as Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE), assumes an even more pivotal role. While this necessity undeniably benefits the Virtual Validation industry, it simultaneously exerts pressure on the established knowledge base and standard operating procedures that have endured for over three decades. The wealth of expertise accrued by OEMs and service providers underscores the growing importance of effectively addressing the unique challenges presented by EVs.
The reliability and effectiveness of Virtual Validation tools and methodologies have been consistently demonstrated, owing to the advancement of high computing power. Engineers have steadily built confidence over the years by methodically bridging the gap between virtual and physical testing. This ongoing progress provides a sturdy foundation for navigating the ever-evolving EV landscape, marked by accelerated development cycles, exacting safety regulations, and distinctive architectural demands.
Virtual Validation in the past and recently
In recent years, a notable shift has been observed in the practices of testing agencies, exemplified by ARAI (Automotive Research Administration of India, Pune), responsible for certifying vehicles as roadworthy. These agencies have increasingly shown receptivity to Virtual Validation reports submitted by OEMs for various test cases. While this acceptance is not yet ubiquitous among testing bodies, it serves as compelling evidence of the pivotal role that Virtual Validation plays in the development of both ICE and EV vehicles. This process not only expedites development timelines but also yields substantial cost savings for new vehicle programs and facelifts.
Virtual Validation finds application across a diverse spectrum of domains, encompassing Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH), Durability, Structural Crash and Occupant Safety, Multi-body Dynamics (MBD), Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), and Mold Flow, among other major areas. Numerous companies have made substantial investments over the decades in the development of Virtual Validation tools, with the singular objective of enhancing accuracy and streamlining development timelines while curbing testing expenditures—a pressing need within the automotive industry. These tools have undergone a remarkable evolution, progressing from 1D (one-dimensional) and 2D methodologies to sophisticated 3D models that closely mirror the actual design and functionality of vehicles. Following the generation of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) data during the styling phase, Virtual Validation can be applied in the early stages of a program to evaluate various domain-specific feasibility requirements and provide invaluable feedback to design engineers, ultimately fostering a ‘first-time-right’ approach.
The strength of a Virtual Validation team, whether it resides within an OEM’s CAE department or is provided by a specialised service supplier with expertise in meeting the demands of the EV industry, directly correlates with the competitive advantage enjoyed by the car manufacturer. The significance of Virtual Validation in conferring a competitive edge becomes even more pronounced for EV startups. These startups are at the forefront of innovation, relentlessly pushing the boundaries of rapid turnaround times.
Unlike well-established OEMs burdened by decades-old legacy systems and development procedures, EV startups are agile in their adoption of Virtual Validation tools and processes. They not only embrace these tools but also actively seek ways to minimise their reliance on prototype testing. Building prototype vehicles is a costly endeavor, often running into the millions of dollars. Consequently, Virtual Validation tools play a pivotal role in significantly reducing the number of required test vehicles, with some OEMs achieving remarkable reductions ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent. Their ultimate vision is to eliminate the need for prototypes in the years to come.
Future of Virtual Validation
Virtual Validation has a track record of utilising intelligent tools like Design of Experiments (DOE) and optimisation techniques, which have consistently proven their worth in uncovering optimal design solutions amid the intricate web of permutations and combinations. However, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), the Virtual Validation industry is poised for a transformative revolution in the field of automotive engineering. AI/ML holds the potential to significantly expedite the advancement of EV programs, especially when coupled with adaptable modular approaches.
Beyond AI/ML, the proliferation of versatile computer platforms is set to further propel the acceleration of EV development in the years to come. These platforms offer an array of advantages, including digital twinning, Universal Scene Description (USD), and the availability of in-house Virtual Validation tools catering to various domains. These advancements will empower engineers from diverse domains, encompassing CAD, CAM, and CAE, to seamlessly collaborate, leading to swift problem-solving.
Furthermore, harnessing the capabilities of cloud computing within this multiverse will facilitate rapid data sharing, computing, and analysis, ultimately amplifying the momentum of the leftward shift in EV development. This transformation promises to confer a substantial competitive edge and facilitate the creation of exceptional products that cater to the ever-discerning demands of consumers.