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AVL's Holistic Approach To Powertrain Testing

The increased focus on powertrain development is resulting in the need for more advanced tools to speed up testing and calibration.

As OEMs accelerate their migration to fuel-efficient, smaller-displacement engines, the pressure on powertrain engineers is reaching a fevered pitch.

As OEMs accelerate their migration to fuel-efficient, smaller-displacement engines, the pressure on powertrain engineers is reaching a fevered pitch. Both GM and Ford have publicly announced plans to increase their reliance on 4- and 6-cylinder engines, while chucking plans to develop next-generation V8s. This shift in strategy is raising the stakes in the battle to reduce engine development and calibration timetables to meet the demands of the market. Powertrain testing and calibration systems provider AVL (www.avl.com) is laying the foundation to develop hardware and software solutions that will help engineers use more accurate virtual simulation tools and data management systems to meet their top priorities: reduced time-to-market, better quality, and improved collaboration.

"In the last six months, with fuel prices going nuts, U.S. automakers are showing great interest in bringing over the small engines and technologies they have in Europe. That means those engines will have to be recalibrated for the U.S. market," says Phil Kingham, director of strategy planning at AVL. He insists that from 25% to 50% of engine-testing development time is devoted just to calibration, and says it could take upwards of two years to complete the calibration and engineering work on these engines if extensive cold and hot weather physical testing is needed. However, using software to conduct virtual testing would allow engineers to cut this development time while also improving calibration accuracy.

"Everyone needs to move testing upstream. If you can't do testing until you have a physical prototype, that adds cost and time," Kingham says. Powertrain complexity and increasing requirements for systems-level simulation to mimic full vehicle behavior is leading AVL toward development of an all-encompassing powertrain testing and calibration system that will use both virtual and physical tools. However, it will require test rigs, calibration systems and simulation tools to all work in harmony, and AVL admits that it's only 30% to 40% of the way toward linking these various facets.

"In an ideal world, you would have a defined test procedure that runs against your desktop simulation before you ran your physical hardware. The test procedure would be defined once because the desktop simulation model and the real-world physical test system model would communicate instead of acting like completely unique things," Kingham says. On top of this, the accurate repeatability of testing procedures brings another level of complexity to the process. Kingham, however, believes that eventually will be resolved through simulation models and advanced test rig designs that mimic high/low altitude and various temperature scenarios.