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Creating Future Powertrains

According to Jim Lanzon, executive director, Global Transmission Engineering, GM Powertrain, the advantages of computerized modeling, design, and analysis go beyond the six months and $15 million this technology has allowed GM to eliminate from the development process for a typical transmission. “As we move toward alternative power sources,” says Lanzon, “we are talking about integrated ‘power cubes’ instead of discrete powertrain assemblies.” These units will be designed and developed in tandem, and—in some cases—use designs, materials, and processes currently foreign to powertrain design and development.

According to Jim Lanzon, executive director, Global Transmission Engineering, GM Powertrain, the advantages of computerized modeling, design, and analysis go beyond the six months and $15 million this technology has allowed GM to eliminate from the development process for a typical transmission. “As we move toward alternative power sources,” says Lanzon, “we are talking about integrated ‘power cubes’ instead of discrete powertrain assemblies.” These units will be designed and developed in tandem, and—in some cases—use designs, materials, and processes currently foreign to powertrain design and development. Following a “brute force” methodology that iterates via hardware design, development, and testing until an optimal solution is discovered is too costly, slow, and inefficient if the program is to be a success.

“We are learning how to optimize designs without having to create and test hardware,” Lanzon says. This has helped his team eliminate one of three hardware builds—elimination of the second is in sight—simultaneously develop 10 versions of GM’s new six-speed automatic transmission (encompassing front-, rear-, and all-wheel-drive versions), and improve first time quality by a factor of five on engineering hardware builds. Steve Ackerman, director, Hardware Release Center, Transmission Engineering, says some of the main things GM has laid out in this process include, “task, order, sequence, and who needs to do the job within the organization from design to production. It’s also used to create the bills of design, process, and materials for each program.” This includes creating rules as well as integrating lessons learned, codifying best production practices, incorporating supplier feedback on processes and capabilities at the statement of requirement phase, and using technical specialists as release engineers for the first design. “As compute power has increased, we have moved items that formerly were done by supercomputers to the desktop,” says Ackerman, “and added to our analysis tools at both the system and component levels. This trend will continue to grow.”

Refinement of this process is continuing, which includes creation of proprietary program plug-ins to delineate specific tasks or processes of importance to GM. And these will expand as alternative power and drive sources come online. At the program’s current rate of success, Lanzon expects the GM Powertrain organization to adapt and refine these tools to create integrated propulsion systems in math with minimal prototypes.—CAS