These are just some of the papers that were delivered by representatives of Ricardo, Inc., during the 2001 SAE International Congress.
Or consider this: The phenomenal Audi R8. Ricardo developed the transmission used in that stunning vehicle. Audi finished 1-2-3 at the 24 Hours of LeMans, as well as winning events at Sebring, Road Atlanta, and elsewhere.
The goal of the transmission development for the 2000 season, by the way, was to develop a transmission that was 20 kg lighter and 20% smaller than its predecessor, yet it had to serve as a structural component in the vehicle: it carried all the aerodynamic and suspension loads at the rear of the car. And, oh, yes, it had to shift (thousands of times during a marathon run). Cleverly, the gearbox and rear suspension could be changed as a unit in under ten minutes—which was an extreme competitive advantage under racing conditions.
The 2001 gearbox Ricardo has developed for Audi is improved in a number of ways. For example, torsional stiffness is being increased through the application of topology optimization technology and finite element analysis to the design of the casting. Within the gearbox, the mechanical plunger and spring detent arrangement have given way to a pneumatic setup. And optical sensing is being used in the gear position recognition system.
Either way—the highly technical papers or the highly technical vehicle—you might consider Ricardo exclusively in the realm of the highly specialized.
Back story. While there is undeniably that, the storied engineering consultancy (the story begins for it in 1905, when Sir Harry Ricardo established what was then known as "The Two-Stroke Engine Company") is a lot more than analytical investigations and exotic developments related to powertrain.
The company is staffed by approximately 1,300 people, of which there are about 385 in the U.S. There are Ricardo engineering units in Chicago and Detroit (actually, Belleville). Of those 1,300, 60% are graduate engineers. When looked at from the point of view of function, the employees can be segmented into these categories: 25% design/CAE; 30% development; 7% research; 23% crafts/technicians; 15% other. The customer list literally runs from A to Z, starting with the aforementioned Audi and continuing all the way to Zexel. The company's capabilities range from development through project management. Ricardo has worked with GM on the development of a steam-powered engine (and this was in 1972, not early in the 20th century) and more recently with Ford on its Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) technology. And it's worked on plenty of more conventional setups, too.
"How to" help. A recent development at Ricardo is of an entirely different nature. Ricardo has developed a manufacturing technology team. According to Gordon Hensley, who heads this small team (11 people, with more to come), although Ricardo is best known for its powertrain design and development activities ("everything from snow blowers to 10-mW engines"), there are manufacturing engineers at Ricardo who know more than a little something about what it takes to manufacture an engine. Hensley admits that there has long been prototype build of engines within Ricardo—perhaps 20 per year—but what he is talking about is helping manufacturers with volume production, whether these are companies that are looking for supplemental skills to their own engine-building know-how or are companies that have never been in the engine business before.
Hensley says that the manufacturing engineers who are on his staff are sometimes called in to help develop an entire line with involvement all the way back to the start of the fundamental engine development. On the other end of the spectrum, they may be called in to help improve existing lines. The level these people are involved at goes all the way to the point of actually making specific machine tool recommendations. (Hensley sees that so far as engine machining is going, cell-based approaches are on the rise: "They permit you to grow the line with the growth of the demand." As Ricardo is a firm that does work around the world, he adds another important point: "And you can replicate small cells—even in different countries." He also points out that PC-based control is gaining ground in engine manufacture.)
One of the things that Hensley is very cognizant of is the cost-sensitivities that exist in automotive engine manufacture, which is one reason why he is a proponent of early involvement in programs. For example, he points out that there are manufacturing constraints that can have an effect on the cost of an engine that may be overlooked even though, in retrospect, they seem so obvious—like leaving sufficient clearance for a nut runner to bolt a cover to a block. Quality is a key concern, too: "When you're producing an engine every 14 seconds, it becomes very obvious if there is something wrong." But then there is a whole different set of issues related to the production of lower volumes. "It's comparatively easy to do a 200-station assembly line," he says, "but if you are doing a low-volume line, you must be much more creative." If you want to do it economically, that is. And he's convinced that Ricardo can help.
Not only can Ricardo develop a transmission for a car like the champion Audi R8, but it can help layout manufacturing approaches for making production engines for the daily drive, too.