Introduction: thinking differently
What is innovation? How can you harness innovation in practical ways to support your business goals? In the driveline industry and for engineering in general, “innovation” is often synonymous with the use of new or novel technologies/methods to achieve design and development goals - and ultimately deliver a higher quality product - in faster, more efficient and lower cost ways. At Romax, we call such an approach Right First Time. It often involves gaining the ability “to do more with less”, and invariably means being able to deploy more powerful simulation, modelling and analysis as early in the process as possible: to focus on potential problems and key issues including durability, noise, vibration and cost right back in product planning and concept design phases.
While most design and manufacturing methods do improve over time, making a major leap forward rather than incremental gains requires a different mindset. Innovation means we need to step outside of the comfort zone. Simply stated, true innovation implies risk. The key issue is how to minimise the risks you face; to ultimately profit from the innovation that thinking differently and taking risks can bring.
Meeting market demands
Constant improvement, driven by innovation, is the lifeblood of a highly successful, high performing operation. From an engineering perspective, it can boil down to addressing three core requirements.
Pressure for faster and lower cost development
“Cost reduction and faster time-tomarket” are the mantra for today’s driveline engineering: shorter and cheaper development cycles mean less time to work and increased pressure to “get it right”. This, in turn, means design and analysis phases must be more efficient and more streamlined than ever before. There are physical constraints in the process too; for example, tooling lead times for gears and castings remain relatively long, meaning the concept and detailed designs for these based on robust specifications must be agreed and finalised as early as possible.
To have a serious impact on development cycle time, issues and problems need to be identified, explored and rectified as early in the process as possible, ideally at the concept design (or even product planning) phase – well ahead of prototyping, as costs start to mount up, and going back to “fix” problems becomes more complex and far more expensive. Such requirements have informed the development of new computer aided engineering (CAE) tools and more novel approaches to process improvement. Does such activity have an associated “innovation risk”? To a degree, yes. However, the benefits delivered via faster and more informed development far outweigh perceived risks (or actual costs) involved in applying smarter thinking earlier in the process. The point of a more effective Right First Time approach is that you have an opportunity to eliminate mis-steps earlier and arrive at more viable design choices faster.
Customer demands for improved performance at lower cost
Modern consumers are conditioned to constantly expect more power, better performance, more memory, more features and smaller footprint for the same or less money: “give me more for less” will continue to be a primary requirement. In general terms, performance of a design is measured by whether it meets certain targets/specifications while avoiding failure modes, in turn driven by customer requirements. Inevitably, design targets and product criteria will conflict. In automotive transmissions, an engineer (in response to customer demands) may be looking at improving efficiency and dealing with noise while reducing weight, without compromising on durability. All such requirements are inter-dependent, which raises another potential risk: in any design innovations, we also need to consider their impact on other components. Being radical in designs requires taking a genuine “whole-system approach” - and as the point directly above makes clear, also being able to do that as early in the process as possible.
‘New world’ demands
In some cases, calls for innovation enabled by new technology are driven by a perceived need to keep up with the competition. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of “technology for technology’s sake”. In other cases, companies may have to respond to new legislation or compliance requirements, perhaps relating to carbon emissions or sustainability. The fact is, previous experience and incremental improvements will continue to play a key role in designing “conventional” drivelines - but new driveline concepts do not have this track record of accumulated successes and failures behind them. Today’s novel designs, perhaps in electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids, can have hugely different performance targets and component/ material demands compared to previous ones, while bringing new types of failure mode.
At the same time, by its very nature innovation can be a rare commodity. New concepts are often heavily patented, which means other designers and engineers must find ways to avoid infringements, and explore their own avenues of innovation while remaining focused on what may be similar targets/ criteria and avoiding unnecessary risk. This can mean depending even more heavily on accurate, timely and appropriate simulations that can be trusted, taking the insights gained and feeding them into a constant process of learning and improvement.
Minimising innovation risk
Achieving the right balance between the huge opportunities available through innovation and the risks that such innovation can present - including fears related to investing in an “unknown quantity” - is key. This is the old “you need to speculate to accumulate” argument. Too often, people hold back from speculating because they believe the risks involved are too great. However, there is an argument to be made for “good” risk as opposed to “bad” risk (in much the same way as there is “good” debt and “bad” debt). The reality is that it is possible to minimise the risk through careful planning and budgeting. Even the aerospace industry, by nature a highly conservative development environment, is now having to become considerably more adventurous in its engineering outlook for geared power systems to meet delivery targets that have been shortened by years and to comply with efficiency and noise legislation.
The fundamental way to mitigate innovation risk is formulating a robust business plan with realistic (although by nature challenging) targets against which new developments can be measured. Allied with this, regular reviews of technological readiness will help to ensure costs can be understood and controlled; such reviews should be carried out by, or under the authority of, managers with the power to “pull the plug” if necessary. Indeed, there are many ways to mitigate innovation risk. Designers and engineers can, for example, make great leaps forward in development by applying successful (i.e. proven) technologies from other areas to their own problems.
The importance of the right tools and methods
A team of Romax engineers was asked to assist in the development of an electric drivetrain for the rail industry. The basic design of the drivetrain was unchanged for 40 years because it worked: there was no reason to do anything differently. However, recent legislation covering environmental noise meant significant reductions in gearbox noise were now required. We provided the support this client needed by applying experience gained in optimising designs for automotive customers - where competition, legislation and customer pressure demanded such improvements for a long time – and by adapting our use of the gearbox modelling and simulation tools at our disposal. We thought differently. This example also underlines the point that in the modern era, design and development processes are largely defined by the tools and methods available to you: if all you have at your disposal is a hammer, then everything can start to look like a nail. As tools and methods evolve and improve, design processes should also develop and adapt to make use of them. To fully embrace innovation, a designer or engineer needs to have the right tools available so they can, for example, quickly and confidently assess multiple options and decide if there is merit in a new idea.
Making it happen
‘Simulate early - simulate often’
The ability to quickly rule out designs destined for failure using simulation is the most efficient way to innovate. However, the Right First Time approach means adhering to certain principles driven by engineering realities and the challenges of innovation itself.
Fast to build, fast to solve
You need to get concepts and ideas from brain to model as quickly and easily as possible, and then run your simulations fast. In essence, you want to learn if an idea is workable with the minimum of investment. If you have many different competing concepts to be compared and evaluated, speed is equally important. Your models need to be quick to edit and update, with “what-if?” studies and other analyses and re-simulations performed easily.
Accuracy v. precision – and flexibility
Simulations need to be as accurate as necessary - not as precise as possible. There is no point building a detailed model or using complex analysis methods at an early stage. Use simple models and methods first then move to smarter simulations when more detail is available. A simple model providing approximate results at an early stage is just as valuable (if not more so) as more detailed modelling later in the process, particularly if you need to benchmark multiple design candidates. Detailed simulations when there is so much uncertainty in a design risks wasting time, and yields false precision. Gaining the ability to re-use the same model to investigate many different performance criteria is also a more efficient way of working, and means you need only build a model once to investigate issues around cost, durability, efficiency and so on.
Provide engineering insight for engineering questions
Your chosen simulation tools should not only provide you with masses of numbers, they should also provide pointers on what you should do next. The massive quantities of information that CAE simulations produce require powerful processing tools so you can explore the data, focus on what matters, and distill results into reports that highlight either problem areas or opportunities.
Innovation in action
Case Study: Optimised electric Driveline by INtegration (ODIN project)
ODIN is a European collaborative project co-funded by the European Union that aims to develop new methodologies to design an innovative drivetrain for electric vehicles (EVs). Consortium partners include Bosch, GKN Driveline, Renault, Romax, CIE Automotive, ISEA (RWTH Aachen University). As part of ODIN, Romax is delivering CAE tools and methods to analyse the complete system and influence the end-toend design process to arrive at more effective designs faster.
The first phase of the project was to identify the most promising of many proposed basic concepts, based on key targets focused on cost and dynamic performance. CONCEPT software was used to rapidly iterate through all the proposed layouts to narrow down the field (fig 1). Using simple models and metrics, concept layouts could be benchmarked to identify those with the best chance of good noise performance. RomaxDESIGNER software was also used to compare different layouts for the assembly of the combined motor, transmission and control system. The housing design had not yet been finalised but a simplified housing was used to identify the optimal arrangement and to highlight areas with the potential for problem vibrations (fig 2).
The insights gained guided detailed design of the housing. With the first detailed design of the housing in place and all internal gear, shaft and bearing and motor details finalised, it was possible to simulate the first quantitative predictions of noise and vibration caused by gear and motor forces (fig 3). Once again, problems were identified and ways to adjust the design were identified, proposed and applied.
The next stage of the ODIN project was to prototype the design and test performance against original design targets in an electric vehicle. By using simulation of noise and vibration to lead design right from the outset, a more innovative concept with the best chance of success was selected, with potential problems identified and remedial action taken as early as possible - long before the detailed design was finalized. Predicted noise from the motor and gearbox was reduced by up to 24 dB. Detailed simulation of the final design predicted that targets would be met before any metal is cut.
Romax: delivering innovation
To remain profitable and competitive, organisations must introduce new and improved products faster and drive down development costs. Innovative approaches from Romax - based on its R&D investments, in-house experts, customer insight and experience - provide the solution. In particular, Romax’s Right First Time” design methodologies enable organisations to re-engineer every phase of the design and development process, compressing the time elapsed from initial concept designs to engineering sign-off by up to 60% for sectors including automotive, rail, aerospace and wind energy. Transmission and driveline engineering teams from 14 of the world’s top 15 global carmakers already use Romax consulting expertise and software.
In terms of applying innovation in practice, Romax employees are extremely highly skilled in engineering, with more than threequarters educated to degree level and 30% to PhD level. The company also partners for innovation: for example, working with the largest Renewable Energy certified body DNV GL to pioneer the Right First Time approach as it relates to certification standards for wind turbine gearboxes. Design expertise, software tools and consultancy services enabled Romax to speed up the certification process, and we now hold a remarkable 30 accredited certifications from DNV GL.
How Romax can help your business: accelerating design and development
Our role is to help you transform your operations: solving the engineering and process challenges you face by providing integrated Right First Time solutions that combine expertise, best practice and field experience with advanced simulation software and engineering services.
With 250 employees serving 220 customers worldwide, Romax is based in Nottingham, UK and operates 12 offices in Europe, the USA, Korea, Japan, China and India. A world-class engineering technology and services company, we help our customers to solve the pressing business issues they face, particularly in reducing development time and costs, better supporting operations in general and delivering a more sustainable future.
We are constantly developing our technology and approaches by engaging in collaborative R&D that involves many of the world’s equipment manufacturers and suppliers alongside academic and government organizations.