Transformation in Transportation Engineering

Consumer demand for safe, convenient and energy-efficient transportation options has driven the industry to develop alternate technologies for vehicle design and development.

Growing consumer demand for safe and convenient options has driven the transportation industry to develop alternate technologies for vehicle development. Battery electric and fuel cell powertrain technologies, artificial intelligence of things as well as engineering methodologies including generative and reductive design, additive manufacturing and digital manufacturing are contributing to the industry's evolution.

Advances in hybrid and full electric vehicles are part of the industry evolution and are attractive to consumers because they represent increased energy efficiency, lower maintenance, and more environmentally friendly options. Connected and autonomous vehicles represent a truly transformative technology that offers a promising future if executed with passenger and pedestrian safety in mind.

Technology Trends in Transportation

There are several significant technological changes driving the transportation industry:

1. Evolution away from dependence on internal combustion engines (ICE) to alternate power sources in electric and hybrid electric vehicles:

  • Battery pack: Experiments are underway to develop a battery pack that can meet mileage and performance range requirements. Lithium ion is the most commonly used in electric vehicles.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell: This power source, where electricity is produced using a fuel cell powered by hydrogen, is appropriately sized to power the electric motor.

2. Artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of things (IoT) applications extend in two major areas:

  • Engineering design and manufacturing: AI can help develop vehicle subsystem level designs, including generative design developed using intelligence supported AI software.
  • Developing connected and autonomous vehicles: AI provides greater safety, transport planning and predicting the decisions in traffic flow, while IoT provides greater capability in connecting the systems and controlling the vehicles. This technology enables scheduling, routing, monitoring and performance of the vehicles.

3. Industry 4.0 and 5.0: AI is revolutionizing digital manufacturing, maintenance, which brings efficiency and process automation. AI offers benefits in production optimization, maintenance schedules and supply chain management by reducing human errors, increasing efficiency and streamlining processes.

4. Augmented reality and virtual reality in transportation planning: These visualization tools aren't just used for entertainment purposes, but also help manufacturers review data and plan logistics.

5. Additive manufacturing: This 3D printing method reduces cost and time by prototyping and avoiding the need for tooling to manufacture parts. This method was primarily used for prototyping parts but recently there are companies using this technology for some production parts as this eliminates the limitations of the traditional tooling requirements.

In addition to the above, there are significant advances in vehicle subsystem-level engineering — some examples of rapid technological innovation in vehicle interiors are:

  • An intelligent seating ecosystem
  • Instrumental panels as speakers
  • Night vison for pedestrian detection
  • Intelligent dashboards with AR (augmented reality)
  • AI-powered virtual visor for blocking sun
  • Noise reduction glass
  • Hot stamping process for higher strength
  • Alternate structural materials like carbon fiber and magnesium

Changes in Vehicle Engineering

Increased emphasis on hybrid and electric vehicle development is having a major impact on the traditional methods of design and engineering in vehicle development. 

Underbody design changes caused by packaging the electrical motor and battery pack in electric vehicles (EV) and hybrid vehicles (HV):

  • Weight distribution
  • Static and dynamic vehicle stiffness
  • Thermal management
  • Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) changes are now focused on sound quality rather than Just reduction
  • Modular body/cab designs on standard chassis "skateboards" with various mounting schemes

Weight optimization using lightweight materials, generative design and reductive design. Due to the increased weight of the battery pack, the structure requires weight reduction.

  • Electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles equipped with software and hardware that drive the functionality and management of the vehicle. There is a significant increase in software systems when compared to the ICE vehicles.
  • As the electric utility increases in vehicles, engineering development requires more wiring and cabling. Both low voltage and high voltage wiring are required for electric vehicles. 
  • Design for additive manufacturing should also be considered, in addition to the traditional tooling methodologies.
  • Updates to comply with safety evaluation from regulator governing bodies such as Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

What should manufacturers look for in a services provider?
As the transportation field becomes more and more competitive, companies need to expedite the development process and accelerate their speed to market. It they don't have the staffing or bandwidth to accommodate the challenges, manufacturers should consider bringing in a partner to collaborate to share program tasks and expedite the process. There are a number of key responsibilities they should expect an engineering services provider to provide.

Outsourcing peripheral engineering activities. As more focus is required on the powertrain / drivetrain development, commodity level components can be completed externally. Support in system and component development can help bring product to the market quickly.

Need for combined services and solutions at system level engineering. A one-stop shop for product engineering rather than dividing the project into multiple vendors. For example; a system that needs mechanical design and validation as well as electrical and software development will be completed more efficiently when single-sourced.

Circumvent employee management and focus on the product. Service providers who can manage the programs and projects within those programs with their employees, so that companies can focus on product requirements.

Flexible engagement models and effective management. Service providers should be flexible with client site, near-site and offshore models for an effective balance of program activities and cost-beneficial solutions. Also, efficient management processes to utilize and deliver the work.

Want to learn more about new developments in transportation? Contact Actalent now.