Collaboration is driving innovation for military vehicles

Jon Lawson

Here, Eric Sonahee, design and development engineer at global steering system manufacturer, Pailton Engineering, explains how the collaboration between tier one military vehicle manufacturers are suppliers is producing the ultimate lightweight tactical vehicles.

The capabilities of armoured vehicles have continued to take huge strides. Fuel economy, suspension and armour are just three examples of areas that have significantly taken off in recent years, which leading tier one manufacturers are certainly embracing.
Interestingly, it's the leaders in the industry that demonstrate the importance of sharing ideas and blending technology. This played a large role in the development of hybrid diesel-electric technology. These hybrid vehicles brought together electric motors with internal combustion engines for improved fuel efficiency and a plentiful source of electrical power for battlefield sensors, weapons and control systems.
Similarly, transferring technology in suspension systems now allow for increased vehicle mobility, higher off-road speeds and improved load-carrying capacity. In fact, BAE Systems made headlines in 2015 when it announced its Armoured Combat Vehicle 90 (CV90) contained the same active damping suspension used in F1 racing suspension technology.
Throughout all these developments, the priorities have remained the same: safety, speed and low life-cycle costs. As part of this mission, leading tier one manufacturers aren't choosing out-of-the box steering columns, bevel boxes or drag links for the steering systems, but instead are sourcing entirely bespoke systems, designed specifically for the vehicle application.
With the need to keep vehicles extremely lightweight and agile, comes the need to find experts who can deliver the right steering parts without compromising on strength. Steering system suppliers should work closely with tier one military vehicle manufacturers to ensure every part is designed, manufactured and validated against the conditions the vehicle will face throughout its life span.
Such collaboration between steering supplier and tier one company makes for a highly capable, light weight steering system. This has enabled speeds of up to 70mph in some of the light weight tactical vehicles we have contributed to in the past. 
Because lifecycle costs are also an important consideration, steering systems must be low maintenance and reliably last the test of time. The only way to deduce the true fatigue life of the system is through rigorous testing both on-site at the steering supplier's location and at the tier one's testing assault course. This cross referencing of data validates the reliability and repeatability of the test results.
With enough vehicle data from our customers, we are able to compile a block testing program on our test rigs that match the same loads and frequencies of the real-life conditions. Again, this demonstrates the importance of collaboration, communication and sharing data.
As well as high-speed capabilities and physical testing, military vehicles must also be able to endure varied environmental conditions such as deep water wading, changes to temperature and humidity variance. To make sure this is the case, we carry out environmental testing, which cannot be guaranteed for off-the-shelf alternatives.  
Success in the industry has been driven by the vital collaboration between tier one manufacturers and suppliers as part of the design and testing process, and this should be celebrated. This is something I am expecting to see more of over the next ten years, which is sure to bring about even more innovation, and ultimately the safest vehicles possible for our service men and women.



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