Streamlining the driveline development process

Paul Boughton

Today, the driveline and transmission design and development process across these industries is at a crossroads. Dr Jamie Pears reports.

In a ground vehicle, the term driveline refers to a group of key components, typically including drive shafts, differentials, rear and front axles and drive wheels. Together with the transmission, often simply referred to as the gearbox, the driveline translates the vehicle’s power into motion and therefore its design and development is of critical importance to the design of the vehicle itself.

While a great deal has been achieved in terms of technology-enabling existing processes over the past 20 years, that progress has resulted in a 'new normal' where these gains have been planned for and are now taken as a given. And so, pressure is growing on organisations to breakdown siloed operational structures and to move away from legacy approaches to design and development.

Much has been achieved already. Twenty years ago, the industry was heavily reliant on manual methods. The standard approach to finding failures was in physical prototypes. Slow development cycles, high development costs and the need for significant rework at many stages of design and analysis were the norm.

Driven primarily by the shift from manual methods to digital tools and from physical to virtual prototypes, the process is now working much more smoothly. We are seeing shorter planning-to-manufacture cycles; improved product quality and reduced product development and warranty liability costs. But the pressure is now on to build on these gains and to move away from simply technology enabling the legacy processes to shifting processes, adjusting organisations using the latest tools to radically transform. To do this effectively the industry still needs to overcome certain key structural and development challenges.

Automotive companies have to work in an environment that is characterised by a lack of data standards for exchanging parametric models and interfacing with sophisticated analysis solutions. Solutions like product lifecycle management (PLM) have fallen significantly short of the promise of a seamless environment.

There is also a clear need for technology providers capable of delivering change management, consultancy and the latest high-quality collaborative solutions to help highly experienced engineers working in the industry today gain understanding of the latest modern approaches to collaboration and teaming and to become more proficient working in an environment which supports seamless technology enablement.

By working closely with their automotive customers in this way, such organisations can streamline their driveline development processes to reach achievable benchmark. At the same time, working in this way helps cut development cycles and costs; reduce work across design and analysis; increase creativity and drive enhanced innovation.

The next shift 

The industry is slowly churning in the New Normal zone and it’s time to move forward. 

The next shift will be to next-generation streamlined, cross-organisational processes that drive innovation, eliminate re-work and include external suppliers.

In addition, next-generation technology will support growing opportunities for industry to break down organisational walls to accommodate seamless, multi-directional collaboration and teaming.

Finding a solution

Despite the operational imperative behind these changes, there are numerous reasons why change is not being driven through across the industry today. The drivers are in place. These include increasingly compressed development cycles due to aggressive start of production (SOP) deadlines; increasing demands on packaging size and weight; product costs and efficiency; hitting emissions targets and significant competition for improved product quality and performance.

The challenge is: these are complex changes and the risks to the status quo can have massive cost implications. The current generation of transmission and driveline planning, design and development leaders are often not completely confident about how to plan and lead this shift in a step-by-step way that mitigates risk, but drives the significant change needed.

However, there is an emerging group of forward thinking organisations that are leading the way in adopting new process and approaches. Some of the more experienced solution vendors are developing and providing software and services that offer solutions to the industry’s challenges, to support this shift and enable this new way of working.

The focus is on developing solutions that support the process from planning to manufacture and maximise a 'lossless' development cycle, while supporting data and model movement from one system to another without the need for rebuilds. These solutions are also being designed to enable next-generation streamlined, cross-organisational processes which increase innovation and eliminate unnecessary re-work; break down intra and extra organisation walls to accommodate seamless, multi-directional collaboration and teaming and enable these processes and organisations.

Ultimately, these new tools are enabling a rapid and integrated approach that will make a significant difference to the everyday working process not only of designers and analysts across driveline and transmission design and development but also to the whole automotive industry.

Dr Jamie Pears is Product Manager, Romax Technology, Nottingham, UK.