Computer simulation for crash testing, aerodynamics and fuel economy is shaving years off of the time it takes to develop a new vehicle, which is helping to save automakers millions of dollars.
The move to so-called “digital prototyping” has helped reduce the development time of a new model (from design freeze to Job 1) to 24 months from 36 months compared with the 1990s, according to research by analysts IHS Automotive. “The obvious benefits are lower costs, time savings and freshness of the product portfolio,” IHS senior manager Matteo Fini told Automotive News Europe.
Jaguar Land Rover head of r&d Wolfgang Epple named crash-testing, aerodynamics and fuel economy as the three most advanced areas of computer simulation. He said that the number of crash-test prototypes needed per new model has reduced to about 10 to 15 from 30 to 50 when testing was first mandated.
“Crash simulation is done over a maximum of two days nowadays, and that has taken the time out of the development cycle,” Epple told Automotive News Europe. With each prototype costing about 685,000 euros ($777,000), that reduction has saved a lot of money. The JLR executive added that it also has improved crash performance: “Now you can hit a wall at 50 mph and leave the car without being injured.”
JLR’s 2020 goal
JLR wants to push simulation even further. By 2020 it aims to engineer new models entirely on a computer prior to the tooling phase, a source close to the firm said. In some areas the automaker is already close to this goal.
The aerodynamic styling for the Jaguar XE midsize premium sedan was finalized without the need to build a prototype to test in a wind tunnel, JLR said. That helps because JLR doesn’t own a wind tunnel, a situation that’s not going to change for at least another year, Epple said.
To test the XE’s aerodynamics JLR uses a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) program from U.S.-based Exa Corp.
Automakers are focusing more on aerodynamics as they look to reduce fuel consumption and meet tough new emissions regulations. But they are limited on the experimenting they can do on a prototype in a wind tunnel, Exa CEO Stephen Remondi said. “There’s only an inch of clay on that model. If you want to dramatically change the rake of the windshield, you can’t,” he told Automotive News Europe.