Automotive Infotronics innovates, talks low cost

Automotive Infotronics Pvt Ltd (AIPL), the 50:50 joint venture between Ashok Leyland and Continental AG, is all set to begin commercial production of its in-house-developed products. The company, which began its operations in 2007 by testing the infotronics products manufactured by its JV partner, has developed some products to be used by some vehicle manufacturers including Ashok Leyland in India and a few OEMs abroad.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 04 Oct 2010 Views icon2715 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Automotive Infotronics innovates, talks low cost
The company recently launched a Flex CAN (Controlled Area Network) Cluster for the European market. The Flex CAN cluster is designed by AIPL and manufactured and sold by Continental in Europe and other matured markets. It is a flexible instrument cluster designed for off-road applications like tractors and snow-mobiles. It is based on CAN and is flexible enough to be modified for different OEM applications based on specific customer demands. Multiple variants of the original design have already been created by AIPL, reveals Dr Bharadwaj. For the U-Truck to be launched by Ashok Leyland shortly, it has developed an Instrument Cluster, Body Controller and Multiplexing Units, which will form part of the CV manufacturer’s vehicle electronic architecture. Yet another product that is in the initial phases of field trials is the Engine Control Panel for gensets made by Ashok Leyland. This is an integrated instrument panel monitoring engine parameters like temperature, pressure, fuel level, rpm and the total number of hours the engine has run. In addition, it also safeguards the engine as the cluster can be pre-programmed with remote start and stop applications.

“AIPL is also working on quite a few products. Our customers made us develop electronic controllers with German quality and at a Chinese price,” he says. A good number of AIPL staff have visited Continental’s facilities in several locations including Germany, Romania, Switzerland for on-the-job training. “This became an excellent training process for AIPL engineers to get assimilated into the Continental system,” says Dr Bharadwaj. As a result, the company has bagged a few orders including one from a European off-highway vehicle manufacturer to develop a Flexible CAN cluster. The product that was displayed at an Italian tractor show last year will be commercially produced soon. It has also paved the way for AIPL to receive orders from global OEMs to develop electronic automotive products, he adds.

Banking on experience

Dr Bharadwaj says the gameplan is to leverage Ashok Leyland's market knowledge and Continental AG's technological expertise, and then develop products at best performance price points. “We are not into blackbox engineering; instead we want to position ourselves as a best-cost engineering destination and not a destination for manufacturing alone. Therefore, we need to be innovative,” he says. Continental is the preferred manufacturing site if it is competitive, he says. The motivation for low-cost innovation was the success of the on-board telematics unit that Ashok Leyland had in Chennai – Mofussil Bus Terminus – to track buses and provide information to passengers. This has led to the OEM driving other similar projects.

Also, the specific requirements of JNNURM buses in terms of the Master / Master Multiplexing System (MMMS) have reiterated its intent further. Designed to be used on commercial vehicles, MMMS controls all the body related functions like lamp control, wiper motor control or solenoid control using units located in the front and rear of the vehicle. It could be installed in other locations too. The most common implementation of such a system is where one unit acts as the main controller and the other unit simply follows communication from the main unit (master unit) acting as a slave (i.e. master/slave configuration). The master/master configuration consists of two independent body control units with equal computation power and provides redundancy in the control of critical functions (eg: headlamps or tail-lamps). In this system, if either unit malfunctions, the other unit can takeover and keep such important functions alive for safe operation of the vehicle. AIPL has designed such a system that meets the redundancy criteria stipulated by the government of India and these systems are already operational in JNNURM vehicles sold by Ashok Leyland. Interestingly, the company has developed the system at a fraction of the cost compared with similar systems available in Europe.

Electronic clusters for the U-Truck

For Ashok Leyland’s U-Truck platform, AIPL developed electronic clusters from scratch as these types of products were not available off-the-shelf with its JV partner. Though the performance requirements are stringent, the price points are extremely aggressive for the functionality and features loaded in to the product. The multiplexing systems comprises of an instrument cluster, body control unit and slave control unit. According to Dr Bharadwaj, the instrument cluster is no longer a unit confined to providing information on speed, temperature and distance travelled but actually a data information centre. The AIPL-developed unit has a USB drive which can even help retrieve logged-on data for the past 30 days. This helps the fleet operator to understand the driver’s driving profile and take corrective action to improve performance. It also has a gearshift advisory system that helps the driver to drive the vehicle for optimal performance. “It is not a cluster anymore, it’s a smart box; looking at all the diagnostics that goes into it, it is quite a complex system but the price point is Indian, which made us to start from scratch,” he says.

Product development has been crucial as the company’s customers were expecting stringent norms in terms of functionality, longevity and price. For instance, the body controller has been developed with the technology as stringent as that required for the powertrain. The development time from concept till the product is out is minimised besides facilitating traceability. The body controllers developed by AIPL have a diagnostic tool to troubleshoot problems. “We have a lot of enhancement products in the body controller, which will enable the service centre to connect the regular diagnostic tool meant for the powertrain, and understand the problems. Usually body controllers do not have these features. This is where India's advantage comes forth,” he says. This also opens up an opportunity for its partner to sell these products in several markets including China and Russia. Going forward, the company is looking at all vehicle segments to offer cost-effective and innovative solutions. “We are looking at offering EMS solutions for two-wheelers and best-cost powertrain control solutions for other segments. We are also working on a consortium approach with several organisations including BEST in Mumbai," says
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