2013 Two-Wheeler Special: Mahindra 2-Wheelers bets on R&D-led future

Mahindra 2-Wheelers, explains that “the customer voice is the first source of information that we use as valuable inputs by the design team.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 01 Feb 2013 Views icon4145 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
2013 Two-Wheeler Special: Mahindra 2-Wheelers bets on R&D-led future
Mahindra 2-Wheelers recently unveiled two motorcycles – Pantero and Centuro – both powered by 106.7cc, single-cylinder, air-cooled, four-stroke engines. Apart from minor design and graphic details carried over from the Stallio – the bike that the company recalled – these new bikes were developed from scratch, including a redesigned engine, frame and nearly all components. All this was achieved in just 16-17 months, a tribute to the company’s young R&D team.

The improved Z-series engines powering the Duro DZ, Rodeo RZ scooters and the micro-hybrid technology (start-stop tech in the new Duro DZ) demonstrate the company’s growing engineering capabilities. Mahindra 2-Wheelers says its R&D facility is the third largest of its kind in India and is recognised by the Department of Science and Industrial Research P S Ashok, senior vice-president and head, R&D and Pune operations.

Mahindra 2-Wheelers, explains that “the customer voice is the first source of information that we use as valuable inputs by the design team. The concept sketches are then used to create around 10-12 renderings, of which the best one or two are selected. These designs are then used to make prototypes digitally which undergo several surface, style, and simulation-related checks. This is where the engineering starts and the CAE & CFD team chips in. They perform simulations and validations (digitally); then the rapid prototyping centre creates physical prototypes (concept validation stage). This is followed by the preliminary testing and the project gets the tooling clearance after that, if it is approved.”



Online engineering

The CAE & CFD team plays a key role and is in fact the backbone of speedy product development. Ranging from individual component to the fully-assembled vehicle, the team examines all digitally through several simulations (which replicate actual road conditions) generated using the road load data.

These simulations study the impact on various components to locate the weak points. For example, the wheel rim is digitally simulated under impact forces such as jerks, full frontal crash and others.

Similarly, the cylinder head is used to study the impact of combustion and compression within the cylinder block, flow of heat, thermal pressure, location of spark plug and other factors. A full vehicle design is used to study the drag force (resistance to air), and factors such as the headlamp design and saddle position crucially contribute to the notations.



At the concept validation stage, prototypes are made using the nylon powder, silicon and other materials in the rapid prototyping centre. The moulds are then further used to make respective components.

A key part of the R&D set-up is the component testing area where the parts are assembled, machined and tested. It also houses an electro-dynamic shaker which examines the physical durability of large components such as the frame. Ashok explains that “around 10 hours of physical simulation in this facility is equal to 10,000km of actual riding conditions on road.”

The R&D facility houses a total of seven engine and four chassis dynamometers. While the engine dynamometers validate the endurance and performance of the powertrains after a continuous running of roughly four weeks, the chassis dynamometers, equipped with rollers, test the two-wheelers as they run for several hours. It is here that the finished vehicles are run at specific speeds to validate the engine performance, driving cycles and fuel efficiencies.

“To add to our noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) testing, we will be installing an anechoic chamber, imported from Belgium, within the facility,” says Ashok.

Once the prototype is ready, it is sent for mass production at Pithampur. “Going by our priorities, we're going to consolidate our operations, which will include hiring 50 more engineers. Though we've burnt the midnight oil all this while, we will continue to work in the same fashion until we establish ourselves,” concludes Ashok.


INTERVIEW WITH P S ASHOK, HEAD, R&D, MAHINDRA 2-WHEELERS



How have the past 18 months been for you and your team?

In the light of what happened earlier (with the Stallio), we had to fix our shortcomings on the one hand and regain the trust of the buyer, on the other. The entire R&D team has been working on a fast-track mode, following a backbreaking schedule to ensure that our products surpass all stringent tests, offer better value for money outperform the rivals, and are the best in the category. For example, bikes in this segment usually have two mountings for the engines while I pushed my team to design and work on three mountings for further stability.

In real terms, we had no time to have three mountings but we finally managed to do it.

We developed all-new, ground-up motorcycles in this time. The engine is totally new with a fresh design which includes bearings on the rocker arm, redesigned camshaft, valve arrangements, engine oil pump and oil flow passage.

The double-cradle steel frame is also new and lighter by 1.2kg than the earlier one; the saddle, headlamp and tail-lamps are all new. The team working on brakes has designed 130mm drum brakes, the largest in the segment for the bikes.

We have 185 engineers and designers with us, of which 65 are new. The average age of the team is around 30 years and this young team provided valuable inputs. Like ‘find me’ lamps to locate the bike in crowded parking areas or a flip key with a remote control. It is far easier to make such keys for cars. But for a bike, such a feature with electronics inside (torch, inbuilt engine immobiliser for anti-theft) has to bear the harshness of the weather, dirt, rain water and other factors.

Can you give us an update on Project Mojo?

The Mojo project is undergoing several tests and validation processes. What I can tell you is that the bike will be completely redesigned including the all-new, electronic fuel injection (EFI), 4-valve, water-cooled engine, and all-new gearbox.

The frame and swingarm development is going on and will have to be validated before final approval. The Mojo is going to be a segment-defining bike in India and will be far superior to most bikes one sees on road today. The Mojo also has export potential. We are focusing on quality and a launch could take place in the last quarter of 2013.

What are your other R&D priorities?

We will work towards becoming a full-range player by 2016. We want to be present in all the prominent categories that generate volumes. Apart from a few variants of the existing line-up, we are also working on new products.

Does that mean we will see bikes in the 125cc and 150cc segments as well as 110cc scooters?

We will march forward with a very logical progression, focussing more on the customer-centric demands. The feedback we receive will define the course of our products.

What is the status of your association with Taiwan’s Sanyang Industry Company (SYM)?

The association with SYM continues to be strong. Its chief was here on a visit and was impressed. The technology-sharing licence between both the companies will continue. However, it is too early to talk on whether we will develop two-wheelers here and export them to Taiwan.

What are the current trends in two-wheeler R&D?

The usage of electronics has increased and will continue to be so. The quest for increased power delivery (efficient, bigger engines and efficient gearboxes) and fuel efficiency is taking centre-stage.

Customers are demanding a right mix of value-for-money features and cost competitiveness. I believe that higher-capacity bikes need faster refreshes/facelifts now while commuter models still have a relatively longer lifecycle.

AMIT PANDAY
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