2013 Lightweighting Special: Dr Naveen Gautam
Dr Naveen Gautam Hella India Automotive’s managing director speaks on the challenges of adopting new lightweighting technologies, how the company's modular and scalable designs enable weight reduction in components, and its R&D spend in this growth segment.
What are the challenges in adopting new lightweighting technologies?
The major challenge in adopting new lightweighting technologies is to keep the cost of such technologies low as their development expenses enhance their overall cost. Another challenge is pioneering new technologies with scale of economy and their acceptance in cost-conscious markets such as India. Finally, (India has) a harsh automotive environment which does not allow some of the effective lightweighting technologies.
What are the key technologies that Hella India is working on to reduce vehicle weight?
Hella has over 20 years of expertise in automotive electronics and wireless technologies. These products, with their modular scalable approach, are able to contribute to this concept to a large extent.Our Fuel Control Module (FCM), for instance, provides a unique method for controlling the fuel pump that completely eliminates the need of a fuel return line running all the way from the vehicle front to the rear. This technology results in increased fuel efficiency and reduced vehicle weight by eliminating the return line. Cross-platform usage is possible due to the flexible mounting design and sealed housing.Hella’s industry leadership in integrating multiple functions in vehicle body electronics has a flexible and scalable design that supports a variety of vehicle architecture and eliminates the need of multiple fragmented controllers and extensive wiring. Hella controllers serve as the central information bridge. It is able to interface with a wide variety of external devices, allowing communication between modules operating on different vehicle communication protocols. Inside a well-equipped mid-range car, the BCM communicates with about 60 different electronic modules. The Hella Body Control Module (BCM) is a centralised ECU which supports this architecture and leads to lightweighting by using control strategy in place of wiring. Intelligent self-diagnostic and self-protection of semi-conductor devices used in the BCM also save cost and weight of additional wires and devices where, otherwise, additional circuits would be required.Hella introduced the first five-function combination sensor – Rain Light Sensor (RLS). Integration of our rain/light/sun load/humidity/HUD sensor into a vehicle supports the overall improvement of safety and comfort for passengers in a variety of driving conditions (rain, snow, sleet). The compact RLS with integration of up to five functions in one sensor housing reduces the packaging size up to 30 percent and weight up to 50 percent, compared to the last-generation competitive products available in the market. It is directly connected to LIN, leading to weight reduction.The Intelligent Battery Sensor (IBS) takes on a key functionality in successful energy management. The sensor provides the vehicle battery’s precise current, voltage, and temperature values. IBS ensures that enough charge is available all the time in the vehicle; therefore, it allows downsizing of the battery which leads to weight reduction.Another emerging concept is split BCM / rear BCM / trailers tow module (TTM). This technology works on splitting of functionalities between BCM/TTM/Rear BCM which is located in the rear part of the vehicle. This split facilitates significant reduction of wires as both these modules communicate over CAN and final loads are located near the TTM/Rear BCM.Most vehicle brake boosters use the vacuum which is generated in the manifold of the internal combustion engine of the car. Due to current engine developments (fuel efficiency, downsizing) or during certain operating conditions (ie, cold start/warm-up phase), the vacuum provided by the engine is no longer sufficient. In these cases ‘on demand’ operated electric vacuum pumps offer an optimum solution to ensure the safe operation of the brake booster. Therefore, we can get the same level of vacuum as required for safe operation of brakes even with reduced engine size. This downsizing in engine contributes significantly in weight reduction.
Which area offers the maximum scope to reduce component and overall vehicle weight?
Electronic products like BCM and FCM facilitate a modular approach for our customers’ feature-function needs in a rapidly demanding market. This allows a higher level of standardisation for normally fragmented products by still providing a flexibility of customer-specific application. It also helps, to some extent, in reducing the weight of the vehicle because of consolidation/elimination of components into single module. IBS and the vacuum pump help downsize the battery and engine.
How much has Hella been able to cut weight and in which components?
Using Hella’s IBS, approximately 20 percent of battery size can be reduced. The vacuum pump can support as small as 30 percent of low suction, using a reduced engine size. Using intelligent controllers like BCM, around 30 percent of wiring can be reduced and our vacuum pump helps eliminate the heavy metal return line which helps in significant weight reduction.
How does Hella work in sync with vehicle OEMs to introduce new lightweighting ideas?
We define, together with the OEM, the right-size battery using IBS and a smart load management strategy which reduces the battery size and optimises battery life. Recently, Hella has partnered with an Indian OEM for designing and producing scalable modular approach controllers that meet their current needs for all their car lines and are suitable for their future vehicle rollout plans.
Are high-performance engineering plastics the only cost-effective answer to steel?
Aluminium alloy and metal-blended plastics can offer the dual advantages of plastics and metals.
How much of Hella’s R&D spend goes into lightweighting efforts?
It is difficult to break down the R&D cost-specific to this but the lightweighting concept is an integral part of all our R&D efforts. However, Hella spends approximately 35 percent of its R&D budget on architectural design, energy management and weight reduction efforts.
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