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We are facing an important phase change. In the previous post we finished the digital phase, and in this post we will begin with the physical phase.
The two previous phases: Styling and Digital phase were phases in which the manufacturer consumed few material resources. Making the model in clay is the point where probably more material has been consumed, but this will change completely when entering the physical phase of the car development. The costs in the physical phase start to grow. It is well known that many manufacturers use the same vehicle platforms to save development and production costs.
In this physical phase, as the name implies, we already began to deal with prototypes in a physical way. In this post we will see a brief introduction and we will expose the main tests carried out by brands. During the following posts, we will see each of the essays in detail.
4 - PHYSICAL PHASE
Here we already have a real prototype, we are not talking about a clay model, but about functional prototypes. Initially, small pre-production batches are made, until everything is ready for the SOP (Start of production). At this point, at least three years will have elapsed since the project began. The total investment will range between € 600M and € 1,400M if a new platform is used. These figures will vary greatly depending on the manufacturer, the number of tests carried out, if it shares a platform, if it acquires technology that is already on the market or if it innovates technologically, on the production processes, on the economy of scale ... There are a lot of factors that come into play, but either way, it is a millionaire investment to launch into producing a new model.
Here is something interesting:
For a mass produced model, such as any traditional utility car, it benefits from economy of scale. That is, let's take the windshield as an example. It is not the same to ask a supplier for a custom windshield, or a million of them. The unit cost will be much lower the more units produced for the same windshield. First, because it has greater bargaining power with the supplier. Second, the amortization of the machinery used to make the windshield will be much higher. If the machinery or molds needed to make the component to the desired shape cost € 100,000, this would be an impact of € 0.1 if we produced one million windscreens. It is a cost more than acceptable, on the other hand, for a single windshield, it would be an unacceptable cost.
So what is cheaper to produce? A supercar or a traditional utility vehicle?
Contrary to what we might think, the overall cost of producing a supercar is less than the cost of producing a utility vehicle. Although the unit cost of the utility vehicle is much lower. In other words, each unit produced of a utility vehicle costs less to produce than a supercar. But if we take into account the total business figures; It is much more expensive to build a factory prepared to produce thousands and thousands of utility vehicles than supercars in a limited run. Therefore, taking all costs into account, it is more expensive to produce utility vehicles than supercars.
Even though the utility vehicle benefits from economies of scale, in order to produce such quantities of vehicles it requires incredibly complex and automated production processes to reduce the unit cost of each vehicle. Whereas, for low volumes, smaller installations are needed and not much automation is necessary.
While the big brands need to install huge factories full of robots, many supercars are manufactured in warehouses with boxes, in which each of these vehicles are assembled in an artisanal way. Production times and costs are not nearly as optimized as in traditional utility vehicle production, due to the large difference in vehicles produced. But we will go into more detail in the production, once we are aware of the figures that are handled, let's go to see the physical phase of the car development.
STAGES OF THE PHYSICAL PHASE
Phases of automobile development
The physical phase is subdivided into the following phases:
1 - The Trial phase, in which we're going to assemble the model, we ensure that all the pieces fit together and that their tolerances are correct. One of the most complicated parts of the car design is to coordinate that everything fits. We have to take into account that hundreds of engineers work in different locations for the same purpose, so great coordination and control is needed. This is why in the design phase we cannot make changes to the parts easily, there is a tedious bureaucratic process of verification and control. A single change in a part that hasn't been properly communicated will cause the different teams of engineers to work on different versions of the model, one with the updated part and the other outdated; what would be a disaster. In the actual design of a vehicle we are not alone.
Therefore, in the Trial phase we make sure that everything is sized properly. It is certainly an interesting phase, because the engineers obtain the parts separately and must build a car that doesn't yet exist in reality.
2 - The test phase: Here we check all the possible parameters of the vehicle. From the tightness of the cabin to the famous crash tests. Durability tests are also carried out where drivers handle the vehicle in extreme environments during long trips, to verify that the car fulfills what was promised. In this phase, we will put to the test the technology that will carry the production model.
We will focus on this point during the next posts.
Here is an example of vehicle development timing, which is quite realistic:
When talking about the car design process, there is always a tendency to show the “Concept Development” part, which would be the Styling phase that culminates with a clay model (Frozen Model). It's a striking phase, but there are many more stages after that, which the specialized media rarely talk about. Perhaps this is due in part to the secrecy of this type of tests and the little access given to journalists. Except for crash tests and wind tunnels, the rest of the phases are sometimes almost a secret.
If we look at the bottom of the table, the “Product Definition” refers to the Styling phase plus the digital phase. In this free automotive course we will go further and we will see the rest of the phases, that is, the most secret part of car development. In this phase the manufacturer already invests huge amounts of money and begins to create the first functional prototypes. That is why each step is verified and analyzed. We see two types of constant checks in these processes:
FMEA - Failure mode and effects analysis: To prevent defects by identifying the causes. This is widely used in engineering, not just automotive.
DVP & R (Design Verification Plan and Report) - Simply put, it's a process to verify that the design meets what is specified and can be continued.
Here we can see a clear example of a DVP & R (Design verification plan and report).
We can see in the table the PT1 nomenclature that refers to this first batch of prototypes. The end of development culminates in the production of the model (SOP = Start of Production). Even so, we will continue and we will see the manufacture and marketing of the vehicle, when at drivingyourdream we talked a few months ago about seeing the complete cycle, it was truly complete.
In addition to this, once the components have been verified and the offer is requested from the suppliers, the brand initiates a process called: Production Part Approval Process to ensure that the engineering requirements established by the brand are properly understood by the supplier.
You don't need to know these names right now, but when you work in the industry, we recommend you review this course and all these process names because it will give you a really huge advantage.
THE DEVELOPMENT MULES
The development mules
We will use a series of prototypes that will increasingly resemble the production model, they are known as development mules, and they are authentic laboratories on wheels. In the initial stages these mules receive pieces from other models. The interest lies in testing very specific aspects of the vehicle.
For example, if you want to test the suspension, the headlights that the mule carries aren't relevant, so the engineers will put the one of the car that best fits, as long as it's a very initial analysis of the prototype. This makes the first mules a mixture of some cars with others.
After all, it's about optimization, and you cannot design complete prototypes for each test, since they are tremendously expensive, so everything you can from existing models is reused.
In the later phases, there will be a pre-series that will be identical to the production model, both mechanically and aesthetically. This pre-series will try to be the same as the final version, although it's usual that minimal changes appear in certain aspects to finalize the final details.
Sometimes we have asked ourselves:
Why do prototype cars camouflage?
Vehicles are designed in closed and restricted access facilities. Although the camouflage makes them more striking on the street and doesn't go unnoticed, they are camouflaged in this way to hide the important details of the car; like the grilles or the new optics, as well as the general lines of the vehicle. Sometimes, they have false protrusions made with cardboard or plates.
There're many types of camouflage, as tests progress the amount of camouflage decreases. The best known is disruptive camouflage, which are those black and white geometric shapes that we usually see (dazzle camouflage). This makes it very difficult to guess the shapes of the vehicle when it's in motion. In addition, with this camouflage, the photographs are darker than usual, making it difficult to see the whole vehicle.
The same thing happens with the interior, there are unfinished or hidden areas under a tape fixed with velcro. There are usually complex measuring equipment inside these vehicles.
TESTING PHASES OF A VEHICLE
Vehicle testing phases
We have seen that the physical phase of automobile development is divided into two parts. A trial phase, in which the fit of the components are checked, and then the test phase begins. Furthermore, this phase is subdivided into three stages, each stage with more developed prototypes compared to the previous stage.
First stage: Once it has been verified that the overall fit of the vehicle is correct, the components are checked individually. Both the fit between the pieces and the agreed qualities are checked. In other words, in the trial, the vehicle is completely assembled to try to discover if any component doesn't fit. If there are no problems, before starting to test the vehicle, the different components are checked, for example, the car headlight and all the screws.
These early stages can be interleaved depending on the project development and needs. The phases don't have to go consecutively. An example: If there are design problems in the headlight: First of all, we checked the headlight, then we verified the overall assembly of the vehicle, and then the individual components that are necessary or those that have given specific problems in the assembly of the vehicle.
Once it has been verified that the design engineers have done a good job sizing all the parts and the overall assembly, the first development mules are completed, which will be subjected to a multitude of tests. Every modification in the design of a piece must be justified and calculated. Keep in mind that a base model has around 20,000 to 30,000 different components, so it's necessary to closely monitor every small change in any part.
These components are modified as the vehicle design process progresses, but in turn, the process becomes tougher. In other words, modifying a part in the initial planning phase doesn't require much effort. But if it were necessary to modify a part in an advanced phase, such as the physical phase, it would be necessary to justify why this change couldn't be prevented with the simulations carried out by computer in the previous phase (the digital phase).
This is because, as the process progresses, it's more expensive to modify a part. So it's very different to modify it at the beginning than at the end of the process. The real problem, in which no engineer wants to be involved, is that the part would have to be modified once the vehicle is already in production. It isn't usual, but it does happen sometimes. We all know some cases in which brands have to call vehicle owners for overhaul, because a component doesn't work as it should.
This fact is little known: The manufacturer classifies components into three levels according to the danger they present to the driver. As can be expected, the greater the danger, the more revisions are made and the easier it's to make a change in advanced phases since the driver's safety always comes first. In addition to that, it also classifies them according to whether they affect the perceived quality of the consumer or not. Knowing these rules of the game allows the engineer to have more knowledge when it comes to advocating for certain changes to benefit the final design of the car, at the expense of the manufacturer's economy. As you might expect, the engineer wants the best possible car on the streets, and the brand the most profitable car on the market.
Second stage: Here we confirm that the means of production and the automation of the factory are enough to manufacture the vehicle, as well as all the suppliers. At this stage the final quality of the vehicle is confirmed, which was tested in the previous step. After this, the vehicle approval procedures begin.
At this stage is when vehicles can be loaned to the press or shown at a Motor Show, among other things.
Third stage: Final confirmation of the vehicle and the production processes involved. After this stage, the so-called SOP (Start of Production) begins, the starting signal for the vehicle to begin production. It's one of the steps that involves more responsibility in the production of a vehicle.
As a curiosity, there are companies that are dedicated to buying different models of cars in production and renting them to competitors so that they can analyze them, after a while, they return them. In the design and development centers of the different manufacturers, it's very common to have competitive models in a special garage, and constantly renew them by other competing models. The interesting thing about this is that any engineer can decide whether to approach the workshop to analyze a specific component of the competing vehicle. These vehicles are considered one more tool available to all design engineers.
Brands also organize activities in which specialists in specific areas of the car or entire departments are grouped together. They will have time to analyze the car in their area of interest. For example, there will be a team exclusively in charge of analyzing the exhaust of competing vehicles, finding better solutions and possible cost reductions.
There are also other companies that disassemble the cars and create a report and a CAD file with an incredible level of detail about the vehicle, with all its components parameterized and scanned in 3D. In addition to a detailed analysis of each of its components. These types of companies are usually hired by manufacturers to perform benchmarking actions, in other words, to understand what their competitors are doing at a technical level.
Here is a video of 1:30 where you can see clearly (we recommend raising the speed to 1.25)
WHAT TESTS ARE PERFORMED ON CARS?
What tests are carried out on cars?
There are many possible tests on a vehicle, if you are an engineering student, it's convenient for you to know the different areas to be able to focus on one of them. Also, if you've ever wondered what Bachelor of Engineering to study to work in the automotive industry? There is no specific engineering since everything will depend on the area in which you want to specialize. If you want to dedicate yourself to the technical development of vehicles, knowing the different tests that are carried out will help you to be more clear about what to study to design cars.
There are very few engineers specialized in these specific areas, for example, soundproofing, combustion, etc. As we discussed in the first post, in which we saw what to study to work in the automotive industry, it isn't necessary to be ultra-specialized to work in most of these areas. However, if you really want to work in a very specific field, it's highly recommended that you specialize with courses or a Master's degree since you will stand out from other possible candidates.
It should be mentioned that not all brands carry out the same amount of tests. There are tests that are strictly necessary to pass a certain certification or legal requirement, such as crash tests or emission requirements, so all brands must do so. But other tests are done solely to ensure the quality of the product. Many of these tests can be simulated on a computer, but most brands want to physically check all these calculations in real conditions, because there are always necessary adjustments to make. This causes an increase in the final price of the vehicle, unfortunately, this is something that the consumer never sees.
There are hundreds of different tests to verify computer calculations, and hundreds of solutions a brand can choose to improve the quality of its product. We will try to summarize some of the most notorious tests. It should be taken into account however that each development center is completely different from the other, so the solutions that are proposed to test each part of the vehicle can be totally different in some facilities than in others.
We have divided it into the following areas:
In the following posts we will see these tests, which will help us understand how the car works. We are not going to talk about car mechanics, as there are thousands of courses in that area. Instead, we will look at the key concepts of car development.
All this without mathematical formulas, since our intention is to obtain an understanding of the car design, since there are many masters in each area for those who want to delve into a specific area at a purely engineering level.
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