You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

A Baker's Dozen Tech Tidbits from SAE 2015

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/30/2015 Frank Markus

Your technical director joined the Society of Automotive Engineers back in his college days at the University of Illinois during the Reagan era and has been faithfully attending the group's annual confab in Detroit for what seems like millennia. An in-depth stroll of the floor never fails to reveal a trove of technology promising a brighter automotive future. Sadly this year's event featured no Rube Goldbergian oddball engine concepts, but I managed to ferret out 13 cool ideas from among the myriad widget and gasket purveyors.

Research

FEV VCR

Being able to change the compression ratio of an engine on the fly would make a whole lot of engine innovations way easier to develop and more attractive to buyers. Flex fuel vehicles could finally realize the greater power potential of high-octane E85 without pinging themselves to death when running on gasoline, for example. Daimler honcho Dieter Zetsche has stated that his company's DiesOtto engine concept, which runs a lower-cost gasoline engine on the compression-ignition diesel cycle under certain lower load conditions, requires a variable compression ratio solution to be viable. But to date these concepts have been pretty far-fetched. We've seen Saab's hinged cylinder block (2000), Nissan's triangulated connecting rods (2003), MCE-5's wacky geared con-rods, and Lotus' movable puck in the top of the cylinder head (2009). These ideas all proved too complicated or investment-intensive to see production, but the powertrain consultancy FEV has an elegantly simple "drop-in" solution that could add compression variability to an existing engine with minimal extra hardware. A new connecting rod features an eccentric "small end" at the piston wrist pin that can change the connecting rod's effective length, thereby varying the compression from 8:1 to 12:1 or 9:1 to 13:1. The force of compression or intake vacuum actually moves the eccentric, and engine oil pressure supplied by the normal big-end lubrication circuit simply locks the device in one position or the other. A spool valve at the bottom of the connecting rod end cap slides from side to side to vary the position, by way of a control device mounted in the oil pan. FEV claims it can contribute up to 7 percent fuel economy improvement on the EPA's FTP75 test cycle, mostly by improving thermal efficiency under partial load with high compression. It also greatly improves power output at full load by lowering compression, and as noted it can greatly improve performance from E85 flex-fuel vehicles and possibly help enable HCCI operation. FEV believes the technology could be in production by 2020.


FEV xDCT 7- and 10-Speed Twin-Clutch Transmissions

This is a pretty simple packaging miracle that manages to get more speeds in less space and with less mass than the existing transverse transaxle applications we know and love. The magic is in the way FEV utilizes the three shafts that most twin-clutch automatics use. Instead of every gear ratio resulting from a gear on one of the two main input shafts to the output shaft, some of the ratios involve gears meshing between the two input shafts. This way the seven-speed gets by with just three shift forks and synchronizer units and 14 gear wheels, and the 10-speed uses four forks/synchros and 17 gear wheels. By comparison, today's best seven-speed DCTs use four or five forks/synchros and 17 or 20 gear wheels. The ratio spreads are similarly impressive at 8.62 for the 7-xDCT and 10.20 for the 10-xDCT. Either unit can also be hybridized. No production plans have been announced.


ThyssenKrupp InCar Plus concept

You may know ThyssenKrupp as primarily a steel supplier, but the company is keen to show off its engineering expertise in other automotive areas, particularly as it relates to the increasingly important category of CO2-emissions reductions. Hence the company's InCar Plus concept at this year's SAE show showcased some 40 innovations. Highlights:

  • Litecore You've heard of Quiet Steel, the two layers of steel with a sound-absorbing polymer inside? Litecore is similar in concept, but all the layers are thinner and the resulting sheets can be stamped and formed for use elsewhere on the unibody or exterior sheetmetal. A typical sandwich might consist of an outer double-side galvanized steel sheet just 0.25mm thick, an inner plastic layer 0.40mm, and an inner galvanized steel sheet 0.20mm thick for exterior panels. Such panels preserve the pedestrian protection and dent resistance of typical sheet steel with a weight savings of 20 percent. The material can be resistance spot welded or joined with adhesives. Expect volume production for inner parts first in a few years, with exterior panels following.

  • ThermoTecSpring You don't have to resort to composite coil springs to save weight. This steel spring's wire goes through an extra hot-rolling process that changes the grain structure of the steel, strengthening it so that thinner wire and a shorter spring can do the same work at a weight savings of roughly 20 percent. And with a special epoxy powdercoat paint protecting the surface, the new spring lasts longer. Production will begin soon.

  • Wheels Steel wheels are already lighter than aluminum ones, but there's room for further improvement by thinning the material thickness of the rim in the areas between the tire beads and the region that connects to the wheel center. And to make the design competitive with aluminum, a styled front dish is proposed, though the presence of a second center could still cause these designs to be confused for a wheel and cover. Total savings versus a conventional steelie is 20 percent. Not enough? ThyssenKrupp has devised a high-end 20-inch composite wheel combining a steel center with a carbon-fiber rim that weighs just 23 pounds. And remember, lighter wheels bring two additional benefits: better ride quality via unsprung weight reduction and quicker acceleration by reducing rotational inertia.

  • Electric Power Steering for Trucks This rack and pinion setup generates the power needed to turn larger trucks and SUVs by powering two pinions to assist the manual input of a third pinion, bringing the same EPAS fuel economy benefit to this largest class of light-duty vehicles.


AVL 7-Mode Hybrid

GM had its two-mode; Austria-based engineering consultancy AVL trumps that by five! An electric motor rated for 87 hp peak/55 hp continuous is integrated with a planetary transmission in such a way as to provide two electric drive modes — first gear and reverse launch, via a 12:1 ratio, and a second higher forward-gear ratio for cruising. The small, down-speeded 89-hp, 1.2-liter, gasoline, direct-injected I-3 engine can propel the car directly through three gear ratios (we're up to five modes so far). Then there's an E-CVT mode where the engine drives one element of the planetary gearset while the electric motor drives another one to provide ratio variability. The last mode disconnects the engine when decelerating to allow the motor to recover as much of that energy as possible. The target performance in a C-segment vehicle is 0-60 mph in less than 10 seconds, 20 miles of anticipated electric range, and 35 grams of CO2/km (156 mpg), or 79 g CO2/km (69 mpg) in charge-sustaining mode. No production plans have been announced.


AVL 200-Club e-Supercharged/Turbocharged Engines

A Baker's Dozen Tech Tidbits from SAE 2015

The future of combustion is all about boost, and AVL is bullish on employing an electric supercharger to eliminate turbo lag and help develop the airflow needed to bring a big turbocharger up to speed. An economy-optimized fitment utilizes cooled EGR with a target of delivering diesel efficiency without the aftertreatment headaches. Its 200-club benchmark was CO2 emissions of 200 g per kW-hr of energy. The vastly more fun 200-club member is the TGDI High Performance Demonstrator, which achieves 200 hp/liter in an Alfa Romeo 1.75-liter I-4. The engine itself employs the block from the Giulietta; the crank and cylinder head from a 4C; reinforced connecting rods, a custom cam with long-duration exhaust-valve timing, and high-flow injectors from an Alfa V-6; low-restriction intake with oversized intercooler; custom 3-inch-diameter exhaust with Mercedes CLA45 AMG catalyst; Maserati mufflers with exhaust flaps; a big Borg Warner K16 turbocharger welded to the standard exhaust manifold; and a Valeo 12-volt electric supercharger powered by an uprated deep-discharge, absorbed-glass-mat battery. (Valeo also supports development of similar 48-volt systems.) Step on the gas, and the e-supercharger hits its peak boost in about 0.3 second then remains on for only about a second, after which point it's built up enough mass airflow to get the big turbo working. The torque curve is not the typical plateau but rather ramps up to a plateau in such a way as to ensure a steep but linear power-delivery curve. I had the chance to sample this system on the roads in suburban Detroit, and the pull from down low in the rpm range is nothing short of astonishing for such a small four-cylinder. I can only imagine what a rush AVL's next installment in the 200 club will deliver — its target is 200 kW/liter (268 hp/l).


LifeBelt

Two trauma doctors working in Australia in 1999 were dismayed by the injuries they were seeing in rear-seat occupants who had been belted, due to "submarining," or sliding forward under the lap seatbelt. Traditional anti-submarining measures typically used in front seats include a rigid seat pan at the front of the seat and seatbelt pretensioners, but this new concept is claimed to be more effective still. The idea is that instead of the belt webbing being attached to the structure at the lower outboard side of the seat, it turns and runs forward up and just under the seat fabric, anchored on the inboard side of the seat. The idea is that in a wreck, as your body motion tensions the seatbelt, the webbing makes a loop around your legs, tightening to prevent the smallest occupants (who are at greatest risk of submarining) from sliding under the lap belt. The system is highly effective but doesn't work on the smallest children, so LifeBelt proposes a second latch in the lap belt to click in between the legs of children who've just graduated from child seats. LifeBelt reckons the added cost will be negligible for structural seats that already incorporate the lower seatbelt mount. The company is looking to license the technology, not produce and supply it.


Continental Dandelion Tires

Tires made from natural rubber are technically "green," except when you consider that rubber plants tend to grow in environmentally sensitive tropical regions that are badly overtaxed by global tire demand. Hence, an alternative source of agricultural latex is worth cultivating, and Continental reckons it's found just such a source in the Taraxacum kok-saghyz, commonly known as the Kazakh dandelion, rubber root, or Russian dandelion. They grow easily almost anywhere, just like their North American relatives do (as homeowners with lawns all know), and Continental is cooperating with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME), the Julius Kühn Institute, and the plant breeder Aeskulap to develop the rubber. The whole plant is harvested, the liquid squeezed out of it and centrifuged to separate the latex. Tires are being tested now, and initial results suggest wear qualities are even better than natural rubber with no difference in rolling resistance. A pilot production plant is being planned, with a goal of regular production within five to 10 years under the name "Taraxagum."


CPT TIGERS—Waste to Watts

What if a car's turbo weren't snuggled right up against the engine making intake boost but instead lived way downstream and simply made electricity? That's the concept behind Controlled Power Technologies' Turbogenerator Integrated Gas Energy Recovery System (TIGERS) device, which endeavors to recuperate 5 of the 40 percent of a typical engine's total energy production currently lost to exhaust heat. It can operate at exhaust temperatures up to 1,380 degrees at speeds up to 45,000 rpm, generating peak power of 2-4 kW. Technically the device is simply known as an expander, as it's not spinning a turbine that makes pressure but rather an electric generator. It lives in a little bypass loop somewhere in the downstream exhaust, and controlling when the exhaust stream gets routed to this device and when it's routed straight out is half the battle (and half the intellectual property) because adding exhaust backpressure is not always beneficial. The goal is to augment today's 2-3-kW alternator output, which is often strained by today's electrical system loads, with an additional 2 or 4 kW of peak output (in 12-volt or 48-volt systems, respectively). The unit is said to be 70 percent efficient, adds 24 pounds, and requires engine cooling. Production is targeted for 2020, most likely on a light truck.


Tru Vue Glare-Free Gauges

You've probably sprung for anti-reflective coatings on your eyeglasses and maybe for the glass on your nicer framed artwork, so why is it that you can't have that same technology on the glass protecting your instrument panel? That's the question museum-glass suppliers Tru Vue were asking, as the company demo-ed its coated glass and acrylic products. To date, only one unnamed high-end British automaker uses Tru Vue gauge lenses. With less than 0.60 percent of light reflecting from it, the treated panel had collected quite a number of fingerprints as folks poked the panel next to the untreated glass to verify that it wasn't just an open space.


Nikkei Technology Carbon-Fiber Gears

This one wasn't on the SAE show floor but made its debut instead in Tokyo at Intermold 2015 at about the same time. Here the idea is to replace metal gears with lighter plastic ones, using super-strong carbon-fiber reinforcement to toughen the gear-tooth area. Developed by the Center for Advanced Die Engineering and Technology at Gifu University and Central Fine Tool Co Ltd, the technology is targeted for commercialization by March 2017. We might not expect to see it replacing transmission gears, but there are many other internal engine gears that could benefit from this light, tough concept.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Motor Trend

Loading...

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon