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Groupe PSA and Centrale Nantes launch €4M R&D program on digital simulation techniques for powertrain design

Groupe PSA and Ecole Centrale de Nantes have launched of an R&D partnership to optimize powertrain design processes for the group’s future vehicles. The aim of the partnership is to accelerate the use of digital simulation techniques in the design, development and testing of powertrains and increase model predictability. In the future, it could be possible to develop a new engine without laboratory tests or prototypes, using only virtual testing.

Digital simulation offers numerous benefits. The first is the time saved in the development stage due to the speed at which digital models can be configured versus the process of building and testing multiple iterations of prototypes.

Digital simulation as a design method is also less expensive than prototyping, which requires substantial tooling costs. The goal is to reduce the number of prototypes required by more than 70% versus the conventional design approach. Digitally simulated designs are also more robust and of higher quality as they can be tested against a greater number of customer scenarios.

The two parties will co-finance the project for a total amount of €4 million (US$4.7 million) over five years. Ecole Centrale de Nantes combines simulation and testing capabilities within a single team of teacher-researchers specializing in modeling and state-of-the-art experimental resources, including engine and vehicle test benches equipped with the most powerful supercomputer available on a university campus in France.

The project will cover all types of internal combustion engines for the development of hybrid vehicles and may also be extended to electric vehicles, where opportunities arise. A team of around ten people will focus on three areas: digital modeling of gasoline engines; “smart” automatic calibration processes to shorten the testing phase; and electric powertrain design.

Groupe PSA is already pioneering the digital design approach. Plans for limiting the quantity of prototypes produced for design purposes were put in place back in 2015 for the development of the 1.5l BlueHDi engine, shrinking the number required by around 40%. Through this new partnership, prototyping and testing requirements can be further reduced.

At Centrale Nantes, the partnership will be coordinated by Alain Maiboom, lecturer and research supervisor at the Research Laboratory in Hydrodynamics, Energy and Atmospheric Environment (LHEEA), a CNRS mixed research unit. His research activities focus primarily on combustion and the reduction of pollutant emissions from internal combustion engines at source, as well as heat transfers in the engine and throughout the powertrain (experimental characterization using test benches and phenomenological modeling).

Our objective is to enhance the ability of the models to simulate the different physical phenomena at play and the various situations encountered over the lifetime of a powertrain, as well as to develop calibration methodologies. In a way, we’re developing a digital test bench capable of replacing a physical bench, at least in part.

—Alain Maiboom


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