Leveraging cross-industry expertise

  • 15-Mar-2013 04:50 EDT
RLGordon Head 13March13.jpg

Richard Gordon, Vehicle Product Group Head, Ricardo U.K.

Ricardo is a provider of engineering solutions for virtually all transportation markets from passenger cars and motorcycles, to commercial, agricultural, and off-highway vehicles, as well as marine and motorsports. SAE Off-Highway Engineering Assistant Editor Matthew Monaghan recently caught up with Richard Gordon, Vehicle Product Group Head, who oversees passenger car, commercial vehicle, defense, and off-highway for Ricardo U.K., to discuss the company’s activities in these industries.

How much overlap is there within industries at Ricardo?

We share the teams in most of those areas. We sort of share engineers, share experience, and have quite a lot of cross-fertilization between sectors. One example is motorsport helping out with defense at the moment for specialized materials and lightweight structures.

With such a wide range of applications in off-highway, how do you size the right engine for the right application?

What we’ve tended to do is standardize our tools and techniques and then use those tools to work with the customer to find the best application. The most challenging thing is detailing the cycles that their machines operate on. The other thing that we’ve got to keep in mind is the emissions tier levels. If we can right-size down to a good level, that can save an awful lot of money in the engine system, which can then help fund some of the hybrid system.

How much of a role do you see hybrid playing in the off-highway space as compared to the passenger car market?

The right-sizing for the emissions legislation and general efficiency improvement is one area, but the real challenge is the cost. It’s a very cost-sensitive market, so there always has to be a balance. We’re looking at many different types of hybridization energy-recovery systems. Because of the cost challenges in off-highway, we’ve developed quite a strong offering in flywheel for off-highway.

What are the advantages to a flywheel approach?

Ricardo has developed the flywheel IP based on the carbon-fiber flywheel. The benefit of carbon fiber is we can make quite a lightweight flywheel fairly cheaply that operates at a high speed, and we’ve developed a hermetically sealed, magnetically coupled flywheel so we don’t have the constant drag of the vacuum pump and you also haven’t got any drag within a seal. We’re looking at double-digit fuel-consumption savings through the application of the flywheel. The key benefits are not only the fuel consumption, but it can be a very simple and cost-effective system that also lasts the life of the machine.

Is the packaging of hybrid systems more or less of a challenge in off-highway?

For example, with flywheel we found there are packaging opportunities. There’s quite a challenge on some machines because of the hydraulic and cooling system complexity, but it usually comes down to the reliability, so packaging and the very careful design of the application to ensure really high reliability.

Is emissions still the primary challenge from a powertrain perspective?

Our engines team is really focused on three areas: cost, fuel efficiency, and reliability. With those three things in mind, we developed through our own research and application work a whole range of solutions. One of them is the twin-vortex combustion system; that’s all about low cost and reliability, so we don’t need too much aftertreatment for Tier 4 Interim. Other areas are very high efficiency SCR systems, passive DPF solutions, and very detailed engineering of engines for low fuel consumption. We know we can achieve the emissions levels, but it’s how to do that cost-effectively and with really good fuel efficiency.

Ricardo works as an independent company, what advantages does that provide?

Our customers do come to us for that independence. We’ve developed our own technology roadmap for various particular technical areas such as transmissions, engines, vehicle systems, and hybrid systems, and we can present a very neutral technology view, rather than a particular manufacturer’s offering. We do work with large numbers of suppliers to help customers integrate systems, but it’s always from a neutral standpoint. Our cross-sector experience helps to suggest things that perhaps our customers wouldn’t have thought of.

As an engineer, do you enjoy being able to work across industries?

I really love that aspect of my job. The aircraft tug project [with Israel Aerospace Industries; read more at www.sae.org/mags/sohe/7236] has been very fascinating, working in a completely different industry. I have worked with quite a bit of the aircraft manufacturers, talking to those guys from an aerospace perspective how they design their aircraft and some of the challenges they face. That’s been really interesting to learn about that but also apply that to the vehicle that we’ve been developing. Now we’re doing quite a lot of work in the construction equipment sector from the vehicle point of view. Those guys have very challenging constraints that mean the engineering is very complex and requires a lot of tools and techniques to optimize. Everyone’s familiar with how complex the passenger car is from a quality point of view, reliability, the driver’s experience, but I think the off-highway sectors as well have very significant challenges. Learning about those challenges and working through them with my teams has been very rewarding.

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