"All technical areas of powertrain development and testing are growing equally fast. Advanced hybrid battery testing has grown the most rapidly as a percentage of the application area simply because it started from an embryonic point," said the Chairman and CEO of AVL Americas, Don Manvel. Every aspect of engine and powertrain development is experiencing "extremely strong growth due to technology advances, many of which AVL has pioneered," according to Manvel.
AVL presently employs 500—half being engineers—at four facilities in southeast Michigan, but that worker count is projected to reach 1000 by 2013. "It would be expected that the ratio of engineers to non-engineers will stay the same as the current employment levels," said Manvel.
The privately owned and independent AVL deals with diesel, gasoline, and alternative fuel powertrain systems in addition to fuel cell and hybrid technologies. "While hybrid technology is getting the most visibility in the consumer market, other technologies such as diesel development, exhaust aftertreatment, engine control electronics integration, and advance combustion technology—to name a few—command a larger portion of current development activity in the industry," said Manvel.
A new energy management and systems integration facility, the AVL California Technology Center (CTC), is a support bed for green technology work occurring in "one of the key market areas for advanced transportation initiatives," according to Bruce Falls, the Director of the CTC. The facility, which opened in October 2007, is serving OEMs, suppliers, fuel providers, government agencies, and other groups.
CTC capabilities include system-level modeling and simulation, advanced technology assessment, mechanical and electrical integration, system controls and calibration, as well as concept vehicle demonstrations. "CTC will be one of the AVL locations which will be active in hybrid testing. It will support the advanced powertrain activities taking place in California," Manvel said.
With approximately 30 test cells available at its U.S. facilities, AVL does not typically devote or dedicate test cells to a given application. "This keeps the cost of testing efficient and also allows for more flexibility to meet customer timing requirements," Manvel noted. AVL has invested capital resources to ensure flexibility in virtually all of its test cells. "The exception is the few very large and complex test cells dedicated to driveline testing, which includes transmissions," Manvel explained.
Although hybrid testing represents a small portion of the market for engineering and testing, and AVL's actual testing reflects this, the company is working with several battery suppliers and automakers on various hybrid integration projects and battery testing programs, according to Manvel. "AVL has designed testing capability to specifically meet the needs of hybrid testing. This is such a new technology that the outside test equipment suppliers have not been able to meet the need. AVL, as an engineering/design-focused company, sees the requirements to test its own designs sooner than a company that only makes test systems. In general, internally developed tools that meet state-of-the-art requirements will later be commercialized and offered as standard test instruments and systems," said Manvel.
Among the new testing tools from AVL is bobcat, which uses industry standard open architecture hardware from National Instruments and the latest Microsoft graphic user interface concepts. "Bobcat is an efficient and easy-to-use system that can provide testing for focused and repetitive applications, such as power and durability testing," Manvel said. The new test cell automation, data acquisition, and control system is currently being used for engine applications, but AVL hopes to produce an application-specific subset of bobcat for advanced hybrid battery testing for the general vehicle market.