Electrifying the future of engineering

  • 19-Oct-2010 11:56 EDT
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To complete the AEV certificate program, students will need to take five courses within a year's time.

The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is one of the most anticipated and scrutinized passenger vehicle programs in recent memory. The high degree of confidence of the program’s Chief Engineer, Andrew Farah, and other General Motors Co. engineering executives exuded so close to the start of production belies the enormous technical challenges the Volt program faced at the time it was approved by GM management.

Ramping up electrification capabilities also included hiring and training hundreds of EV-focused engineers, according to GM’s Micky Bly, Executive Director of Global Electrical Systems, Hybrids, Electric Vehicles and Batteries, and OnStar. “We’ve hired 200 engineers just for electrified-vehicle programs since January ’10—and we still have 50 more openings to fill,” he said in September.

The Volt program is just the tip of the industry’s much bigger iceberg when it comes to the need for engineers and technologists with new skills in the area of vehicle electrification. Today's automotive and electronics technologies are evolving so rapidly that educators and industry are both challenged to re-educate the technological workforce in the new area.

On the first day of SAE International’s Convergence 2010 automotive electronics event Oct. 19-20 in Detroit, representatives from the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) and Ford Motor Co. discussed the university’s new Advanced Electric Vehicle (AEV) Graduate Certificate Program. In November 2009, Ford's Product Development senior management formally approved a proposal by UDM to transform 125 of Ford's IC (internal combustion) engine automotive engineers into advanced electric vehicle automotive engineers, and two months later the first course of the Advanced Electric Vehicle Program began in Dearborn.

UDM's response to Ford's needs, as well as those of other OEMs and suppliers, involved direct collaboration between UDM AEV Program faculty and Ford's electric vehicle leaders and subject matter experts. Before teaching each course, the UDM engineering and science professors work for a month or two in the Ford engineering group that is directly involved in the design and development of the systems that the course focuses on, such as batteries, e-drive systems, and power electronics.

Such rapid and highly responsive curriculum development is not the norm in academia. To accomplish this outcome UDM had to be more customer-focused (like the automotive industry is), and Ford needed to embrace academic priorities and provide access to its electric vehicle subject matter experts by UDM faculty. UDM and Ford's involvement in the Michigan Academy for Green Mobility (MAGM) provided insight to an industry-wide perspective as a guide, and it positions the AEV certificate program for MAGM endorsement without further development or investment.

Classes are under way for this program in this first year, and a lot of valuable lessons are being learned. The faculty-industry partners will tune the curriculum for future offerings based on these lessons learned.

The UDM/Ford effort is just one of many industry projects providing insight and inspiration to quickly infuse deep knowledge of critical electrification technologies into the engineering workforce. The editors from SAE are developing another—at our new vehicle electrification web portal dedicated to technical information, standards, news, and product developments in the fast-emerging hybrid and electric-vehicle space. Check out evsae.com and tell us what you think.

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