Mikhail Ejakov from Ford Motor Company talks about how he is using simulation to support the transition to electric vehicles.
A revolution is happening in the automotive industry as manufacturers race to replace market-leading internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles with electric vehicles that perform just as well. Forward-thinking automakers have already embarked on a journey of transformation to achieve this and many have committed to going fully electric in just a few years. With regulators also piling on the pressure, the race is on to get competitive new vehicles and technologies to market faster than ever.
“Regulators in Europe, for example, are banning the sale of new vehicles with ICEs by 2035,” said Mikhail Ejakov, technical leader for CAE in electrified systems engineering at Ford Motor Company. “That’s a very short time for mature, advanced ICE automotive companies to develop sophisticated new electric vehicles.”
Embracing a Tectonic Shift
All of this has catalyzed innovation, creating an environment that Ejakov likens to the industry’s early days.
“Electric vehicles have been around since before the ICE and for a while in the early 1900s, it was not clear which technology would become the dominant propulsion method for road vehicles,” Ejakov said. “A similar thing is happening in the industry now. We are on a journey and we don’t know exactly where we’re going to end up – but we know we’re going somewhere.”
Transitioning to electric vehicles may seem like a simple matter of switching out an internal combustion engine (ICE) for an electric powertrain. But for automakers like Ford, which have spent decades building up global leadership in ICE vehicles, the transition to electric is a huge undertaking.
“This will be a huge tectonic shift,” Ejakov said. “Over the years, a lot of people in the industry have put great effort into developing ICE vehicles that are incredibly efficient, practical, reliable and convenient. Now, we’re moving from this competitive, very advanced comfort zone to somewhere new and different. Instead of an engine and gasoline or diesel fuel, we have vehicles with electric motors and batteries. The whole technology is changing and that changes how customers will use the vehicle and how they will drive it and enjoy it. It’s not a case of simply taking out a conventional propulsion system and putting in a new one. Right now, everything is on the table in terms of changes.”
Embracing that shift will bring both opportunities and technological challenges.
“It is not yet clear what the winning technology will be,” Ejakov said. “People assume you just need a battery and an electric motor, but those terms are generic. They miss all the details about the specific motor you want to make. For example, how do you want to design the inverter? What specific features do you need to include? What architecture, parts and subsystems will be needed? Then, what type of battery do you want and how and where will it be housed in the vehicle? You need to look at the primary functions, but all these other things also need to be taken care of because the vehicle needs to be a convenient way of transportation that is also efficient and safe. All those things must be considered and designed from scratch to work alongside the elements that are staying.”
The bar for success is set high by the ICE vehicles that have been perfected over the decades.
“In an electric vehicle, convenience translates to range and charging time – how long it takes to charge the vehicle and how far it will drive on a single charge,” Ejakov said. “This is one of the biggest convenience challenges with electric vehicles because conventional vehicles are so good. Filling an ICE vehicle at the gas station takes five minutes and the amount of energy in that fuel is tremendous.
But as well as being convenient and practical, each electric vehicle must be cost-effective. “The value you get for the price of a conventional ICE vehicle is incredible and electric vehicles need to compete with that,” Ejakov said.
An Essential Solution Set
Simulation is the key to meeting the opportunities and challenges of electrified systems engineering head-on. Ejakov has been working with SIMULIA solutions for some time, having started his journey with Abaqus, a finite element base- software package.
“One reason I chose SIMULIA is the technical capabilities of the people at the company and the product they’ve developed,” Ejakov said. “We’re looking for the best capabilities available in the market, which is what SIMULIA offers in many areas.”
Alongside Abaqus, Ejakov highlights SIMULIA’s Isight solution that allows users to combine multiple cross-disciplinary models in a simulation process flow.
“Simulation is an integral part of the engineering processes,” Ejakov said. “We’re dealing with complicated scientific and engineering challenges; whenever we’re addressing a complex issue, we do a simulation. To design a system, you need to understand how it works and be able to model it because you cannot just do it with hardware trials.”
Simulation in Action
Simulation enables Ejakov and his team to distill the knowledge and expertise that exists in a specific area. For example, electric vehicle engineering demands an understanding of systems and physics that don’t play a part in ICE powertrains.
“With electric vehicle engineering, there are new areas that are not present in the conventional powertrain, like electromagnetic fields, for example,” Ejakov said. “Simulation helps us to understand these and design around them.”
Then there are the more familiar challenges that are common across all vehicle engineering.
“It’s also essential to understand and test around the more traditional issues like durability, vibration and thermal management,” Ejakov said. “Again, you need to model the system because you must design around these things. You need to find new trade-offs, new optimal space and make sure everything runs like clockwork.”
Understanding is the keyword in all this. All automakers use simulation to some extent, but those that achieve the greatest results have invested time to understand exactly what it can do.
“There is a perception that simulation is easy – you just press a button and a solution magically pops out,” Ejakov said. “But there is no magic in this business. There is a lot of hard, intellectual work to understand what simulation is and what it can do. Then when it works, it does look like magic because the simulations and animations are very impressive.”
As traditional automotive companies transition to electric vehicles, they’re also keenly aware of the need to accelerate innovation and make sure their creations stand out from the rest. It’s a hugely competitive environment that extends beyond any single organization.
“The automotive industry is a complex ecosystem of car companies, vendors, suppliers and others,” Ejakov said. “I personally think it may be the most advanced, competitive industry of all. Certainly, the mechanical engineering and electrification marketplace is very competitive.”
This vast and complex industry is transforming at such a pace that it’s difficult to predict exactly what it will look like in a couple of decades. But one certainty is that it will be worth the wait.
“Nobody knows what the industry will look like in 20 years because it’s a very wide, open space,” Ejakov said. “One thing I know is that it’s going to be interesting. We are at the beginning of an exciting journey and we still have a long way to go. Our exact path and eventual destination may surprise us all.”