Getting there faster with digital twins
Automotive-sector | Digitalisation and industry 4.0 | innovation | Development times in the automotive industry are getting shorter and shorter. Digital twins of components are giving engineers a fresh impetus.
The automotive industry has its foot on the pedal. New models are coming onto the market sooner and sooner. “With some manufacturers, development times for new vehicle models are already below two years. To remain competitive, we, as a top supplier, have to get faster, too,” declares Dr. Andreas Rohde, Head of Technology and Innovation at thyssenkrupp Bilstein. “This is a major challenge, because the demands placed on suspension and damper systems, for example, are unchanged. They have to last at least 15 years – in both summer and winter and on smooth freeways and dirt tracks alike.” One solution: digital twins.
Digital twins to optimize dampers
For two years, thyssenkrupp Bilstein has been focusing on digital twins in a pilot project, and this places it among the leaders, technologically. At an early stage, in parallel with the traditional development path, it creates virtual models that help its chassis experts to demonstrate and optimize the dampers’ technical properties. The data obtained in this way is fed into the traditional development process that runs in parallel, as well as into production planning – this is Engineering 4.0. However, the digital twins cannot – and are not intended to – take the place of traditional tests, as these are still necessary and a legal requirement. Every new vehicle model and variant needs a tailored damper system, which has to be developed, applied, and tested. Although all these struts consist of a steel or air spring and a hydraulic shock absorber, the detail varies. It is necessary to match the technical properties to each vehicle, its size, engine power, and drive type and thus to achieve optimum driving comfort and dynamics.
The digital parallel world reduces testing effort
In the past, as a rule, all types of damper had to be put through every test from A to Z. A particularly time-consuming example of this was endurance testing, which replicates in a climatic chamber the stresses involved in driving 300,000 kilometers. Other time-guzzlers were the automobile makers’ traditional winter and summer trials, as well as chassis tuning, when thyssenkrupp Bilstein’s technicians are present on the ground to fine-tune the dampers. These tests are still indispensable, but the digital twins mean we can now reduce them to a minimum,” Rohde explains. His team work closely with vehicle manufacturers – including Tesla, Porsche, BMW, and Daimler – on the development of new models from the very beginning and have built up a digital parallel world step by step. “While the real dampers are examined thoroughly in trial facilities and on test tracks, we use the virtual prototypes for extensive load simulations,” he says.
“Thanks to the digital twins, we are able to reduce the development time to less than two years.” Dr. Andreas Rohde, Head of Technology and Innovation at thyssenkrupp Bilstein
Time-savings of up to 50 percent
To make sure the results reflect reality 1:1, the engineers compare all the results from the computer with test stand measurements. This process creates a digital twin that serves as a reference model. For example, it enables variants intended for use in automobile derivatives of the same type to be developed and optimized. All that remains at the end is for the final prototypes to be built and tested. The aim is to save up to 50 percent of the time spent on the development process.
And that is not all. In the future, the virtual models will also be able to supply all the essential planning and control data to the production facility at thyssenkrupp Bilstein. Thanks to the digital twin, this facility can be adapted at an early stage to produce the new dampers, and it is actually already able to supply the latest prototypes. The vehicle manufacturers, too, are benefiting from the new technology, since they are receiving the complete data on the damper systems as early as the development stage and are able to integrate this into their overall vehicle models. “Thanks to the digital twins, we are able to reduce the development time to less than two years,” Rohde concludes. “This is improving not only our own competitiveness but also the automobile makers’.”