The New Delhi-based Automotive Test Systems (ATS) has been focussing on ‘front-loading’ concept to maximize efficiency and reduce cost and time of testing. Maximizing efficiency is minimizing looping back to fix unanticipated problems during development. Front-loading is the term for building knowledge in an early stage to eliminate any loop back in the development process, and therefore reducing risks and costs. ATS offers a wide-range of automotive testing solutions including simulation, product validation, structural testing, data acquisition and analysis, vehicle handling and performance evaluation, NVH testing and powertrain etc. It is bracing up to extend them to OEMs that develop electric vehicles. “We have been trying to support the Industry with faster development through the front-loading concept in India, though it is quite established in Europe. Our focus will be to reduce testing ime,” S Ramanathan, Managing Director, ATS, told T Murrali of AutoParts Asia. Edited excerpts of the interview:
Q: Quick changes take place in the Indian automotive industry with an urge to leapfrog and tackle issues.What are the transformations that you see in this sector?
A: I think we are catching up and catching up fast. Suddenly everything is coming in and there is much more emphasis on making the vehicle global. Everybody is thinking on similar lines today. In terms of emissions we are catching up fast, BS-VI is coming fast as also electric and autonomous vehicles with ADAS calibrated to Indian conditions. We have a very strong IT base in India with the industry working for the automotive sector also. It is a major shift with so many projects being driven by the IT industry, mostly for clients in Europe and the US.
Q: Earlier it was OEM and a supplier. Now with many IT-driven changes, players extrinsic to the industry too are involved; three or four IT companies may team up to supply to one OEM. Testing companies may have to cater to all of them. Do you face such scenarios?
A: Yes, in many ways. There are more electronics and control systems coming into the car, contributing to development in those areas. All the major software companies in the country are doing this and we are supporting them.
Q: Earlier it was one to one, now it is one to many for you. How do you see this transformation?
A: That is good for us in terms of business. For the OEMs our testing remains the same. The consortiums bring in more features like control systems for vehicle components like engine, gearbox and steering, to produce a better car, but it still has to be tested.
Q: What sort of opportunities will these consortiums give you?
A: It has increased our market in terms of simulation tools as they are not companies that have an automotive background – they work in the virtual environment. Our business in the virtual environment has increased, maybe ten times in the last three years. Many leading Tier-1 companies have also developed to this technology.
Q: OEMs are interested in reducing iterations. On one side mutual testing and simulation is going on, on the other you have consumption. What benefit does the end-customer get? To what extent can they reduce their re-work or re-development process, and the number of iterations?
A: We have just started this activity of front-loading here, though it is quite established in Europe. It has started on the virtual side, so the benefit of front-loading is slow. It is not yet fully integrated into the entire process of most of the OEMs. There has to be correlation among virtual testing, lab testing and the final product testing. Once this is done, for the next model the manufacturer will know that if he puts in a particular parameter in the software for initial testing in the virtual world, the correlation would give him an idea of how his end-product would look like. That is what is going to save iteration time for the OEM.
Q: Do you see a time-frame where they can literally eliminate the on-road testing?
A: No, that’s not possible. You will still have to validate and test but the number of iterations you do in physical testing would reduce. The number of tests would probably remain the same from the OEM’s perspective, as the variants keep increasing. However, the time to market for the OEMs would reduce substantially.
Q: Do you see fall in their development cost?
A: Yes, that will happen; for front-loading it should come down.
Q: Is front-loading a new concept?
A: in its full form in most companies in our country, Probably Yes. Its means you are trying to reduce the time by deviating from the traditional methods of Iterating with testing and then the modifications until you are satisfied with the results. The idea is to use the technology to get the model 90% or so ready in the first shot reducing the no of iterations in the development cycle.
Q: In the industrial scenario how is ATS gearing up to cater to this?
A: We started taking these steps three to four years ago and have aligned ourselves accordingly. We are getting enquiries – customers are asking us if we can automate their test rigs to bring the road to the lab, whether they can use the virtual model in their component test rigs, or could it be used in outdoor testing etc.
Q: How could you anticipate this years ago?
A: The trends were showing up in the bigger groups in England and Germany. They had started this a few years ago. When I met them, they were talking of putting all these expensive sensors and Lidars into their car for a price of Euro 100; now people are talking of Euro 30 per sensor in their production vehicles.
Q: In the case of EVs OEMs have to face many hurdles. How would ATS help tackle the situation?
A: While EVs do have advantages, we have to look at the conditions in India. For example, the life of the batteries at very high temperatures, with higher charging times, Infrastructure across the country etc. The motor has its own challenges. It’s a challenge, as long as the key components are getting imported into our country and not produced locally.
Q: Does ATS have solutions for this?
A: Yes, we have .We are working with some Indian OEMs for on-road testing, and test rigs for electric motor testing. We are developing some hardware-in-the-loop systems for a couple of companies in India especially in the heavy-duty sector.
Buses are the first of the EV vehicles coming to the market now; government is really pushing it. People are also gearing up in the passenger vehicle segment as well like with Mahindra, Maruti, Tata Motors, etc… Two-wheeler industry has been in this area for some years now.
Q: Have you got tie-ups with some new companies for marketing their products?
A: We represent around 20 companies for product marketing. We would be adding more in the EV segment. We are in discussion with some big companies for which we would require much bigger labs for EV testing and validation. We will jointly set up some labs with them and have additional facilities in our own labs for different types of evaluation depending on market needs.
Today, we are looking at battery level and remote testing; high voltage measurements of 700V and temperature measurement inside the battery at very high voltage – we are already doing it.
When the development levels of lithium-ion and other kinds of batteries in India go up only will it warrant putting up a bigger infrastructure. We are gearing up for it; investment would follow in the coming years. At the moment Euro-VI has taken most of it – development is more on powertrains, with people working on ADAS. We are present in these areas and doing well.