Deep in the forgotten recesses of product development labs are secret chambers where unspeakable acts of torture are performed by enigmatic engineers, all in the name of progress. The places: dyno labs. The people: powertrain specialists.
Tongues planted firmly in cheeks, these professionals cloak their vocations in mystery, linking successes and failures with supernatural forces only they can comprehend.
This is what Paul Smith calls the “cowboy calibrator/adjust-all-the-knobs-simultaneously/black-art” school of powertrain development. And despite its archaic methodology, it retains a place in the auto industry.
For example, programs that depend on port injection “get by on that just fine,” says Smith, managing consultant with Massachusetts-based software company, The MathWorks.
But meeting mandates for improved fuel economy and cleaner emissions requires cutting-edge engines with new “degrees of freedom,” Smith says, listing attributes such as direct injection, variable cam timing and electronic throttles.
Developing this technology requires sophistication that threatens to arrest even the most efficient product development machine.
“There's been all kinds of hand-written Fortran and special programs and Excel spreadsheets, and it's really kind of a mess out there as to how people accomplish this,” Smith tells Ward's.
Predictably, The MathWorks poses a unique solution that purportedly saves time and money — software that determines the necessary calibration for achieving target performance within an engine's operating envelope.
“This brings in to one environment, one toolbox, the capability to analyze this data, to fit all the data to various kinds of statistical models and pump out your calibration,” says Smith, who worked at Ford Motor Co.'s powertrain division before joining The MathWorks.
Among its 500,000 customers worldwide, the software has reduced end-to-end development time by 45%. But a 60% improvement is not unfathomable, Smith claims.