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Maplesoft tools enable high fidelity modeling and simulation of vehicle dynamics for better design process

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During the process of designing an automobile, the time required to build a model of a vehicle is critical in determining the time-to-market for the finished product. Before investing huge amounts of money to create a  prototype of the vehicle, it is important for the design team to create a model to understand the dynamics of many subsystems and their interactions.

Therefore, exploring new design frontiers is an ongoing process in the automotive industry. Often, the industry challenges engineering students to develop innovative and time-saving design processes that can be incorporated into the industry’s standards. The Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility competition, sponsored by General Motors and the U.S. Department of Energy, is such an initiative.

This ground-breaking, three-year competition is meant to give engineering schools an opportunity to participate in hands-on research and development with leading-edge automotive propulsion, fuels, materials, and emissions-control technologies. A significant portion of the competition involves developing advanced models to drive the design of innovative systems.

The teams face problems that are similar to those faced by professional engineers who develop complex engineering systems such as hybrid electric vehicles.           

Maple™: a part of the winning team                       
Using radically new design tools such as Maplesoft’s DynaFlexPro for Maple, the University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team built a high-fidelity simulation of a Chevy Equinox vehicle in a few short weeks. This product allowed them to iron out flaws in the design and start incorporating real components into the simulation, very early in the process.

A main challenge for the team was that the individual controllers for the system–torque, traction, hybrid power split, and Bluetooth®  technology–could not be developed in isolation, as all of the vehicle components had characteristic dynamics that interacted with each other. Accommodating this complexity in the control algorithm was a big test.

DynaFlexPro: high-fidelity modeling
The first step in any control development project is to characterize the plant or the system being controlled. The importance of this step is often minimized by vendors of control design tools. In fact, control engineers agree that 80% of the design stage can be spent on this step. For a project to succeed, engineers must have a clear understanding of the plant behavior before the design process for the controller begins. Many projects have been delayed, resulting in expensive and iterative prototyping cycles, because this crucial step was not done properly.

The University of Waterloo team chose DynaFlexPro for Maple as a system-modeling tool to create the vehicle-dynamics model. The topology of the vehicle’s multibody mechanical system was defined graphically to produce the kinematic and dynamic equations of motion easily. Further analysis and refinement was then carried out in the Maple environment, and the model was eventually exported to the team’s chosen simulation tool as a function block using the code generation feature in Maple. The efficient code, generated by Maple and DynaFlexPro, made real-time simulation possible, where the prototype controller was tested against a simulation of the plant.

Key results
By developing the system as described, the team collapsed the design process that would normally have taken several months to just a few weeks and at a fraction of the typical cost.

The model proved to be robust; it was able to interact with various types of hardware, including National Instruments™ control and acquisition devices, a motor, power sources, and a gaming steering wheel and pedals.

“Without DynaFlexPro and Maple, we would not have been able to formulate a sufficiently efficient vehicle dynamics model for use in a real-time simulator,” commented Matt Stevens, captain of the University of Waterloo Challenge X Team. “This model was critical for predicting the behavior of our vehicle in real time and we were very happy with the speed with which we could turn this around: about two weeks in total.”

The project proves that the adoption of a model-based design methodology really does work, and tools such as DynaFlexPro and Maple bring huge advantages to any engineering project, especially when they are used as the conceptual modeling tools right at the beginning of a project.  This project also demonstrates that there is a rich source of talented designers in engineering schools who are fully conversant in this methodology and the tools to make it happen. Programs such as Challenge X provide future designers with opportunities to advance current industry processes, giving students relevant, real-world experiences and the automotive industry a new talent pool.

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