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The Volvo scalable product  architecture (‘SPA’) and Volvo engine architecture (‘VEA’) are the building blocks of the new company under the ownership of Geely. At first sight this is yet another modular platform approach which sees a high level component sharing not only between the new XC90, the impending S90 and yet to be released V90 – but also right across the range. This extends to the electronic system, the software and much more.

The real news is how we got to the point of mass market product component sharing, and the dramatic effect it has and will continue to have on the collision repair business.

In The Beginning…

Engine bay and cabin floor were made in much the same way as now, but everything above floor level was defined by small diameter tubes which were then clothed in mostly non-structural skin panels. The ‘superleggera’ or super light-weight techniques used by the Italian  body builders in the 1950s, it does hint at one of the most powerful data sources inside the automotive industry – one that the after-market and the specifically the collision repair sector do not have full access to…. yet.

Vehicles today, more than ever before, are engineered virtually – under the label of computer aided design (CAD). That means whereas in the 1960s a vehicle might have a pile of drawings which then had to be translated into tools (more drawings) and then into finished parts, the process is now seamless. Every single nut, bolt, screw, clip and more is defined in 3D with computer generated wire frame models, to which are associated the part number, the supplier, quality reports, process reports, environmental impact reports and much, much more. This type of modelling was born in the aerospace and off shore oil industry but was widely adopted by the automotive industry from the early 1970s onwards initially for packaging all the services required to make a vehicle functional (ie, brakes,  suspension, steering, fuel system, seats, restraints and electrical systems).

From the early inception of wire frame models limits soon appeared – large teams of designers working on multiple areas of a vehicle all at once tended to be able to put components through each other (usually accidental, sometimes as a ‘political’ act) and so a better technique was required. The wire frame is skinned with a series of shells which then are merged to form a ‘single’ surface. Just as with wire frame, by making and inner and outer surface we can start to define the bulk of the part and associate material properties with it too. This technique was widely adopted from the aerospace industry by the late 1980s.

So far we have:

l Shapes defined by wire models.

l Shapes defined by surfaced models.

l Association of those shapes with part numbers, and material properties.

Now that the whole vehicle can be built up into a complete 3D model, we can really play!

From Static To Dynamic Modelling

The process is called computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and again was developed by the aerospace industry. The modelling allows rapid changes of shape to be tested virtually, and the real power from OEMs was in regard to not only aerodynamic drag but also wind noise around the doors/door mirrors. The big work from the automotive industry was developing CFD to cope with low speed turbulent airflow and significant ground effect, whereas the aerospace industry was more concerned with speeds greater than 300 miles per hour (sub sonic laminar flow without ground effect). The power? Altering the shapes in CAD can then be tested virtually in a fraction of the time and cost compared with physical testing. Each alteration is fully captured, so once frozen can be fed directly into making real parts.

As a by-the-way, 3D printing was used to make prototype engine parts way back in the mid-1990s.

It was in use during the late 1980s, but because of the lack of empirical data, it required immense computing power – The Ford of Europe Ka B146 engine bay first run took 12 hours to process, and the second iteration took eight hours. Move forward 24 years. Thanks to building calculated data banks verified in wind tunnels and making the CFD programming less intensive such calculations can now be performed on a powerful PC on a matter of minutes instead of a super computer in a matter of seconds.

As the understanding of turbulent sub system fluid flow increased, so the reach of CFD extended into heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). This eliminated significant cost of building expensive prototypes – even with 3D printing – along with astounding expensive real world climatic testing.

With the advent of CAD, impact simulation modelled by computer was possible. As with the many improvements in the power of computing systems combined with an ever increasing library of verified sub data sets, so the system has migrated from super computer to powerful PC. The models used to be run in parallel with physical testing, but from around 2005 onwards the finite element analysis (FEA) approach is the primary technique used.

What’s In This For Us?

So we have from the internal world of the vehicle manufacturer:

l Every component fully modelled.

l Every component and sub system capable of being subjected to impact.

In the after-market we have, as published by the vehicle manufacturer:

l Parts lists/catalogue

l Methods – because repair can be subtly different from the manufacturing process.

 In the same way we see CAD surfaced data used to create images for the repair instruction. Like the parts list it is a screen grab, but unlike the parts list it only deals with the repair process. However there is no parts information inside the methods system…..

So Why Not Have…..

l A ‘light’ version of the full vehicle CAD model?

l One that can be crushed, bent and mangled just as we see the real wreck in front of us….

l The model then produces in real time all the parts – right down to the last screw…..

l Which has collision repair sub-routines where allowable sections are highlighted?

Possible? Yes, and for at least a decade. Probable? Yes, but not until now.

But There’s More…

Let’s re-visit the wonderful world of Volvo. It has a new all-in system for parts, warranty, methods and diagnostics called VIDA 2915. Here are the steps required to access the data:

1. Subscribe to website No 1 – the data purchase site.

2. Purchase access to the Volvo Performance Academy – this requires mandatory on-line training to be completed as part of the process to access VIDA 2015.

3. Subscribe to web site No 2 – the Volvo Performance Academy.

4. Complete the training – this has three courses and takes around two hours.

5. Download the VIDA 2015 software to the designated computer. The web address is specific, but several people can operate VIDA 2015 from a single computer by setting up more user licences.

6. Subscribe to web site No 3 – the client manager.

7. This is where Volvo can approve the intended computer, via a remote system check. In addition this is the place to set up the user account and to add other users.

8. Subscribe to web site No 4 – the VIDA Admin tool.

9. This is required to associate the purchased VIDA 2015 data access to the right account.

10. Log into web site No5 – VIDA 2015! Take aquavit, cured salmon and herring whilst enjoying the first access.

Every time one activated the VIDA 2015 Volvo access the computer to approve its use. For diagnostics this is important since VIDA 2015 will not allow any communication with the vehicle until the approval is given.

l Complex? Yes. It’s a full blown dealer tool available to all – provided they are approved.

l The future?  In a way yes, but the next generation of VIDA will surely have better integration rather than a total of five web sites.

The Shock

The system puts methods firmly into place as the job list and torque charts to remove or fit parts. Everything else requires diagnostics. And wow, check out the electric/electronic systems on XC90!

Let’s look at one example. The vehicle is equipped with autonomous braking as standard, which requires forward facing sensors to detect obstacles and to classify what those obstacles might be. In common with many other systems Volvo used a camera to classify objects from around 1200 possibilities (adults, children, cattle, trucks, cyclists, mad Englishmen(!)), a short range measurement system (LiDAR, fitted behind the windscreen) and a longer range measurement system (RADAR). Logic said that RADAR had to be very nearly exposed at the very front of the vehicle with no more than plastic in front of it (which is invisible to RADAR) in order to work.

Delphi and Volvo introduced something else for XC90.

The camera remains (now with extra refined detection for cyclists and mad Englishmen), the LiDAR was deleted and in it’s place, behind the windscreen, was a dual range RADAR unit integrated with the camera. RADAR working from behind angled, laminated glass. This module works with the FlexRay data bus for suspension control, and two further data buses. In this way the system can recognise road signs, prepare the SRS in the event of imminent collision/roll over, keep the vehicle inside the designated lanes and more.

The Point

We have looked at how the automotive industry has migrated manual design processes into computer assisted systems, and how the idea of taking drawings to make parts has not really taken place for decades. The collision repair market has not been kept in the loop, being fed a very basic manual system extracted from this vast wealth of data.

The issue is: as vehicles acquire more and more systems, and those systems not only communicate with each other but also other vehicles and ‘the cloud’, so the support of glorified electronic books to support these products is being stretched as never before. Just as electronic modelling was a revolution of the automotive industry more than 40 years ago, we need a similar revolution to access data in a better way for the future. And soon.