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Johnson Controls' MaryAnn Wright (far left), Lisa Bahash, and LTU's Giscard Kfoury look at the 48-V micro hybrid system fitted on a prototype vehicle at the Southfield, MI, lab's May 8 dedication.

Johnson Controls invests in LTU research lab

The newly named Johnson Controls Vehicle Engineering Systems Laboratory recognizes the supplier’s investment in a Lawrence Technological University (LTU) lab that will serve as a vital link to developing next-generation energy storage systems for vehicles.

“The whole intent is for us to more quickly iterate the innovations and designs,” MaryAnn Wright, Vice President, Engineering & Product Development, at Johnson Controls Power Solutions, told Automotive Engineering.

Recent renovations have vastly altered the chassis dynamometer lab on LTU’s Southfield, MI, campus, according to Giscard Kfoury, Ph.D, Associate Professor and Director-Bachelor of Science in Robotic Engineering at LTU.

“With this capital investment from Johnson Controls, we’ve upgraded from a power absorption dynamometer to a motoring dynamometer. We now have the ability to drive the vehicle with the dynamometer,” said Kfoury, “This is extremely important for the current testing we’re doing on hybrid vehicles with regenerative braking.”

Johnson Controls’ $400,000 capital investment in the 1500-ft2 (139-m2) lab also added a robotic driver, hardware-in-the-loop equipment, a new data acquisition system, and software.

“Half of my engineering students are undergraduates, some are only sophomores. So getting exposure to advanced technology like this dynamometer, working on real-life products that might be in the marketplace in a couple of years, and interacting with Johnson Controls engineers is extremely valuable,” Kfoury noted.

Lab test programs will include Johnson Controls’ 12-V lithium-ion battery in a prototype advanced start-stop vehicle, and the supplier’s 48-V micro hybrid system. The company also invested $300,000 to fund LTU student and faculty projects.

According to Kfoury, a current LTU faculty and student project deals with developing optimization algorithms for lithium-ion battery sensors. “The main focus of the project is to reduce the amount of sensors on the battery as well as determine the ideal placement of those sensors while still being able to estimate correctly the state of the battery,” he said.

Since Johnson Controls does not have an in-house chassis dynamometer, the supplier relies on AVL and other partners, noted Wright. The lab at LTU adds another testing resource.

“We’re not only leveraging an asset, we’re helping to develop the (student engineers). They have great ideas because they’re so unconstrained,” said Wright.

Lisa Bahash, Johnson Controls’ Group Vice President and General Manager of Original Equipment Power Solutions, said partnering with universities provides “a fresh eyes kind of approach. The young engineers are coming from a different generation, a different thought process.”

In late May, LTU representatives will have their first opportunity to participate in Johnson Controls’ Technology Challenge day, noted Wright. “At this year’s challenge, LTU, the University of Wisconsin and Argonne National Laboratory will compete for funding. The ones that have the best ideas are going to get funded by us with specific deliverables,” she said.

Johnson Controls’ first technology challenge program started with presentations from the University of Wisconsin three years ago and the results have been satisfying, according to Wright. “It’s really a unique program. We don’t know of anybody else that has done anything like this,” she noted, adding that the program has resulted in the hiring of engineers and scientists as well as the realization of intellectual property.

Similar to the ripple effect from the technology challenge program, the Johnson Controls Vehicle Engineering Systems Laboratory is likely not a finished project.

“My expectation is we’ll continue to make (LTU) investments, probably in infrastructure and for sure in projects,” Wright projected.

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