Multimatic VI-grade new Michigan SimCenter
A rendering of Multimatic’s new SimCenter that’s expected to open in Novi, Michigan in Q2 of 2020. (Multimatic)

Multimatic opening new Michigan virtual vehicle-dynamics development center

Novi “SimCenter” will feature most advanced VI-grade simulator in U.S.; enhance development of everything from chassis dynamics to autonomous systems.

Multimatic, the Toronto-based supplier well known as the manufacturer of the Ford GT, will open a new virtual vehicle-dynamics development center in Novi, Michigan in the second quarter of 2020. Partnering with simulation specialist VI-grade, the new “SimCenter” will be the first U.S. installation of VI-grade’s largest 9-degrees-of-freedom automotive simulator. Serving as the centerpiece of Multimatic’s new facility and available to industry clients, according to the company the simulator will provide a powerful, virtual development tool for everything from OEM suspension projects to start-up autonomous driving algorithms.

According to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., $7.8 million is being invested in the greenfield 25,000 ft2 SimCenter, which will house a VI-grade DiM250 driver-in-the-loop simulator. This advanced virtual engineering tool is one of the few in use outside of an OEM, and permits validation of a host of automotive systems and subsystems long before physical prototypes are constructed. In addition to turn-key race cars and full-vehicle projects such as the Ford GT, Multimatic is a leading supplier of OEM mechanism, structural and suspension products.

“The partnership we have with VI-grade and this state-of-the-art simulator will continue to enhance our overall vehicle dynamics capability. It adds, through the virtual environment, another layer of differentiation that complements the Multimatic innovation process,” explained Michael Guttilla, executive VP of engineering at Multimatic. “This is an enabler for bringing advanced technologies like electrification, adaptive suspension systems, autonomous driving and other active-safety features to market quickly.”

New development cornerstone
The Multimatic SimCenter will serve as a showcase for VI-grade’s technology, featuring its widest-performance-envelope DiM250 simulator. Its unique, patented design can create low and high frequency inputs, which permits both ride and vehicle dynamics to be modeled in the same system. The SimCenter will also feature a second, smaller VI-grade Compact Static Simulator to better assist in model generation and throughput for the facility.

The new structure will consolidate Multimatic’s engineering resources and double its footprint in southeast Michigan, with space for more than 100 employees. Multimatic will use the new space and simulator to expand on its core MISA (Multimatic Integrated Systems Analysis) development process to offer innovative solutions for its OEM and other customers. Unlike “build-to-print” suppliers, the firm uses its engineering teams, tools, experience and processes to create new solutions that increase value.

“We're an engineering-based manufacturing organization, and we define value as an equation that represents the relationship between product function and cost,” Guttilla said. “You can't have a useful conversation about whether something is cost effective without understanding the functional requirements, and vice versa. We look at the current state of the art, and map out a value target zone that’s identified by increased functional attributes, and/or reduced cost relative to those known products.”

A recent example during a mid-cycle OEM vehicle refresh, Multimatic engineered and produced new front and rear suspension components from high-strength stamped steel. The highly engineered steel components replaced an aluminum/cast-iron setup, meeting cost-reduction targets while reducing weight by more than 16 kg (35 lb). Due to the short timetable, the new components needed to meet the OEM's handling requirements from the first and only component prototypes. This could only have been accomplished by accurately predicting the final subjective performance in the virtual world, long before physical parts were available.

Objective subjective bridge
The new simulator will provide Multimatic and its customers the long-sought ability to bridge objective data and subjective attributes in the virtual world. “Many attributes that consumers care about are not easy to nail down with objective metrics. By putting a human into the virtual loop prior to building prototypes, we’re able to bridge the gap between subjective vehicle evaluation and objective component specifications,” Guttilla explained. “That’s the really cool thing that driver-in-the-loop simulation has done for us.”

This process goes well beyond simply optimizing mechanical components. It also includes development and integration of complex controls, software and electronics. Functional-safety goals often require upfront establishment of electronic specifications that cannot wait for the availability of physical components and full-vehicle prototypes for validation. “For us, the driver-in-the-loop simulator is a transformative tool in terms of what we're able to accomplish with increasing complexity and ongoing pressures to reduce development-cycle times,” Guttilla noted. “That's why it's important.”

Passenger-in-the-loop
Subjective capabilities will become more important as a larger subset of engineering resources are apportioned to autonomous systems. Because a 9-degrees-of-freedom simulator can emulate the directional forces experienced in a vehicle, it becomes a powerful development tool not only for traditional driver systems, such as steering feel. It also allows engineers to define passenger attributes for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) or automated systems, such as vetting autonomous hand-off (SAE Level 3) scenarios.

“What the DiM250 enables you to do from a chassis standpoint can be expanded into ride and handling, ADAS, HMI, or anything like that,” said John Kipf, Multimatic Engineering’s vehicle dynamics simulator manager. “You can imagine a scenario where you have the HMI or ADAS group coming in and going through an evaluation of potential technology for a new vehicle. They would be able to set up a driving scenario where the DiM250 occupant would have the same visual and tactile experience as in a real vehicle.”

“With the benefit of no risk to prototype equipment, coupled with testing repeatability, you have the opportunity to gain valuable subjective and objective data,” Kipf continued. “In the past, simulators provided a vehicle-handling function. The DiM250 provides a complete vehicle experience, including passenger-in-the-loop, which is key to helping speed the adoption of autonomous vehicle systems. I think the SimCenter is going to allow us to help people adopt and improve the driving experience for all vehicle occupants.”

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