A US$8m investment program at the Mahle Powertrain engineering facility in Northampton, UK, will greatly improve the company’s testing capabilities and better equip it to meet the demands of upcoming emissions legislation. This week, ETI visited the most recent installment, the US$670,000 Vehicle Engineering Centre.
The former engine production space will be used to build prototype vehicles for both in-house research and customer projects. Derek Wise, chief engineer build and test, said, “With the increasing interdependence between the vehicle and engine, with more electronics and hybridization, we need to test the whole powertrain system rather than the engine in isolation so the facility will support our vehicle testing work.”
Additional offices provide space for future expansion and will enable the team to take on up to 40 new engineers as well as more projects. Wise said, “We have an ongoing program in which we hire 8-10 graduate engineers and apprentices each year. That’s been very fruitful because we can train them to our exacting standards. We also recruit experienced staff, but the automotive sector is booming, and finding the right caliber of engineers and technicians is a industry-wide issue at present.”
Meanwhile a suite of upgrades being implemented at the Mahle Powertrain engine test facility will see the complete transformation of the existing test cell area. The renovation began in 2013 and is ongoing.
“We’re taking the existing test beds, gutting them out back to bare brick, and rebuilding them with new test equipment and palletized systems,” explained Wise.
In each cell, the control systems and data acquisition hardware are being upgraded to state-of-the-art AVL equipment. “We did a survey of different suppliers and went with AVL because they are a market leader and have a good presence in the UK, so if there are issues with downtime or faults they are close by,” Wise noted.
The new control systems provide the capability to carry out unmanned testing 24 hours a day. Mahle will also be able to share data and processes much more easily with customers, many of whom run the same systems. The combustion air and fluid handling systems inside the cells are also being replaced.
“We’re changing the configurations of the cells; previously it was slow to get an engine in, but we’re moving the doors so the pallet can now be pushed straight in. Previously, it could take us up to a week to install and commission a new engine onto the test bed, but now there are only around six connectors on each pallet, so we can be testing within one hour.”
Wise notes that there are approximately 500-600 data channels on each engine.
He added, “One of the main difficulties has been moving from the previous control system to this very new one, which is a step up in terms of complexity and offers a lot more flexibility. It’s like playing with a new toy!
“Decommissioning each cell has also been a challenge because they have to be taken offline for around half a year but there’s such a demand that it’s been hard to persuade customers to give us the cells back.”
Alongside this, Mahle has invested in two new Horiba-supplied PEMS and recently became the first independent agency in the UK to gain approval by the Vehicle Certification Agency for its RDE test routes. Additional plans to install more equipment, with details to be announced later in 2016, will further enhance the company’s emissions testing capabilities.