There has been a rapid emergence, spread and miniaturisation of computer technology over the last several decades. The impact has affected almost every conceivable area of life, and the automotive industry is no exception.
Not only has the vehicle changed as a result, but the way that engineers develop vehicles has been altered from the traditional pattern. For those working in vehicle dynamics, such as Michael Harder, this is especially true, but the extent to which the job has changed can be overstated.
“Yes, vehicle dynamics has become more objective,” he says, “but not to the extent that people thought it would have 10 years ago.”
Harder, a lifelong General Motors employee, has been with the OEM for 30 years and is now head of vehicle dynamics at Opel-Vauxhall, so has seen the encroachment of computer simulation technology into the role. “It is interesting,” he says, “I was at a conference this summer and it was the first time I heard so many speakers say we had gone too far.
“The vehicle is always giving answers for questions that you have not asked, but in the simulation world you wouldn't even notice there's a problem. The reason is that simulation can only be as smart as the guy that put it together.”
He illustrates the point with a hypothetical problem concerning shock absorbers that is undetectable by the digital programs. “You'd have to go deep into the valve and look at the friction between the discs when they move, but you would have to spend enormous time and effort solving these equations, whereas shock absorber tuning can do that quickly.”
It must be said that Harder is not by any means an anti-technology crusader, harking back to a bygone era and despising any new technology that replaces much-loved old systems.
“It is all about balance,” he says. “There are places where simulation is very important and we're using it more and more, but I still do a lot of subjective stuff as well.
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