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Virtual to Reality

How Ford turns data Into the vehicle on your driveway

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Virtual to Reality

Ford Ranger _ Virtual to Reality
Ford Ranger _ Virtual to Reality

With an ever-evolving list of customers’ expectations, how does Ford keep a model line-up, like Ranger, up to date with the latest technology and safety features without compromising quality, safety and durability? Ford’s investment in simulations and simulators worldwide has been revolutionising the way they have been developing vehicles in recent years. 

How are Simulations Made?

Ford’s aspiration of being the car company that leverages its ability in big data collection to deliver increased benefits to customers has played into vehicle development’s favour, especially in the field of simulation. Years of data gathered through various vehicle testing programs create a solid foundation for Ford’s simulations. Before this data is used in simulations, it goes through numerous correlation tests, which analyses the accuracy of the simulated information compared to real-world data. Only when the analytical capability is achieved can the building of simulations start, and a simulator can be built.

From the first 3D designs to physical prototypes and finally, to production, every Ford needs to pass a strict inspection by key engineers, called a judgement gateway, before moving through the vehicle development process. One of these judgment gateways is called the Final Design Judgement Gateway (FDJ), where lead engineers sign off on prototype vehicles’ different improvements. With the addition of simulation in the product development process, FDJ is also used for confirming the Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) modelling, ensuring that Ford is comfortable with the results the simulation is producing for various scenario tests.

The Vehicle Dynamics team led by David Perks in Australia fully utilises simulations using Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) as a mock-up of a real-world vehicle to understand better how it will behave in certain conditions. Perks’ team is confident in the simulation models since they have been proven on the numerous vehicles that have been developed out of the Ford Australia Proving Ground.

“An example of the crossover from simulation to reality is the ride of the Ford Ranger,” shares Perks. “Its simulation should be able to define parts and give us the confidence that the parts will perform as they should.”

Drive Anywhere in the World

Simulators have the unique ability to give you the full driving experience, without risking your safety or the possibility of crashing an expensive prototype. The simulator recreates your driving environment and provides you with vehicle dynamics, sound and in the future, Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) feedback concerning the vehicle’s behaviour.

ADAS are electronic aids that use cameras and radar to assist the driver in safely operating the vehicle. Ford’s Co-Pilot360™ offers the latest ADAS technologies with Lane-Keeping System, Blind Spot Information System, Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detecting and Adaptive Cruise Control. These are not fully autonomous systems, but assistants adapt to the driving situation to enhance the vehicle’s safety systems. Simulating situations where ADAS can be tuned to create a safer driving environment will benefit not just Ford drivers but all drivers nearby, too.

There are three simulators in different parts of the world, with the latest one installed in the Ford Australia Proving Grounds. The simulator in Australia is the first of its kind in a Ford facility. It uses a static “buck” or the vehicle’s cabin area, surrounded by large screens and projectors. When sitting in the vehicle, the view is similar to when you’re driving.

These simulators can’t just be bought in your local electronics store to play video games on. They were specifically designed to give the highest fidelity and the finest feedback through the steering and pedal feel. The amount of detail that needs to be processed in Ford’s simulator is immense compared to a racing simulation game, requiring special computers to power and analyse the simulation environment. Simulators within Ford are so detailed that NASCAR teams use the Ford Performance Proving Grounds simulator to help develop their race cars.

“The simulator gives us a better understanding of what the vehicle will be like when we produce a physical prototype. Since we have accurate data during the start of vehicle development, we can expect a better end-product for our customers.,” says Perks

How do the Simulations and Simulator Translate to Passenger Vehicles?

The Vehicle Dynamics team starts work on simulator models once the customer’s wants and needs are clearly defined. Instead of going out and building a prototype, they input the data into different simulations.

“Experiencing the vehicle before it is even built will benefit us in the long run. Fewer prototypes are built, and in theory, a more mature vehicle should be developed through the simulator, even before it is built,” explains Perks.

Simulators help slash development time and costs while also adding to robustness and overall performance improvements to the vehicles. Safety features can be rolled out quickly to make vehicles as safe as possible using the latest technology. ADAS has been evolving quickly, and the simulator gives Perks and his team the ability to tune new systems properly, so they interact naturally and best suit driver styles. The ADAS must always give the customers the confidence to keep them safe while the systems are on.

For overall quality, simulations give the engineers the ability to see how systems interact to identify problems.

“In a simulation model, we can make measurements quickly and understand how components and systems interact and identify what is causing the problem. Our team used analytical simulations to introduce hydro engine mounts to decrease harsh vibrations from the Ranger and Everest engines in 2015. This was based off previous data analysis that we have done,” shared Perks.

The Challenge

The ability to analyse information is a great advantage of running simulations. The Ranger has about 700 configurations of powertrain, driveline, cab style. It would be impossible for an engineer to able to sit in every configuration and drive it. The simulation will make sure each configuration will have the correct setting. These analytical tools let Ford’s engineers do the most consistent job at the highest quality when looking across the Ranger products’ entirety.

Though the simulator also has room for improvement. Simulations like steering feel heavily rely on the perception of the driver. To achieve the goal of the best feel, physical tuning is still required. Also, creating models of certain road surfaces that are everchanging, like sand, still is a challenge. Physical prototypes are still needed to ensure the accuracy of the data which the simulator is producing.

The Vehicle Dynamics team’s ideal vision is running just simulations to develop vehicles that meet the criteria our customers would ever want. But that is a dynamic environment, with customer wants and needs ever-evolving, and that’s why Ford’s products in the market are also ever-evolving.

“Ford Australia is on the forefront of the drive to be analytical and is on the forefront of vehicle dynamics,” says Perks. “I challenge our engineers to provide me with the tools and methods so that one day we can develop a vehicle using highly accurate data for the benefit of our customers all over the world.”

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