26 September 2012

What does automotive engineer do?

Ever wondered how any car comes about? Yes, it is right that no car falls off the sky, or grown from back yard, or printed from internet comments. They are designed and manufactured. These are the job of automotive engineer as well as manufacturing worker. Just to give the complete ecosystem of the grand scheme of thing, of course they are supported by the non-core generic group such as the procurement, HR, finance and well...managers. In this articles, we are going into what's been going on in, amongst others, the engineering design department to understand how's a daily life of automotive design engineer. Its about their daily grind, routine and what they are expected to deliver.

Firstly, for those who aspire to become one, how to get there? Well, any engineering degree will do. Car is an amalgamation of many things, covering electronics, mechanical, material engineering etc. I myself is an aeronautical engineering graduates, and I wasn't alienated by the items involved in engineering a car. Thus, get yourself a degree as an entry pass.

Vehicle Conception
Contrary to designation, or any imagination about the job, the design engineer job is quite a lot. The engineers involved in the design of the new car model, maintaining the current production car and continuously improving the running car. The first job is self explanatory. It is from the conception of car all the way down to the production, we'll elaborate later. The second scope is what is called maintaining the Bill Of Material (BOM) whenever there is new variant, or reacting to warranty issues, so there's a lot database updating, countermeasure trials and updating the design. The third one is the continuous stream of improvement, to make installation easier to reduce tact time, to cut further cost by optimizing materials and to improve customer satisfaction via achieving better operability. It's a lot job to do in 8 hours stint. Doing all these will involve a lot of meetings, vendor visit and stationing at the manufacturing plant. Many engineers only have quality time to do the design job after 5pm, i.e when most meeting has called it a day.

Now that you know roughly the overall scope, we'll dig deeper into the first scope from now onwards. The development starts when the new model has been conceived. Engineer's roles at this stage is in the vehicle packaging where each design engineer will conceive their parts like which component to use, how big is it etc....The preliminary design must comform to the target weight and cost, among others. At the end of this gateway, the styling must be freezed too.
Instance of packaging drawing

Side panel drawing
When the constraints are already fixed, it is time to jump into the detail design activity. Each engineer will start designing the parts within their areas of custodian. It means thousands of parts. This is where the components are assessed against their functionality, interference with surroundings, performance and manufacturability. For example, the side outer panel of the car will look like the drawing below. In addition to the child part drawing, there is also an assembly drawing, depicted by the tailgate assembly below.

Sample of tail gate assembly drawing
There are many factors considered in the design of any car component. Apart from fulfilling the function, the component also has to meet certain regulation too. For example, exterior parts has a minimum radius criteria, metal outer panel has minimum dent-resistance to prevent tone-chipping damage, the door handle has minimum operating cycle before breaking point and many more. There is also crash worthiness to think about, so that the passenger is safely cocooned in the body structure cell and the pedestrian is not injured by the over-stiff hood and front bumper. 

Nowadays, the design optimization is computer aided and thus, thousands of design permutation can be tried out rapidly. The modal and structural of stamped metal for example can be modelled with Altair OptiStruct to optimize design topology. The overall crash performance can be evaluated by LS-Dyna which can modelled the crash situation and the effect of welding and adhesive fixing structure can be seen too. For other components, Nastran is widely used too, and Abaqus will extensively used in the modeling of the component that involved bearing, contact surface and non-linearity effect. So the days to multiple prototyping is so yesteryear! More interesting facts about automotive design engineer after the jump.

Visualization of the door slam test
However, in the end of the day, all the virtual verification still needs to be correlated with the actual testing. The example above is the door slam test where the door components are subjected to the accelerated ageing test where thousands of slamming are repeated continuously, around 100,000 times.

Apart from the strength test, the homologation and testing process covers accelerated weathering where the material resistance to heat cycle against its strength and color are assessed. The camouflaged cars that you see pounding the streets are also used for endurance verification purposes too.

There's also manufacturing trials that each component needs to go through. Ease of assembly is essential. So is the defect detection and control mechanism. Car parts usually has certain poka-yoke elements in its design to enable glaring detection of mis-fitted, only invisible to the silliest.

Until all these conditions are satisfied, the design engineer job won't be considered finish. A lot of patience, concentration, passion are definitely needed. A touch of talent will help too. There's simply no point to squeeze the head of a doctor to figure out the correct radius of the suspension arm. Not trying to play down doctor's intelligence, but to set the orientation, if you get what I mean.

So what do you reckon? Anybody up to the challenge to become an automotive design engineer? Well, the job scope that I outlined above is just for reference, obtained from my working experience. Different companies might have different job description. If you want to find the job in the automotive arena, look at "Latest Automotive Job" on your right. 

Prospect of automotive engineer? I reckon it is quite OK here. However, I would be hypocrite by simply saying so as you can see that I myself have left the automotive job. But, be assured, my resignation has nothing to do with the lack of excitement. I am simply hopping from one milestone to the next, while religiously chasing down my career objectives one by one. I tend to do it every few years or so....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great write up bro!! your recent request maybe by this weekend..heheh