Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at the Driving Change Conference organized by the Center for Automotive Research and supported by a research consortium of the Indiana, Michigan and Ohio Labor Market Information offices. This event brought together representatives from the automotive industry, educators and HR professionals to network and discuss the skills required in our industry. With me on the panel discussing “Automotive Technology: Greener Products, Changing Skills” were Dr. Chris Borroni-Bird (GM) and Bob Storc (Magna E-Car). Brett Smith (CAR) moderated.
In his introduction Chris gave some insight into the connected car of the future with an overview of the EN-V (Electric Networked Vehicle) program and some of the background research that makes this vision of personal urban mobility, compelling. EN-V features autonomous driving, parking and retrieval with advanced sensors and drive-by-wire systems. Bob’s introduction stressed the broad range of skills required to develop and integrate the multiple systems of hybrid- and electric-vehicles. From the design of drive systems to research into new cell technology and the engineering of battery packs and charging stations, Bob stressed that cars are not just the realm of mechanical engineers anymore.
My introduction spoke to the changing materials used in automotive production and the technologies that guide their application. After some MacBook versus projector trials and tribulations, I addressed ferrous, non-ferrous and composites materials, expressing my opinion that while the application of short fiber composites, aluminum and magnesium will rise the use of new alloys of ultra high strength steels will be the technology of choice for mainstream automotive body construction in the near future. Greater carbon fiber supply and advances in high volume manufacturing processes for woven fiber are required to allow full-line manufacturers to offer consumers product that leverages the weight advantages of this technology, although use in lower volume applications will certainly grow. Vehicle interiors are an area that is benefiting greatly from new composites (using glass or agro fibers as the inclusion in the polymer matrix). New technologies such as CoreTech Moldex3D and e-Xstream DIGIMAT are helping reduce material consumption, vehicle weight and fuel consumption, while improving system performance and part durability.
The conclusion of the panel discussion was that the automotive industry of today requires well rounded systems thinkers, with a strong grounding in math and science. Educators must encourage engineers to have an open mind to imagine the mechatronics required for the mobility of tomorrow and seek the latest technologies to bring it to reality.
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