Environmental-Engineering.tech takes a sneek peak behind the previously tightly closed veil of Maserati’s innovation lab.
The old and esteemed Maserati brand has seen a resurgence to its former glory in recent years after a long period of mediocrity. The latest line-up of the Italian manufacturer’s products has set the automotive press alight with their combination of design, performance and driving pleasure.
Such success isn’t possible to achieve without significant effort and investment in people, technology and development facilities. Maserati’s road to its renewed success has until now been understandably shrouded in secrecy but at the end of last year, the Modena company flung open its doors to the “Maserati Innovation Lab” for all to see.
The Brand’s engineering hub, inaugurated in September 2015 and located on via Emilia Ovest in Modena, is for the first time sharing with the outside world its fundamental role as the Brand’s beating pulse, driving research technology, development and planning.
The Innovation Lab is the company’s innovation hub, which was opened in late 2015 as a state-of-the-art facility using digital processing technology to support product development. This technology is sited in three major areas – the Static Simulator, the latest generation Dynamic Simulator featuring DiM (Driver-in-Motion) technology and the “User eXperience” development labs.
The Static Simulator is composed of a cockpit, three projectors and high computational power. It is a simple system that helps engineers from the very initial phase of the development process to obtain immediate feedback from the driver, and makes a major contribution to new model validation.
In particular, Maserati engineering ensures a driver-centred strategy even during virtual development, by creating a link between the Hardware In the Loop (HiL) methodology and the simulator. Using this approach, real subsystems such as steering and braking, ABS and ESC can be added in to create tests that connect physical and simulated components to provide a test-bed for developing all the characteristics of a new vehicle. Last but not least, driver assist systems can be developed, trialled and validated in a safe environment by reproducing the complex scenarios which may arise anywhere in the world.
Dynamic DiM Simulator
The Dynamic Driver-in-Motion Simulator allows development engineers to fully exploit all aspects of system integration thanks to the evolution of proprietary control strategies, cutting development times and costs. It also helps to reduce the number of prototypes and ensures that the Virtual Sign-Off is very close to the final product.
With various directions of movement, the simulator generates an effective driving experience, emulating in a virtual environment the driving dynamics of a car in the real world on a wide variety of road surfaces or contexts, including the world’s top international racing circuits.
Modifications to the vehicle can be made with a few simple clicks, greatly simplifying data analysis.
Unlike most 6-axis dynamic simulators, the system used at Maserati employs 9 actuators (three on the lower platform and six in the upper), thereby offering 9 degrees of freedom to accurately reproduce the driving characteristics of a car. All of this enables the engineers to precisely analyse the dynamics of the car, in addition to driving performance and comfort, all on the same moving platform.
So far, the use of the DiM simulator has enabled Maserati to reduce the time to market for new cars by 50% and to reduce the use of physical prototypes by 40%, resulting in considerable reduction in cost, wastage and development lead times.
User eXperience lab
The User eXperience development labs focus on the human-machine interfaces, one of the major challenges of the latest development projects relating to the rapid evolution of connectivity and the use of driver assist systems, combined with electrification.
The Maserati driver simulator hub includes a lab dedicated to vehicle ergonomics, enabling accurate reproduction of driving posture, visibility and interactions with the on-board controls and displays, and where the vehicle under development can be driven in any scenario with the utmost realism.
The integrated design of the user experience is aided by the effective, coherent visual, acoustic or haptic alerts in highly automated driving mode, from the level of distraction generated by the most frequent operations to the accessible layout of the controls, and full information in the different driving modes.
One example in the lab is the “skylight simulator”, designed to reproduce lighting conditions at all times of day, at any point in the year and at any latitude. Here there is an in-depth focus on reflection problems, to avoid disturbance at the wheel while still providing an attractive interior design.
Additionally, the psycho-acoustics lab is where the sounds made by future Maseratis are developed, such as the acoustics of the controls, the audio alerts, the driver assist systems and of course the acoustic signature of the engine and drive train.
Using the DiM simulator also makes it possible to study and emulate the electrified vehicles included in Maserati’s future plans even before physical tests become possible.
Maserati is working on the development of its future range of electric vehicles and the simulation suite offers new opportunities to explore electric propulsion and how it can be exploited in ways that keep the Maserati DNA intact.
Already, weight distribution and the location of the centre of gravity have been effectively analysed and optimised thanks to the scope for testing hundreds of different configurations without the need for building physical prototypes. The company has developed a platform approach that guarantees all the car’s active contents and its electric traction can be balanced to provide dynamic performance.
Particular care has been focused on using the vast potential of electric motors in terms of power and rapid response.
Virtual Formula Winners
The suppliers of the simulation equipment used at the Maserati Innovation Lab, VI-grade, used the manufacturers facilities recently to provide winners of its “Virtual Formula” competition for academics with an insight into the workings of advanced simulation in a working environment.
The winning teams from Dynamis PRC of the Politecnico di Milano and Cal Poly Racing from California Polytechnic State University visited the Modena facility courtesy of VI-grade.
Maserati has a strong belief in the collaborating with universities, something which is borne out by the company’s workforce, half of whom are under 35.
According to the Cal Poly Racing team, which won the competition in the Electric Drivetrain category, the opportunity to go to Italy and witness the real-world applications of simulation was of high value to the students.
Dynamis PRC, winner of the Internal Combustion category, it was particularly interesting to see how a company such as Maserati uses such sophisticated equipment as the DiM250 Dynamic Driving Simulator for commercial purposes in a highly competitive market.