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When labs go dark, engineers try to keep launches on track in basements, garages

2 min read

“My perception is that computer-aided engineering and simulation designers are pretty productive,” James Dagg, Altair’s chief technical officer, told Automotive News about the work going on among his customers under stay-at-home orders. “In many ways, it seems more intense than ever. We are seeing guys who use model morphing techniques ask for new training. And we’re offering online training courses.”

Brian Schabel, a Ford technical expert in propulsion sound and experience, shrugged off his home confinement. Schabel said there is nothing he can’t do from home short of the final vehicle sign-off to ensure it meets all the legal noise requirements for EVs.

His project: finish the final sound tuning on the Mustang Mach-E — an upcoming vehicle that Ford Motor Co. wants to showcase as its direction in electrification. The battery-electric performance crossover will have three sound modes — Whisper, Engage and Unbridled — that a driver can select. With the vehicle about a year away from launch, the pressure is on.

“Since we’ve been working from home, I don’t really think I have missed a beat, to be honest with you. The development that we’re doing on the sound and refinement, I am still able to do remotely with the tools we have at our fingertips. Ford has set us up pretty well to have the capability to work remotely,” he said.

Ford engineers made recordings inside prototype Mach-Es, and software capable of measuring decibels and other characteristics works in a virtual Mach-E, Schabel said.

“It’s almost like a video game in a way. It’s an application. Virtual reality. You are in this world and you have the vehicle. We created the sounds behind it.

“We don’t need to have that vehicle to experience the sound and put it through its paces,” Schabel said.

Bob Flotkoetter, director of technology planning and research at Nissan’s suburban Detroit technical center, said one way his crew prepared for working at home was by ensuring they had remote access to the company’s computers and programs. But one engineer, Jeremy Chambers, who lives in Casco, Mich., packed up boxes of supplies before the March 16 shutdown.

“He was gathering up leads, wires and crimping tools, and he brought that all to his house,” Flotkoetter said. “He kind of set up a workshop in his basement. He put wheels on the legs of an old dining room table. Now he’s got a little mobile workshop.”

Chambers assembled a wiring harness that can be tested.

“He’s doing the same thing he would have done at the office,” Flotkoetter added.

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