Interview “Digital Twin enables a whole new functional level”

At the CTI Symposium Berlin in December 2023, Dr Jörg Gindele, Magna Powertrain, spoke on progress in new electric drives. We interviewed him about new developments in hardware and software, functional integration on a higher software level – and the new possibilities that the ‚Digital Twin‘ opens up.

Dr Gindele, you presented a new generation of electric drives at the CTI Symposium in Berlin. What is new?

We’ve made improvements in many areas. First of all, we increased efficiency further still with an improved electromagnetic design. One particular highlight is that we managed to expand the sweet spot significantly. In this context, I want to mention the cooperation with our JV partner LG Magna, who contributed several improvements here. We also implemented several improvements at the system level, such as improved cooling and reduced ohmic and inductive scattering losses. I’d like to give three more innovations a special mention: active fluid control, which uses a pump actuator to distribute cooling flows flexibly between the motor shaft and the winding heads; HV module embedding, which enables us to design a highly integrated semiconductor package that’s integrated into the inverter; and software-optimized pulse patterns, which further reduce electric motor and inverter losses.

The importance of software-level integration into the overall system is growing. How does the new generation reflect this?

Our main focus is on stronger integration at the system level. Software is the enabler here. For example, our Motion and Energy Control software can control the electric motors and the brakes simultaneously; it integrates their functionalities on a higher level. That benefits driving dynamics considerably and also improves driving safety. Another example is the way the thermal management system interacts with the drive control. This means you can coordinate the energy flows, and use them synergistically. We have developed a new software platform that can regulate the entire energy and power flow in BEVs. Additional new features are available as cloud-based functions. These enable predictive driving functionalities, as well as a row of applications.

You also spoke about ‘complementary electric all-wheel drives’. What does that mean?

It means coordinating the drive units in a 4WD system in such a way that they complement each other in various operating scenarios. This can deliver even higher energy efficiency than a 2WD system. Put simply, you give the primary drive unit a longer gear ratio, which is good for efficiency. The secondary drive unit, which is usually on the rear axle, is mainly for high available torque. In terms of efficiency, you could say the result of this interaction is ‘guilt-free’ performance. With features like its expanded sweet spot, our new-generation drive is designed for just such a system. And thanks to its compact package, it can be used flexibly on either the front or the rear axle.

You could also use a two-speed transmission. What are your thoughts on that?

Multi-speed transmissions can certainly make better use of the efficiency map, and also improve climbing and towing performance. But in many of today’s drive solutions, the extra effort involved outweighs the benefits. That said, they are worth considering in applications like performance vehicles, pickup trucks, or light commercial vehicles. Looking ahead, another interesting aspect is that by teaming up multi-speed transmissions with new types of e-machines, we could potentially make system-level solutions that require no rare earths.

What does the ‘Digital Twin’ do in the new drive generation?

Digitalization plays a key role in lifting drive technology to a new functional level, while also saving time and money during development. The Digital Twin is a precise digital image of the product you are developing. It helps you to reach higher levels of maturity faster, and to avoid many expensive and time-consuming hardware loops. In series applications, a Digital Twin lets you catch quality issues faster and monitor the ‘health’ of your product. But the possibilities go far beyond that. Another example is improved range forecasts, based on the accuracy that a Digital Twin model provides. And that‘s just the beginning – the possibilities seem to be almost infinite.

Interview: Gernot Goppelt