The Engineer – Guest Blog: The Science of Subjective Engineering


The traditional perception of engineering is that it only deals with absolutes, but as HORIBA MIRA’s Jon Maybin explains, a subjective engineering approach is often just as critical, especially for automotive.

In a global automotive market worth an estimated $3.8 billion annually, it’s often the brand that drives customer choice, not only defining an OEM’s success, but allowing it to charge a premium for performances. A car brand is more than superficial, however, and extends beyond the superficiality of automotive styling. A car’s subjective attributes – how it handles, how it imbues a driver with confidence in its consistency, or how safe or exciting it feels – extends these characteristics down to the subconscious level for a potential buyer and defines success in this intense competition. to meet ever-increasing consumer demands.

This “engineering according to consumer preferences” is all the more complex since the array of attributes of a given car model is myriad, potentially extending to thousands of characteristics – many of which may conflict with each other. others. Offering, for example, a ride characteristic that a driver might consider refined or luxurious could limit the ability to deliver a high-performance feedback feel for a more active driving experience.

In order to deliver a finished vehicle with features that are on brand and reflect the virtues of a particular brand, the traditional approach relied on objective engineering processes. Only once a prototype had been developed could subjective tuning begin as a test driver got behind the wheel to assess the dynamic behavior of a new design. Unfortunately, the relationship between objective and subjective engineering is neither linear, nor comparable, nor predictable. The form can precede function, resulting in a vehicle that presents an unrewarding and forgettable user experience, leaving those behind the wheel “numb” and creating a problem that requires significant investment and resources to fix.

As automotive engineering revolutionizes new technologies, subjective attribute engineering has become increasingly important

In recent years, with significant advancements in simulation and simulator hardware capability, the industry has taken a leap forward in the adoption of virtualization through the use of pilot-in-the-loop (DiL) simulators, speeding up the process of adding a human into the loop at an earlier stage in the virtual series of the development process. The successes of DiL simulation are enabling faster adoption of new and innovative approaches, disrupting traditional industry processes, especially in the areas of hardware-in-the-loop development and validation of autonomous vehicles. This is currently where extensive physical validation of products not only drives costs, but limits the speed and deployment of new technologies. The result is a reduction in product development risk, time to market, the carbon footprint associated with building and testing multiple vehicle prototypes, and improvements in final product performance.

With a suite of simulators at HORIBA MIRA, our subjective attribute engineering puts the human in the loop at the very beginning of the virtual series. Using sophisticated simulation tools gives the attribute development engineer the freedom to quickly and cost-effectively perform unlimited, precise attribute comparisons and refinements, often at the flick of a switch . This allows for multiple informed subjective decisions during the virtual design phase, as the engineer strives to balance conflicting attributes to achieve an optimized vehicle. Building on the strength of the team’s extensive attribute engineering capabilities, HORIBA MIRA is leading the way with its new approach to scenario fuzzing and multi-pillar testing to help reduce the physical ADAS test load without reducing product performance.

The subjective engineering approach begins with a PALS assessment – ​​a Product Attribute Leadership Strategy – which compares the class competitors with which the new vehicle must compete. A judging team will evaluate all competing vehicles in a cascade of attribute tiers, ranking them on a performance range from class leader, among the leaders at competitive And so on. With a fully prioritized matrix of competing attributes that break down into more granular detail – for example, the ranking of handling attribute parameters in steady-state cornering or in transient conditions – the new vehicle development team can set target attributes for the new car that will both meet brand expectations while performing against class competition.

Once the goals are set, the subjective engineering process directs the development of the vehicle. The virtual series is now so powerful that complex components or systems such as active anti-roll bars, rear wheel steering and torque vectoring can all be developed and calibrated earlier in the vehicle development cycle, allowing engineers to do more in a shorter development cycle. . This cascade of subjective attributes gives rise to a huge scope of optimization that can require 1,500 or more variables to be evaluated and subjectively optimized before a single nut or bolt is manufactured.

As automotive engineering evolves in a revolution of new technologies – spanning electrified powertrains, connected and autonomous features, new human-machine interfaces and wholesale overhauls of vehicle interiors to meet new functional demands – the Subjective attribute engineering has become increasingly important to accommodate these lean developments. , time or cost.

With this level of complexity in the automotive subjective engineering process and the tremendous advancements made in baseline vehicle performance over the past 10-20 years, the question remains: why does the subjective attribute-based approach to The aid of virtual tools has been more widely adopted across all areas of product engineering, where considerations of brand appeal and predictability of product attributes are fundamental to success. commercial ? There is always a balance between performance, cost and time. Product strategies vary and often prioritize low cost and speed of production, often at the expense of performance, quality and durability.

Perhaps one of the reasons subjective attribute engineering has flourished in the automotive industry is the complex human interaction of drivers with cars, which ranges from the emotional to the rational, from the conscious to the subconscious – something that can rarely be said about how people interact with kettles or vacuum cleaners. Nonetheless, the Automotive Subjective Attribute Engineering approach offers a lot to product development engineers who face the same challenges of reducing product development risk, time to market, carbon footprint and improving the final performance of the products.

Jon Maybin leads the commercial team at HORIBA MIRA which focuses on automotive attribute engineering services.

HORIBA MIRA is one of the world’s leading automotive engineering consultancies, pioneering the use of advanced simulation tools to enable OEMs to build better cars faster and more reliably with reduced carbon burden.

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