Thursday, 25 September 2014

Enhancing design competitiveness

PRODUCT design ideas of the yesteryear were rendered on paper by skillful designers who were both artistic and technically competent.

The ideas were then translated into three-dimensional “mock-ups” or models, using clay, wood or paper board. Skillful craftsmen carved out or assembled the mock-ups for visual assistance to evaluate the aesthetic, dimensional proportionality, manufacturability and tool-making constraints of the product design.

Photographic snapshots of the mock-ups were used for advertising campaigns of the products.

Similar steps were taken in those days to design and develop automotive parts and components for a new vehicle model introduction.

The practice was time-consuming.

Component mock-ups were merely for visual assistance and were not intended for mechanical testing and engineering evaluation purposes. This further prolonged the process of design-to-manufacture time frame.

The problem persisted when the vehicles’ original equipment manufacturer (OEM) insisted that vendors present small quantities of the parts being developed in the form of finished products.

In this case, the vendors have no alternative but to proceed with the fabrication of the expensive production molds or dies to produce the part samples.

The risk can be on the vendors should the parts presented were not accepted. More often than not, the vendors were asked to reproduce the samples through further modifications on the molds or dies on condition that the new samples were delivered within narrow time frames.

The advent of digital technology has helped to minimize the problems by virtually eliminating the manual mock-up stage of the product development process.

The introduction of computer-assisted prototype-making machines, such as the “Stereolithography (SLA)” and “Laminated Object Manufacturing” are now able to generate accurate parts prototypes for visual analysis.

The parts are rendered on the computer screen in the initial design stage. Upon finalisation, the data are transferred to the machine for prototype generation. The prototype can be produced by having the exact visual appearance of the expected finish product with dimensional accuracies.

Since the prototypes are generated using materials such as polymer, in the case of SLA, they are not suitable for physical or mechanical testing, but are useful for visual analysis and fittings or assembly in the vehicle.

The technique is not only able to generate accurate prototypes, model-making time frame is shortened multifold. The process is now recognized as “rapid prototyping technology”.

Rapid prototyping does not overcome the problem of the OEM requirement for vendors to produce a few working parts samples for mechanical testing and other engineering evaluations.

 This requirement is fulfilled by the “rapid tooling” technology, which comprises “soft-tooling” and “bridge-tooling” techniques.

Soft-tooling is made from silicon rubber resin and used to produce plastic-prototype components using Polyurethane Resin. Accuracy is rather limited, but suitable for production of 100 rigid samples.

Bridge-tooling is an intermediary between soft-tooling and the actual production tooling strong enough to produce some 3,000 working samples required for the new design and engineering evaluations.

Rapid tooling fabrication time frame is about one fifth and costs some five per cent of the production tooling, thereby reducing the risk of vendor’s parts bidding significantly.

There are a few rapid prototyping operators locally with little or no rapid tooling capability. In order to encourage product design and development activities among the local vendors and the public at large, the availability of a comprehensive prototyping facility in a one-stop center is appropriate.

The initiative will enhance the local design capability and competitiveness for the local industry.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Graphene holds potential for automotive applications

THE discovery of graphene by two scientists at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom who have won a Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 has opened up new possibilities of the material being used in many engineering applications.

Thin and yet extremely strong, graphene, is able to conduct electricity very efficiently at room temperature, thus promoting its major applications in the electronics and computer industry.

Excitingly, the application of graphene is foreseen to replace the use of steel in many engineering applications, in particular the aerospace and the automotive industries.

Known to demonstrate a breaking strength of 200 times greater than steel, the material will be the best substitute for steel in weight reduction endeavours desired in the development of energy-efficient vehicles (EEV).

Using graphene as the base material in the manufacture of composite components with different polymer matrices will enhance the vehicle design, with the vehicle weight to remain very light for fuel efficiency.

The material will provide benefits such as improved strength, dimensional stability and superior durability, while its flame retardant characteristic is useful for the replacement of the iron and steel components in the exhaust emission reduction application.

The usage of graphene in lithium-ion batteries can help to enhance storage capacity by 10 times compared to the current battery technology, and the batteries will be able to withstand rapid recharging. These possibilities will expedite the entrance of plug-in hybrid and full-electric vehicles in the marketplace.

Graphene-based materials and their respective processing technologies are now intensely being developed for commercialisation among developed countries. It is foreseen graphene-based parts and components will soon enter the marketplace, replacing those that have been produced by less superior conventional materials.

It is pleasing to note that Malaysia is one of those countries venturing to locally commercialise the production of graphene.

Under the government’s Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), a National Graphene Action Plan has recently been unveiled to guide the development of graphene-based materials and the manufacture of the material in a big way.

The key players in this graphene commercialisation venture are Pemandu, Agensi Inovasi Malaysia and NanoMalaysia Bhd, with the participation of relevant private sector, research and development institutions and universities.

Malaysia Automotive Institute (MAI) is equally thrilled on the ETP initiative and its support for the development of graphene-based material production locally as the venture will expedite the development of EEV manufacturing in the country.

MAI is committed to encourage and assist the local automotive players to embark on the production of EEV batteries.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Perusahaan Automotif sebagai industri pemangkin perindustrian negara

Malaysia asalnya merupakan negara pertanian dan perlombongan yang terkenal dengan pengeluaran getah dan bijih timah. Kesedaran dikalangan pentadbir negara bermula diakhir-akhir tahun 70an, bahawa negara tidak lagi dapat bergantung kepada ekonomi pertanian dan perlombongan ini untuk mengujudkan peluang pekerjaan kepada rakyat jelata.

Diawal tahun 80an perusahaan berasaskan tani dan perlombongan tidak dapat memberikan kepuasan pekerjaan kepada para graduan yang jumlahnya sentiasa meningkat setiap tahun. Kewujudan Petronas memberikan peluang pekerjaan yang memuaskan bagi mereka yang berkelulusan dibidang kejuruteraan petrolium dan bidang-bidang yang bersangkutan dengan aktiviti carigali seperti geologi dan sebagainya.

Namun peluang pekerjaan bagi para graduan di bidang-bidang sains, kejuruteraan  dan teknologi lain amat berkurangan. Kebanyakkan graduan-graduan kejuruteraan hanya mendapat pekerjaan dibadan-badan kerajaan seperti Jabatan Kerja Raya, Jabatan Parit dan Taliair, Lembaga Letrik Negara, SIRIM dan institusi-institusi penyelidikan, instutisi-institusi pengajian tinggi dan lain-lain seupamanya.

Menyedari hakikat akan timbulnya masaalah sosial dalam masyarakat Malaysia akibat kekurangan peluang pekerjaan, ketidakpuasan dengan bidang kerja dan juga bagi mengelakkan berlakunya penghijrahan bijak pandai, sesuatu usaha harus dilakukan bagi mengujudkan peluang pekerjaan ini. Justeru dasar perindustrian negara di maktubkan dan implimentasinya bermula pada awal tahun lapan puluhan.

Dasar perindustrian negara bermula dengan penubuhan HICOM, “Heavy Industry Corporation of Malaysia”, sebuah syarikat induk yang dipertanggungjawab untuk membangunkan rangkaian industri-industri sejajar dengan hasrat untuk menjadikan Malaysia sebuah negara perindustrian menjelang tahun 2020.

HICOM-Honda adalah salah satu perusahaan HICOM pada peringkat awal sektor automotif Malaysia.
Industri memproses bahan mentah untuk dijadikan bahan asas keperluan kilang-kilang pembuatan dibangunkan seperti perusahaan besi keluli seperti PERWAJA sebagai contoh. Disamping itu beberapa pelaburan usahasama menghasilkan bahan asas plastic dari minyak mentah digalakkan dimana projek-projek ini dibangunkan di kawasan pantai timur.

Bagi menggalakkan kegunaan bahan asas ini, industri-industri pemasangan ditubuhkan dan industri-industri kecil dan sederhana tumbuh dengan pesat memproses bahan asas mengeluarkan komponen-komponen keperluan industri pemasangan tersebut.

Justeru industri automotif telah dikenalpasti sebagai “industri pemangkin” yang menggunakan komponen-komponen keluaran tempatan tersebut.  Antara industri-industri pemasangan yang dibangunkan oleh HICOM ialah Proton dan kemudian diikuti dengan penubuhan Perodua, industri pengeluar enjin kecil motosikal seperti Hicom-Yamaha dan industri pemasangan motosikal seperti Hicom-Honda dan Modenas.

Rangkaian projek-projek pengilangan ini berkembang dengan pesat dalam dekat lapan puluhan hingga ke pertengahan dekad kesembilan puluhan. Kejayaan Malaysia dalam dua dekad ini telah menarik mata dunia diatas kemampuan rakyatnya memenuhi hasrat untuk menuju status negara maju pada tahun 2020.

Peroses industrilisasi negara telah berusia hampir tiga dekat dan tidak dapat dinafikan telah berjaya meningkatkan kemajuan rakyat tempatan dari semua sudut termasuk dari aspek pengetahuan sains, kejuruteraan dan teknologi, kemahiran teknikal dan pengilangan, ekonomi mahupun intelektual. Disamping itu usaha ini telah berjaya mengujudkan usahawan dibidang automotif yang sekarang mampu menyokong keperluan bekalan komponen-komponen yang diperlukan oleh kilang-kilang pemasangan kenderaan tempatan.

Berlandaskan kemampuan yang sedia ada Malaysia berkeyakinan mampu untuk menjadi sebagai  hub pengeluar “kenderaan cekap tenaga” atau “Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV) dirantau ini. Rencana menjadikan Malaysia sebagai hub pengeluaran EEV adalah sebagai industri pemangkin baru yang akan menentukan arah perkembangan industri automotif negera. Disamping itu usaha ini juga akan membuka peranan dan cabaran baru dikalangan komuniti automotif negara agar kemampuan sains dan teknologi, peluang perniagaan dan peluang pekerjaan akan terus meningkat dimasa hadapan.

Safety features vital for market competitiveness

DESIGN excellence and advanced engineering achievements in automotive developments are nothing without the adequate incorporation of safety features in the vehicles being produced.

Automotive safety has since evolved from the early simple seat belts to intelligent high-technology gadgets that are able to assist drivers in avoiding serious or fatal accidents.

Continuous innovations on safety systems and controls have contributed to significant reduction in fatalities and severe injuries worldwide.

Understanding vehicle safety features is crucial for a driver and his passengers.

More importantly, the buyer’s comprehension of the safety technologies the vehicle offers can be a priority in the marque and model selection when purchasing new vehicles.

Safety features in vehicles fall into two categories, namely “active” and “passive”.

Active safety systems are installed in vehicles to assist the driver to avoid an accident, while passive systems are provided for in the vehicle to protect the driver and passengers in the event of a collision.

Awareness of the safety features and their functions are important to eliminate human error and ensure safe driving practices.

Most of the active safety features are electronically controlled, such as stability control, brake assist and traction control.

The systems are manufacturer-designated, such as BMW for its electronic stability programme, and the anti-lock braking system by most manufacturers.

In addition, adaptive headlights, parking sensors and adaptive cruise control are installed in many latest models.

Recent introductions of active safety innovative technologies and gadgets include forward collision warning, lane departure warning, front pedestrian impact mitigation braking, dynamic brake support and crash imminent braking.

The automatic crash notification is another innovation that notifies emergency respondents in the event of an accident and provides them with the location of the mishap.

Passive safety systems, on the other hand, are only activated in the event of an accident.

Airbags and headrest are features that protect the vehicle users’ body.

A warning light that appears should the driver not wear his seat belt is a passive feature that is familiar to vehicle users.

Physical structure of the vehicle itself can be a passive feature, where the monocoque design is able to protect the occupants from injuries during a collision.

Incorporating safety features in vehicle design and development is a challenging feat.

While customers’ preference may be centered on the sales price, the prescribed safety features and systems in the vehicle are enticing attributes.

Appropriate balancing decision between sales price and cost of manufacture is, therefore, crucial.

As the nation is moving forward towards becoming an energy-efficient vehicle (EEV) producer, the ability by local designers and engineers to design and develop advanced vehicle safety features is desirable. Coupled with the ability to manufacture at a more competitive cost, Malaysian EEVs will stand to compete in the marketplace.

This article commemorates the launching of an automotive safety exhibition from tomorrow to Sunday at Matrade, a collaborative effort between the Malaysia Automotive Institute (MAI) and Lafarge Malaysia Bhd.

The exhibition is organised to fulfill MAI’s corporate social responsibility, and is in line with the National Automotive Policy 2014 thrust on “Safety, Security and Environment” aimed at promoting safety within the automotive and logistics sector.

The NST Truck of the Year Award will also be featured at this event.

MAI foresees that the exhibition will be the ideal platform for future promotion on safety and health within the automotive sector.