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Electric Mobility: Why everybody is talking about it?

Chapter One
Chapter One

Mobility Engineer 2030

When Tony Seba turned Bharath’s world upside down

Bharath was rushing to reach the main conference room before 9am. It was a hot day. And then there was the pressure of presenting to the senior management. This was adding to his surrounding temperature even more. Bharath is an Engineering Manager in a leading automobile original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) R&D team. He is a highly valued performer, a PhD in internal combustion engine (ICE) from an ivy league university in the U.S.A. Several of his innovations have been implemented in the vehicles and won him several internal and external awards. Such a qualified engineer! But the past week saw him going around with a worried look.

He had recently come up with a breakthrough innovation to improve the fuel economy of ICE powered vehicles. His idea was to use connected vehicle technology to continuously collect key vehicle parameters and dynamically optimize the fuel injected to the engine accordingly. If this works out, there would be significant improvement in the efficiency, vehicle mileage and engine life. But there are rumors that hint the funding for traditional technologies like the ICE and incremental innovations around it would be cut and diverted to electrical vehicles (EVs) and autonomous driving. His presentation today is a make-or-break situation for Bharath and his team.

Bharath walked into the conference room slowly – not to make a noise. There was a bit of low murmur you hear in most business meetings – the organizer coordinating with the others, the business leaders catching up with each other etc. Bharath could smell the coffee that was brewing. He was waiting for the murmur to settle down. And while he waited, he lost himself in a flashback.
Conference Room
Conference Room

There is so much efforts that he has put in for this presentation. He has a good track record of innovation in ICE. But he needed vehicle validation test results before the meeting. The large data sets that he received from the connected vehicle experiment was very difficult to analyze. He is no expert in handling large data. And the IT team discussions were all futile! When it seemed like he was heading towards a dead end, he remembered Ravi, the General Manager for Quality.

Ravi, as a Master Black Belt (MBB) has worked across multiple functions and departments for over a decade. Bharath decided to meet him and ask for his mentorship. After listening to him and talking to the analytics team lead, Ravi helped Bharath approach the experts who could resolve the issue. The experts helped Bharath identify and implement noise filters to clean up the sensor data and make the data suitable for analysis. Bharath could use data analytics tools and optimize the fuel injection. He realized how important it was to ask for Ravi’s mentorship. In fact, that’ probably the first time Bharath appreciated the importance of a mentorship. He swore to start mentoring his junior team members.

The organizer’s alarm brought Bharath back from his flashback. The cling-clang of the cups and saucers and the buzz of the leaders talking died down. Everyone got ready for the presentations. Bharath’s was the first slot. The pin drop silence added to his stress. He has to make this real convincing!

As he completed his presentation, he started wondering whether the management would be convinced with his idea and approve the funding for ICEs. What would he do if it was not approved? At that precise moment he heard a notification tone from his phone and was surprised to see a WhatsApp message from his CTO – it was a YouTube link and there was no other comment. He got very curious and clicked on the link – it was a talk given by somebody by the name Tony Seba [1] - he had never heard his name before. He was puzzled and little did he realize how listening to that talk will turn his world upside down.

When Pavan finds his passion at the dirt tracks of Baja

Around the same time, in another part of the same city, Pavan was troubled by a nagging thought in his mind. Recently he was on a factory visit to an automobile plant in the outskirts of the city. He could see the gap in what the industry expects as practical skills and what he had learnt so far in his college. He is the top scorer in his batch of automobile engineering in a leading college. The word BAJA kept him thinking. He heard the term from the senior leader who hosted their visit to the factory. He mentioned BAJA is a good platform for engineers like Pavan. In his speech he also mentioned that electric vehicles are going to be the future of the auto industry.

eBAJA
eBAJA
A curious Pavan made a quick Google search on BAJA. It is a 45-year-old automotive prototype building and racing competition organized by SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) for college students. Pavan decided to participate in the eBAJA – the electric vehicle building event that SAE India organizes. He was excited that the winners of eBAJA may also get spotted by the talent scouts from the sponsoring auto giants.

He had only a few weeks to build a working prototype. He formed a team with ten of his classmates from the automobile engineering batch. None of them had a background in electrical or electronics engineering. They went back to the basics to quickly put together a vehicle frame, a battery, a motor and a drive train for their prototype. Unfortunately, any number of attempts did not make the prototype to move. They were tempted to call it Newtone as it reminded them of Newton’s first law that every body tends to stay in its state of rest unless an external force acts on it.

With just a week to go before the event, Prof. Murugan saw Pavan testing his prototype in the hostel courtyard. Seeing his frustration, he approached Pavan. Murugan is a new faculty, fresh from the automotive industry. As a student, he always had an urge to learn the practical side of things and went to work in the industry. After a few years with the automotive OEMs, he found his true calling and came back to his alma mater to teach. Murugan was quick to realize the problem with Pavan’s prototype - the torque was not sufficient to make the vehicle start moving.

Prof. Murugan listened to Pavan and calmed him down first. He then helped Pavan dismantle the vehicle, took a holistic view of the car as a system and reassembled the prototype. Some tinkering with the voltage delivered and the drive train settings helped deliver the appropriate torque. The vehicle moved like a well-oiled machine! Pavan knew he and his friends alone could not have pulled off this thing. It had to be a mentor guiding them! He could not sleep that night, thinking of the eBAJA event the next week. He had to ship his prototype to reach Indore in time for eBAJA. When he landed in Indore the next week, little did he realize that eBAJA will be a portal that will take him to a whole new world. If not for eBAJA, how could he have ever met the brilliant and beautiful Kavya. That very thought made his heart skip a beat.

The story behind our story

You may wonder what brought Bharath and Pavan to this crisis situation. It was not Bharath’s fault that the ICE vehicle technology reached its saturation and the EV technology has started replacing it. Bharath was exceptionally good in the current technology but did not predict the next-gen. Can we blame Bharath for this? What is it that he could have done to better prepare for the industry shift to EVs? Is it Pavan’s mistake that his knowledge was only conceptual and that he did not know practical problem solving? Pavan has been consistently scoring well in his exams and he is a class topper. It is not his mistake that they taught only concepts in the classroom and did not expose him to build a real vehicle that moves. How could Pavan have gone beyond the classroom and picked up practical skills?

Let us first understand why this change happened in the automotive industry – and then proceed to understand what caused it and how we should respond to it. We will start by looking at what has been happening in the automotive industry in recent times. The automotive industry has been a leader among various industries in product innovation. Digital technologies have been the latest driver for innovative practices. They have made vehicles connected, autonomous, electric and shared.

Digital technologies have a rapid pace of development and a short shelf life, when compared to traditional ICE technologies. The exponential growth of certain disruptive digital technologies has made automobile original equipment manufacturers to play catch up with digitalization. The technologies on their own are mature. But there is a demand-supply gap in the critical skills required to map these technologies to the industry’s needs and implement them. It is vital for automotive engineers to quickly understand not just today’s needs but futuristic expectations and work towards them. The automotive engineers have to reskill themselves very quickly.

The skill sets required for the modern automotive industry are multi-disciplinary in nature. FISITA, the international federation global automotive mobility, has defined three levels of skill sets required for the automotive engineer of tomorrow – Mobility Engineer 2030 [2]
Mobility Engineer 2030
Mobility Engineer 2030

In FISITA’s model, building Engineering Expertise is the ground level – Mobility Engineer 2030 has to acquire working knowledge across mechanical, electrical & electronics and computer engineering domains. He/she has to acquire Integration skills at the mid-level – focus on quality, customer focus, design thinking etc. At the top level, he/she has to build a growth mindset, innovative approach, ability to quickly (and constantly) learn new things etc. Mobility engineers can adopt such a three-layered learning approach to prepare for the future.

Experienced professionals like Bharath have good integration skills. They already have a strong foundation in the automotive industry and the way it works. But with a seismic shift happening from ICE vehicles to EVs, they need to quickly connect with a different set of technologies, concepts, approaches and people for a long-term and successful career. Learnability (ability to learn new things) is the most valued skill during a transition as it helps you to sense and respond to changes.

For students like Pavan, the foundational skills are limited to their core area – they lack cross-domain knowledge. Unfortunately, automotive industry has a significant gap between what the industry expects and what is taught in universities. Students and early career professionals need to plug the gap in individual disciplines and bring together a multi-disciplinary thinking to be successful in their career. More importantly, they need to build on their conceptual knowledge and hone their practical problem-solving skills.

- To be Continuted.

Note: All opinions and points-of-view expressed above are those of the authors and do not represent that of any other individual or organization.

Information Source

  • Mobility Engineer 2030, Shankar Venugopal, SAEINDIA Mobility Engineering, July - September 2020. Icon Source – thenounproject.

  • In our “Mobility Engineer 2030” series of articles in Motor Vikatan, we will do a deep dive into each of these skill sets. We will systematically cover the various skills that automotive engineers should learn and practice to prepare themselves for the future.

References

  1. (a) Rethinking The Future — Clean Disruption and the Collapse of the Oil, Coal & ICEV Industries by Tony Seba - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYFbnrBrbhs (b) https://tonyseba.com/

  2. (a) Mobility Engineer 2030, FISITA White paper - https://www.fisita.com/post/fisita-mobility-engineering-2030-white-paper-part-1-available-for-members-now (b) Mobility Engineer 2030, Shankar Venugopal, SAEINDIA Mobility Engineering, July - September 2020

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Dr Shankar Venugopal | Ramachandran S

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