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Date: May 15, 2024

The Future Certainly Requires a Holistic Approach

The Future Certainly Requires a Holistic Approach

With the growing need for truly sustainable solutions for the automotive industry and beyond, is hydrogen fuel cell technology one of the most viable answers to the big question? We talk to Manoz Kumar M Tirupati, Global Head of Mechanical Design and Engineering at Tata Elxsi, about what’s new and what’s changing

How much or what percentage, approximately, of the Tata Elxsi portfolio is relevant directly or indirectly to the automotive industry?

At Tata Elxsi, we are an end-to-end turnkey engineering R&D service provider, right from research till a vehicle goes out the production line where we work with 60+ global OEMs and Tier Is. Our range of offerings supports all the phases of an automotive product development across the systems and subsystems in the mega trends of connected, autonomous, shared, electric, and software-defined. Hence, more than 40 per cent of our revenue, talent pool, infrastructure, and a lion’s share of strategic investments are around mobility industry.

What are some of the most shining examples of innovation from Tata Elxsi aimed at enhancing performance and sustainability?

Are there some noteworthy eco-friendly practices or materials integrated into design? Tata Elxsi is well-known for its cutting-edge innovation in the automotive industry, especially when it comes to the performance and sustainability of automobiles. One of our significant innovations is the development of advanced vehicle design aimed at optimizing aerodynamics and energy efficiency, leading to better vehicle performance. Tata Elxsi’s “Design Digital” capabilities leverage innovative simulation tools to address several challenges that automotive OEMs face. For one, our expertise in electric and hybrid vehicle technology has led to the creation of innovative powertrain solutions that enhance efficiency and reduce environmental impact. In this regard, we have been working closely with global customers for the past decade as their trusted partner in engineering design and development and we have contributed immensely to the advancement of their automotive technologies in passenger and commercial vehicles, in the areas of traction battery, electric drive units, and power electronics, along with testing this design virtually through advanced computer-aided simulations. These contributions by us have made a significant impact on our customers’ sustainability missions.

The automotive industry has made significant strides in integrating eco-friendly practices. This is seen in the form of green materials and eco-friendly design to reduce their environmental footprint. For one, eco-friendly practices in the automotive industry are seen with the adoption of lightweight materials, which has helped in improving fuel efficiency as it requires less energy. More popularly, many manufacturers have incorporated hybrid models and electric propulsion systems, which further helps in reducing emission and reliance on fossil fuels.

Additionally, progress in aerodynamics and engine efficiency plays a significant role in reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve also seen a massive shift in the materials being used for interior components where sustainable materials like recycled plastics, natural fibres, and eco-friendly textiles are being incorporated. These pioneering methods highlight the automotive industry’s dedication to reducing its environmental footprint while still providing consumers with high-performance and stylish vehicles.

Design for sustainability has been one of the key value additions that Tata Elxsi brings to its customers. We have been a key decision-maker for our customers in material selection and selection of manufacturing processes. We have integrated the concept of perceived quality in the design phase which will lead to development of products with materials that will offer better durability and longevity, resulting in decrease in overall material consumption while also reducing the environmental impact.

Advocating for zero prototyping through accurate simulation results has been one of the best eco-friendly practices that we have adopted internally. This will ensure that no physical prototype is produced, saving significant resources as we avoid tooling and sample productions.

Fuel cells are looking increasingly promising as future means of propulsion. Are there any developments in fuel cell technology at Tata Elxsi?

Fuel cell electric vehicles have been one of the key topics of discussion in the automotive industry today with hydrogen being deemed as the fuel of the decade. The incentives and the investments from the government agencies and key players in this industry also put a special focus on fuel cell technology roadmap and its adoption in the automotive industry.

For Tata Elxsi, fuel cells have been one of the key areas of research and development. Our core teams, comprising subject- matter experts and specialists, have been working on advancing the technology in multiple areas. Our solutions on fuel cell stack, hydrogen storage systems, balance of plant, and integrating the fuel cell in the vehicle will be instrumental in reducing the product development cycle of fuel cell stacks.

There was a mention of Digital Twins. How are these utilised at Tata Elxsi to improve green mobility solutions?

Digital Twins offer a dynamic platform to integrate advanced technology with environmental sustainability goals. Digital Twin technology creates virtual replicas of physical vehicles, infrastructure, and complete transport systems, empowering engineers and designers to simulate and refine diverse scenarios. It simply eliminates the necessity for expensive physical prototypes. Moreover, it allows engineers to explore innovative design concepts keeping energy efficiency and reduced emission in mind.

Digital Twins bring in several advantages like real-time monitoring, evaluating traffic patterns, understanding environmental conditions, and more. Along with predictive maintenance strategies, Digital Twins help in identifying potential issues before they escalate, minimizing downtime and resource wastage.

Tata Elxsi has developed multiple platforms to build and use Digital Twins. For one, the Tether platform designed and developed by Tata Elxsi has been highly appreciated by our esteemed customers. This platform uses cutting-edge technologies such as cloud computing, big data analytics, etc, and provides off- the-shelf dashboards for insights and actions for vehicle maintenance, accurate real-time vehicle location tracking, driver behaviour monitoring, navigation, electric vehicle battery management, and fleet management.

Additionally, we have also developed the EV Battery Digital Twin and this can replicate the actual state of a battery from the data published by on-board BMS [Battery Management System]. Battery plant models are run in simulated driving scenarios. The data generated from these scenarios are used to develop data-driven features which can estimate SoC [state of charge] and thermal variation between cells in a module during real-time use.

Do you see electric vehicles (EV) as the ultimate solution to environment-friendly mobility or just as a stopgap on the way to greener and more sustainable solutions?

The answer to this is quite complex and multifaceted. We’ve seen that EVs undeniably offer significant environmental benefits, especially when compared to traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. EVs have helped in reducing dependence on fossil fuels, zeroing tail-pipe emission and lowering overall greenhouse gas emissions. We’ve also seen how EVs have helped in improving air quality and public health, especially in urban areas.

At the same time, EVs have their own limitations and challenges. This is often seen with battery production and disposal, reliance on rare earth metals, range anxiety, and lack of charging infrastructure. The environmental impact of electricity generation also poses a challenge to the sustainability of EVs. Moreover, we still have the challenge of traffic congestion and the environmental impact of manufacturing and disposing of vehicles.

While EVs play a crucial role in reducing emission, the future certainly requires a holistic approach that incorporates various strategies. This can be achieved with further research and advancements in renewable energy, battery technology, and green solutions at large. Improved public transport and the promotion of active transport like walking and cycling will further help in achieving sustainable mobility at large. EVs surely represent a significant step forward in environmentally friendly transport, but they are also part of a broader solution in sustainable mobility.