EVs Expand the Testing Envelope

Horiba builds on its core test-systems expertise in tackling battery packs, e-motors, fuel cells and their ancillary technologies.

HoribaFuelCon offers a family of test stations capable of providing a performance range up to 1,000 kW. (Horiba)

In a word-association game, automotive test engineers would likely pair “emissions measurement” with “Horiba.” The Japan-based supplier is an acknowledged household-name in the testing-solutions field and as the industry pivots toward electrified vehicles, Horiba has done the same. Its emissions business (along with test systems for engine, driveline and brakes) remains “core” – and is particularly relevant to hybrid-electric vehicles – while the Japan-based company expands into new areas to address the specific needs of testing e-motors, battery packs, fuel cells and ancillary technologies impacting electrified-vehicle efficiency.

An emissions testing lab, which remains "core" to Horiba's business. (Horiba)

“All the mechatronics and toolsets still apply to EVs, such as dynamometers and anything used to test a vehicle in a formal way,” said Josh Israel, market development manager at Horiba Automotive Test Systems. “Those vehicles are still subject to the same certifications as other vehicles are. But they come with a new set of challenges: Never in the history of the auto industry have manufacturers been asked to do so much, with the same amount of money, in shorter timeframes. Because of that, test efficiency is an absolute premium.”

Further automating the testing regimes to accommodate the dozens of EVs currently in development worldwide involves “taking the traditional testing regime and building a layer of advanced software on top of it,” Israel, a mechanical engineer, explained. The latest proprietary Horiba testing software helps automate the testing processes that ensure vehicle compliance, while incorporating value-add business information, such as laboratory-test-cost calculation, he said.

Efficiencies and growth opportunities are compounded by two strategic acquisitions: Horiba’s 2015 purchase of the U.K.’s Motor Industry Research Assoc. (MIRA; now Horiba-MIRA) proving ground and its related engineering services operation; and the 2018 acquisition of FuelCon AG, a Germany-based supplier of R&D and end-of-line testbeds and turnkey solutions for the e-mobility sector.

Right out of the box, Horiba FuelCon’s S25-LT Fuel Cell Evaluator test cell is designed for simulations up to 50 kW power range. The unit has programmable automated purge and features an LEL hydrogen detector and cabin ventilation. (Horiba)
Current methods of establishing EV range, in relation to thermal efficiency, do not reflect real-world driving conditions and could be a factor in consumers’ lack of confidence in EVs, maintains Josh Israel. (Horiba)

Now known as Horiba FuelCon, the group manufactures test, production and diagnostic systems for fuel cells and batteries. Horiba is investing €30 million in the 10,000-m2 (~108,000-ft2) engineering and production center in Barleben, Germany, through late 2021, to “future-proof” its capabilities in these increasingly high-demand testing areas.

“We’re always finding new customers within old customers, as companies re-organize and spin off new-technology business units,” Israel said. “For example, Cummins Engine announced last July the creation of a group call New Power that will focus on fuel cells and electrified powertrains. Every time a company does that, it opens up a new customer base with unique needs – and in automotive, those needs are changing faster than ever before.”

Thermal testing and analysis

Thermal management is a significant challenge for EV developers, with battery-charge capacity reduced by 40% on average between 14°C and 4°C, Israel noted. The result is increased range anxiety caused by the auxiliary-load demands for cabin heating (up to 7,000 W) along with other ancillary loads. Horiba notes the boundary conditions for this situation are wrong – that the current method of establishing EV range, in relation to thermal efficiency, is not a true reflection of real-world driving conditions. It could be a factor in consumers’ lack of confidence in EVs, Israel said.

OEMs currently are required to validate their EVs at a 23°C ambient temperature without the use of the vehicle’s air conditioning system. However, in real-world conditions a lower or higher ambient temperature requires either the HVAC heating or cooling to be active as well as additional accessories such as heated seats. The aggregate electrical load (combined with factors such as solar load) depletes the available energy faster than expected and reduces the predicted range significantly. Horiba MIRA expects future legislation will resolve the issue, prompting industry to publish EV range data at a number of conditions (i.e. +40°C, 23°C, and -17°C) to help consumers understand the impact of ambient temperature on their drive.

“The design requirements should be based on human comfort,” Israel asserted, “rather than by a cabin-temperature target.” To that end, the Horiba MIRA team has explored how energy from the battery system can be saved or reutilized across real-world temperature-range vehicle operations. In one project for a glazing-systems supplier, the team created a 3D Thermal model of the vehicle cabin, subjected to a two-day diurnal solar soak. The cabin “occupants” were 50% percentile human physiological manikins, clothed in summer attire.

“They modeled the humans in CAD,” Israel said, “with metrics including sweating and vascular dilation.” Simulated blood flow and respiration data were collected in a 90-minute drive-cycle cabin pulldown. The resulting physiological metrics included a direct assessment of human thermal sensation and comfort within a set-up that avoided the cost of actual human trials, in a fully repeatable environment.

“A decade ago, Horiba did not have the capabilities to do such an analysis,” he noted. “Now we can combine the engineering expertise and the software expertise and validate the model on site at the MIRA climatic wind tunnel. Our engineering-services offering is critical now.” He added that Horiba’s Advanced Battery Development Suite (ABDS) enables companies to perform development testing on full battery packs and battery components – both physically and in simulation – with final pack validation and certification handled by the company’s battery-test facilities.

Start-up scaling challenges

As OEMs bring more battery systems design in house, they’ll have an increasing need over the next 10 years to test and produce their own batteries, signaling an opportunity for Horiba, according to Israel. Another technology trend that the company is pursuing (due to OEM request) is functional safety of automated and autonomous vehicles. Horiba has established a functional safety group in California for this new business.

But scale and volume in EVs present the strongest case for overall growth. “For the new EV manufacturers, scaling up to big volume is a challenge,” Israel said. “And we’ll have multiple types of propulsion in the short- to mid-term, to which our flexible hardware and software products are aimed.”

The industry trend toward ‘families’ of batteries and motors, as illustrated by GM’s Ultima business unit, also will impact Horiba’s developments. “In a way it makes our job a little easier,” Israel said, recalling the consolidation of ICE powertrains. “There will be more harmonization of regulations in EVs; it’s happening slowly but they’re converging on common points. Our product range can be adapted to specific needs.”