Gearing Dana for the EV Future

Global engineering VP Giulio Ornella talks tech, talent and sustainability.

Higher-speed motors in Dana’s electric rigid-beam axles are driving more FEA and advanced modeling in development, and more special finishes and coatings. (Dana)

As Dana Inc. transitions further into electrified systems, it pays to have a Mechatronics engineer leading the company’s technology charge. Giulio Ornella, Dana’s VP of Global Engineering, has been working on electrified driveline solutions for more than 15 years. He says his mission is “to cross-pollinate the ‘mechatronics brains’ thoroughly into our entire engineering organization.” Ornella spoke with SAE Media Editor Lindsay Brooke recently. Highlights of the discussion:

Giulio Ornella, Dana Inc. VP of global engineering. (Lindsay Brooke)
For a 118-year-old driveline systems supplier, the industry’s transition toward EVs must have its challenges.

We still have one foot in the traditional business! And not all OEMs are jumping directly from today’s axles and propulsion into battery EVs. Some are developing hybrids that use our electrified products, either independent or rigid beam axles.

How is electrification changing Dana’s engineering organization?

In this transformation, Dana is becoming a mechatronics company. New powertrains should adopt to driving conditions to minimize consumption, whether it’s of hydrocarbon fuels or electrons. OEMs are interested in EVs with a single e-motor and single-speed transmission; single motor with two speeds; single motor with two-speed powershift; two speeds with dog clutches, two motors, and more. We are hiring new engineering talent in key areas, including embedded software, power electronics, cybersecurity. Senior management and our OEM customers are pushing sustainability into many areas, embedding it into our product development. We’re identifying ways to reuse recycled materials, for example magnets/rare earths. We’re finding ways to eliminate glues in electric motors.

What’s your view of the Scope 3 standard?

Dana is targeting a reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030. Scope 3 is a huge opportunity for us. Sometimes you need this kind of push.

Electric machine expertise has been a fast-growing focus at Dana.

Yes, we do e-motor development in-house now. Our [2018] acquisition of Montreal-based TM4 [a majority investment in Quebec-based TM4, maker of motors, power inverters and control systems] and the Italy-based SME group [2019] gave us a solid position in low-to high-voltage e-motor technology. (Dana TM4 also acquired U.K.-based Ashwoods Electric Motors, known for its interior permanent-magnet motors used in mobility, off-highway and stationary applications).

What technical trends have your attention?

Thermal management is key for advancements in electric powertrains. We have many solutions for heat exchangers, integrated with the axle. The e-axle is now an ‘intelligent’ system. We can use it to heat up the entire system.

The next 10 years will see a huge evolution in battery technology, with system voltages going up, up, up! Our current discussions typically involve 800-volt systems. Lucid is at 900V; we’ve had requests for 950-volt systems and 1200V for commercial vehicles! Power inverters have limits, however.

What’s next within the drive axle?

We’re the industry leader in helical and bevel gearsets. Efficiency gains are still coming. We see a transition to parallel gears, and higher-speed motors in the e-axles are driving more FEA and advanced modeling, more special finishes and coatings. There’s also a trend to standardize the lubrication across the electric vehicle – same lube in the motor, transmission, etc. ‘Green’ lubes are coming; we’re working with Southwest Research Institute [SwRI] and other industrial partners on many lube solutions, including exploring the feasibility of re-refining the oil.

What about lightweighting?

We’re working on using magnesium and other special alloys to improve durability as well as reduce driveline system weight. Beam axles will continue to have many applications; we’re looking at steel axle tubes mated with aluminum housings. Separately, co-axial designs can be tricky because axle flex can affect the air gap of the e-motor.

Talk about working with the new crop of startup OEMs.

They come to us because Dana can move quickly and we’re flexible, which is what they expect of suppliers. We’re helping the startups with DFM and DFA [design for manufacturability and design for assembly]. To some we’re supplying gearsets and complete systems; to others we supply the e-motor.