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Extremely Modular EV/ICE Platform: Nice Thought or Wishful Considering?


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The time period “modular” often has optimistic connotations. It may well consult with one thing as fundamental as a chassis, which you plug numerous take a look at or I/O playing cards into. Or it could actually even consult with one thing as difficult as a home that’s constructed utilizing particular person room designs inbuilt a manufacturing unit, that are then trucked to the constructing web site and assembled into a whole home. It’s additionally a phrase which regularly conceals—both deliberately or inadvertently—what’s concerned in a venture.

The presumed advantages of modularity have been embraced through the years by automakers, amongst others, who use product-line “platforms” on which they construct totally different autos. In practically all these conditions, the modularity is usually on the physique stage and far much less within the energy practice, utilizing a single or intently associated engine-transmission pairing, however with totally different physique types, interiors types and end.

However why cease there? I used to be intrigued once I noticed a narrative a couple of extremely publicized plan by Stellantis to make use of a extremely modular automotive platform for next-generation autos. Dubbed “STLA Massive,” this platform can accommodate many power-train choices. (Observe: Stellantis is the father or mother firm of Chrysler, Peugeot, Fiat and lots of different well-known nameplates.)

The drawing of the naked platform provides no indication of the modularity for which it’s designed. (Supply: Stellantis)

The pliability covers propulsion—front-drive, rear-drive, all-wheel drive and multi-energy—that are offered by a household of three scalable electrical drive modules. That’s a whole lot of modularity and adaptability, I believed.

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This massive platform is considered one of 4 totally different sizes they’ve developed, primarily—however not completely—for battery-electric autos (BEVs). These 4 modular STLA platforms (Small, Medium, Massive and Body) are engineered to be future proof and are inherently versatile in wheelbase, width, overhang, trip top and suspension design, based on Stellantis’ press launch. They’re additionally designed with provisions for future battery chemistries, together with nickel- and cobalt-free batteries, in addition to solid-state batteries.

STLA Massive is designed and engineered as a local BEV platform with the choice of 400 V and 800 V electrical architectures. It may be configured in front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive layouts utilizing transverse and longitudinal engine mounting configurations.

The STLA Massive is a local BEV platform and may accommodate each 400 V and 800 V electrical architectures. (Supply: Stellantis)

Along with BEVs, the STLA Massive platform additionally helps hybrid and inner combustion engine (ICE) propulsion programs, whereas the smaller ones are BEV solely.

The STLA Massive may assist hybrid and inner combustion engine energy trains. (Supply: Stellantis)

The STLA Massive dimensional attributes are revealing, as indicated by their numbers (they usually achieve this with too many important figures):

  • General size vary: 187.6-201.8 inches (4.764-5.126 mm)
  • General width vary: 74.7-79.9 inches (1.897-2.030 mm)
  • Wheelbase vary: 113.0-121.1 inches (2.,870-3.075 mm)
  • Floor clearance vary: 5.5-11.3 inches (140-288 mm)
  • Most tire diameter: 32.6 inches (858 mm)

All this modularity and related flexibility looks as if a really smart thought. However then I began excited about my very own previous encounters with modular design, each as a product designer and as a person. In lots of circumstances, the advantages and outcomes had been lower than anticipated, primarily for 2 causes:

  • First, there’s the difficulty of design optimization. A modular platform requires compromise on options and efficiency to accommodate the assorted permutations and preparations inside a standard framework. Typically these compromises are minor or modest, however typically they don’t seem to be. So, as an alternative of a “excellent” non-modular design, you find yourself with a “sort-of good” modular one. The dimensions of the hole between excellent and sort-of good is difficult to know with out cautious evaluation.
  • Second, there’s the assumption that modular means you may simply drop in “unit B” to interchange “unit A,” and achieve this with minimal extra modifications to the platform, interconnections and supporting peripheral features.

As soon as once more, expertise has proven that there are numerous different less-visible modifications it’s essential to take to completely accommodate the drop-in different. The ripple impact of switching out even a single modest part can carry nasty surprises. For instance:

  • Weight and weight distribution will possible be totally different, so suspension will change.
  • Totally different sensors are wanted for every sort of energy practice.
  • Cabling, wire gauges and connectors might be very totally different.

I’m certain an in depth evaluation of the manufacturing invoice of supplies (BOM) and course of will reveal many different {hardware}, stock and production-process modifications, along with the supposedly “painless” considered one of totally different software program packages.

There’s ample precedent for questioning and worrying in regards to the total affect on design, manufacturing, take a look at, and in-use assist while you try and modularize and construct up in a logical method—admittedly from a special context. My perspective is from the guide “Apollo: The Race to the Moon” by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, the perfect guide on the moon touchdown among the many many I’ve learn.

In a quick overview chapter, the authors level out that modular, stage-by-stage meeting of the rocket and capsule didn’t accomplish what folks thought it did. The guide notes that NASA venture leaders realized this after a profitable first-stage take a look at, noting that “everytime you added a brand new stage, the bottom assist gear was totally different, the checkout procedures had been totally different, the {hardware} was totally different.”

The choice technique the Apollo venture had to make use of for meeting and take a look at was non-intuitive and referred to as “all-up.” It meant that from the beginning, they might assemble the rocket in its entirety solely in its ultimate configuration, utilizing subassemblies that had been individually examined, however not joined to others but. They’d then take a look at the built-in rocket as a single accomplished system. This contrasts with constructing it up piece-by-piece and testing at every incremental construct step, which at first appears the extra logical technique to do it.

I’m certain the engineers and others at Stellantis have studied this concept very rigorously earlier than implementing it. It is going to definitely be attention-grabbing to see how manufacturability, efficiency, assist and price features work out. I nonetheless surprise how a lot of the modularity story is predicated on precise financial savings and the way a lot is pushed by the conceptual attractiveness of the story (particularly to Wall Road) greater than the fact. We should wait and see about that.

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