Image credits: Siemens

Electric, Digital Twins Advancing Electro Mobility

By Alejandro Enríquez | Wed, 07/07/2021 - 11:11

Over the last years, OEMs have introduced ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions. Migrating toward electric mobility plays a central role in OEMs' strategies toward carbon neutrality. Electric vehicles, however, present new engineering challenges both for manufacturing components, production processes and overall vehicle performance. Electrification itself represents a variety of options, including battery electric vehicles, plug-in or non-plug-in hybrids and even hydrogen fuel cell technology.

New methods emerge to address the challenges electric vehicles bring to the value chain. Electric and digital twins play a fundamental role in advancing electromobility both at the manufacturing and consumer level.

Digital Twins

“The pressure to innovate and produce mass-market vehicles forces the entire transportation industry to adapt and to deliver solutions that offer desired attributes – drive range, performance, life and in-vehicle experience – at low cost," said Siemens on a recent blog post.

Manufacturers and developers are introducing a solution to address these challenges in the form of “digital twins.” IBM defines a digital twin as a "virtual representation of an object or system that spans its lifecycle, is updated from real-time data and uses simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help decision-making." Digital twins are highly complete virtual models that represent with fidelity the physical elements of a product, whether it is a car, building, bridge or jet engine.

Digital twins have proven useful when embarking on state-of-the-art digital transformation and IoT projects. "Before the real implementation, we work on a digital twin, which is to design the product and the production line virtually. This digital-reality combination is the basis for implementing a successful digital transformation," said Alejandro Preinflak, CEO of Siemens México, to MBN.

Digital Twins and EV Development

A paper supported by the Vellore Institute of Technology in India written by Ghanishtha Bhatti et al highlighted the role digital twins have in improving the performance of lithium-ion batteries, the essential element of any EV powertrain. "The lifetime of these devices depends greatly on the materials used, the system design and the operating conditions. This complexity has therefore made real-world control of battery systems challenging. However, with the recent advances in understanding battery degradation, modelling tools and diagnostics, there is an opportunity to fuse this knowledge with emerging machine learning techniques toward creating a battery digital twin," the paper reads.

A digital twin acts as a "cyber-physical system" that both scientists and engineers from industry and academia can use to develop "more intelligent and interconnected battery management in the future," states the paper. A more recent study by Bhatti highlighted the advancements of the digital twin technology in the development of smart electric vehicles.

Academics point out that there are three stages of a digital twin model for EV batteries. First, there is the archetype modeling, through which the developer should decide first the segments to be displayed. Second, there is the modeling of virtual sensors, where the selection and implementation of computer-generated sensors are undertaken. Finally, the third stage is "to define the pertinent boundaries that shall be periodically updated to synchronize the archetype with the physical machine's present condition," states Wu et al.

Digital twins are not new to the automotive industry. They are also used in intelligent driver assistance, autonomous navigation, smart manufacturing and other developments, according to Preinfalk. Recently Volkswagen and AWS announced the launch of an industrial cloud that will include a wide range of software applications. Digital twins have also been addressed during Mexico Automotive Summit by leaders in the heavy industry segment.

Electric Twins

OEMs have designed aggressive electrification plans to meet ambitious decarbonization. Key to some of these strategies is the arrival of a large number of electrified models. As Boston Consulting Group notes: "By 2023, OEMs are expected to have brought more than 300 battery electric and plug-in hybrid models to market, giving consumers vastly greater choice than they have today."

What is an electric twin?

Electric twins are, in general terms, the same model that can be offered as a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, only with an electrified powertrain. Introducing new models to consumer markets is not simple and this is where electric twins come to play. In Mexico, for instance, different brands, from small volume to market leaders, have announced ambitious plans to advance their electrification strategies. Advantages of an electric twin include lower costs of spare parts and maintenance. "We do the same with spare parts and accessories, which makes life easier for dealerships, users and workshops," says Massri.

Toyota Motor Corporation, the largest automaker by volume, is among a handful of automakers offering four different options for electrification. "Toyota now has four electrified vehicles. First, there is the hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV). We are in the third generation of these models, which serve better in markets that may lack charging infrastructure, like Mexico. We also have a plug-in hybrid (P-HEV), that is similar to the regular hybrid and can be more efficient in reducing emissions. We have, of course, the battery-electric vehicle (BEV), which is the most popular in the media but will not necessarily dominate global markets. Finally, with our Mirai model we have introduced a fuel-cell electric vehicle to the market: a hydrogen-based electric. This is how we see a more sophisticated electrification strategy," Luis Lozano, President of Toyota Motor de Mexico, said to MBN.

Toyota will also follow the electric twin strategy more aggressively. "By 2025, we will have an electric twin – in any of the four variants – for every one of our models in the world. By 2030, we will sell more electrified vehicles than ICE vehicles," Lozano told MBN.

Giant Motors Latinoamerica, Mexican producer and seller of Chinese models JAC, is now offering the least expensive fully BEV models in the country, with a starting cost of US$25,000. All of JAC’s models follow the electric twin strategy. "Since we are focused on a young market, we have introduced an entire lineup of electric vehicles. All JAC models have an electric twin, which means we offer the exact same model in an electric version," said Elias Massri, CEO of Giant Motors Latinoamérica, to MBN.

Volvo has followed a similar strategy after it announced that by 2025, half of its vehicle portfolio will be electric and by 2030 it will become fully electric. At the moment, the brand offers electric and hybrid versions of all its models sold in Mexico, including its first fully electric SUV

Forward-Looking Arguments

As OEMs continue to embrace the electrification revolution, new strategies may emerge. If battery costs keep going down and efficiencies increase thanks to digital twin modeling, while electric twins of best-selling models become popular, it may be easier for consumers to choose EVs. "Regardless of the market, rapidly declining battery costs, tougher government regulation and the introduction of new EV models will continue to be the primary drivers of the (electrification) shift," states BCG.

Photo by:   Siemens
Alejandro Enríquez Alejandro Enríquez Journalist and Industry Analyst