Mikhail Igor Kluzner is a former Soviet Union engineer who designed laser weapon systems.
Venkatesh Prasad wrote software that could detect the geometric pattern on heat-shield tiles of the International Space Station.
David Bell worked on a particle accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
Despite coming from such diverse backgrounds, all three now work for Ford Motor Co. They develop software that helps the automaker’s popular EcoBoost deliver maximum performance and efficiency.
Their careers at Ford are representative of a shift in hiring throughout the automotive industry — away from mechanical and hardware engineering, toward software and electronics.
“We’ve talked to an awful lot of people,” John Shanahan, who is responsible for hiring engineers at Ford, said in a telephone interview. “These days, you do need to have that diversity, to work with the complexities we have today.”
Kluzner, Prasad and Bell may have more unique backgrounds than most Ford engineers, but the diversity of their careers is representative of what the automaker is looking for.
Some of the new hires, like Bell, are car guys. But because of their backgrounds, they bring fresh perspectives.
“You have these experiences of looking at things in a different way,” Bell said. “It helps you to always remember that there are so many different things and the obvious solution isn’t always the right one.”
The nuts-and-bolts engineering in Ford’s EcoBoost engines isn’t revolutionary. Turbocharging, direct-injection and variable camshaft timing have been around for years.
What’s unique is the “secret sauce,” as the software is known at Ford. It’s allowed the automaker to improve engine efficiency without altering major components.
“The limitation really isn’t the software,” Bell said. “It comes when you’re trying to solve hardware problems. We can make wonderful things happen on a smaller and smaller engine, but there comes a point where you can only go so far.
“We’re able to push things closer and closer to the performance limits.”
One of the benefits of Ford’s software is that it increasingly allows engines to be anticipatory. Software anticipates that the transmission will soon upshift based on engine speed and how hard the car is being pushed. The onboard computer closes the throttle slightly and leaves the turbo wastegate closed, maintaining boost pressure for a seamless shift without turbo lag.
“Sometimes, the software helps anticipate driver demands for power even before they fully depress the accelerator,” Bell said.
Software, however, is no silver bullet. The engines — which come in five sizes, ranging from a tiny three-cylinder 1-liter to a 3.5-liter for large SUVs and pickups — can often achieve greater fuel efficiency than similarly sized engines and can also offer better performance. But they can’t necessarily do both at the same time. That has frustrated some consumers.
Software upgrades allow for a range of efficiency improvements, and can even could be used to update and improve older engines. Ford, for instance, recently announced it would update software on 77,000 hybrid already on the road to lessen fuel economy variability.
But the automaker is unlikely to take that route on gas engines, at least anytime soon, said Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief.
For instance, Ford couldn’t update an older engine and then claim it would get better fuel efficiency than the previous Environmental Protection Agency window sticker.
And updating old engine software — with the exception of fixing any significant problems that could arise — would divert the attention of engineers working on the next generation of EcoBoost software.
“It’s kind of like Pandora’s box,” Bell said. “There’s certainly cases where you could do that, but in the case of changes that are going to be so substantial, you would continue to have to have people work on the old stuff forever.”
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130726/AUTO0102/307260036#ixzz2aLHO0IcV