In a move that GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner described as "A major step forward for General Motors," the company today dedicated its new Global Powertrain Engineering Development Center. The center is located in Pontiac, MI, spitting distance from the defunct Silverdome — the former home to the Detroit Lions, and consists of a 450,000 square-foot facility touted as the most technologically advanced powertrain development center in the world. What makes it so? Join us after the jump for our look around.
Apparently, GM has been hard at work on a system for shortening powertrain development time. The company calls it RLM: Road to Lab to Math. If you're like us, the first thing you saw in that phrase was "Meth Lab," but we were assured stimulants are not involved. Instead, RLM is marketingspeak for removing expensive road testing from the design equation, first by replacing much of it with laboratory simulation, and finally, by collecting enough data that new engines and transmissions can be designed mostly in a computer (the "math" component). The new Powertrain Engineering Center is the "lab" component in the system.
So why all the emphasis on removing as much road testing from the vehicle design process as possible? Because it's expensive. Our hosts threw out one example of cost savings, citing the use of RLM during the design of GM's new 6-speed RWD automatic transmissions. Through lab testing, they were able to eliminate a third of the prototypes that would ordinarily be needed.
The other major breakthrough featured in the Global Powertrain Center is standardization across the globe, and interconnectedness to go with it. GM has a number of powertrain design centers around the world, and thanks to new integration in the headquarters, simulation data can be shared across all of them. We thought that sort of came along with the Internet back in the '90s, but hey, it takes what it takes, so huzzah!
In fact, much of the Powertrain Engineering Development Center is designed to accomplish things that we thought they were already doing. For example, engine and transmission cold-soak testing. Yeah, they've been doing that for decades, but the only way it was accomplished was by shipping entire cars and loads of test equipment to the arctic for a few months at a time. Now they can hook a big chiller up to a crate powertrain, cool it down overnight, and test it on a stand. We don't know why we find it surprising that they couldn't do that before, but we do.
Of course, the speed with which they can swap components in test cells has dramatically improved. Rather than having to hook each engine up individually in a cell, they can shuttle them in and out using big, air-pressure-lofted pallets. The swap time for a powertrain cell has been reduced from 24 hours to 20 minutes. Plus, 95% of the emissions from the test process are burned up in massive regenerative thermal oxidizers, and 15% of the plant's power is generated by engines on dynamometers.
After the tour, Chairman Rick and a cadre of local politicians pressed a giant red button, starting a soundtrack featuring engines revving, apparently symbolizing the ridiculousness of dedication ceremonies. But all pomp and circumstance aside, the Global Powertrain Engineering Development Center is quite a place, and since we live in SE Michigan, we salute any potential rise in property values it may bring. Of course, we'd probably say as much about a brothel if it were to accomplish the same thing.