FEV Motorentechnik was founded in Aachen, Germany, in 1978 by Prof. Dr. Franz Pischinger, the director of the Institute of Thermodynamics at the Aachen Technical University, and Dr. Manfred Schaffrath. In the early days there were only a handful of staff planning, designing and running a small office. Today, FEV employs more than 1,000 highly qualified specialists at its Aachen headquarters, most of them engineers or technicians. Additionally, there are around 200 specialists at its engineering centre in Auburn Hills in Michigan as well as some more in its centers in Poland and China.
"When my father founded the company in 1978 it was not just for advanced research but also to develop concepts for series production," says Prof. Stefan Pischinger, CEO of the firm. "Initially it was for doing computation and design, but as time went on it had its own test facilities to the point where today we employ around 1,300 people worldwide."
FEV, an independent engineering company, specializes in the development of all types of internal combustion engines with one of the main areas being engine development plus powertrain. "We have moved from the engine and transmission to the whole powertrain and its integration into the vehicle. It also now includes electronics which is a very important part." The second principal area of FEV's business is the development and manufacture of advanced test cell equipment and software tools for engine and vehicle development. It delivers worldwide turn-key test cells to R&D centers as well as for end-of-line hot testing. "Within our own research and development facilities, we operate more than 60 such test cells each day," says Pischinger.
Asked whether he thought that the diesel engine will ever catch on in passenger cars in North America, Pischinger replies: "It's difficult to prophesy. You have to be careful not to over-engineer a product which is what happened in the U.S. many years ago; too much expensive technology was put into the car, which was consequently reflected in higher prices. Sometimes I think that engine development has something to do with fashion. For example, if you do a technology that no-one follows, then you have to question whether it was the right one. However, even if everyone does follow, it does not mean that it is right."
FEV was recognized by the US Environ-mental Protection Agency (EPA) in February for its role in the Clean Diesel Combustion (CDC) emissions control technology, a program that is helping diesel technology meet the strict EPA tailpipe emissions standards. It exhibited the first engine to showcase the CDC process at the 2003 SAE World Congress while last year it exhibited an advanced technology hydraulic hybrid Ford Expedition with a clean diesel engine.
Pischinger is also upbeat about compressed natural gas. "CNG is interesting because it's a different primary resource of energy. From a combustion engine point of view, it's very attractive and interesting. It has very good properties because it has extremely high 130 octane so you can have very high compression. It has less CO2 because the fuel has less carbon, but it's a little bit more difficult to store because it's a gaseous fuel and so you need a storage tank with 200-250 bar. Whether it will get significant market share, though, is just not in our control. To take full advantage it needs cars dedicated to CNG and it's difficult to see how the numbers will evolve although there are some markets for it in the world."
FEV is currently in development programs dedicated to natural gas engines and bi-fuel cars that run on gasoline as well as natural gas. It is also involved in ethanol programs. "We have strongly participated in the development of ethanol-powered cars, but the number actually used in the market is very low," says Pischinger. "In Brazil there is a very large fleet of dedicated vehicles but even there the share has now fallen to around 25% of the market. It's still large but it is falling. It always comes down to what is the primary biological source and the more appropriate way to make bio-fuels. However, ethanol has a good octane rating of around 112 and a high heat-off evaporation so it cools down the intake charge. The problem, though, is in cold start, which is not such a problem in Brazil, but if you have a dedicated ethanol vehicle it needs to be considered."
Pischinger also has views on the hydrogen engine. "In the 1970s, when I was studying at Aachen, we undertook research on hydrogen engines which included the Wankel rotary," says Pischinger. "Today one has to take a fresh look because new technologies like variable cam phasing were not available at that time. We are currently involved in some projects but we consider its relevance for near-term production to be very low. We don't expect to see the hydrogen engine in the next 10 to 20 years in a significant amount because of the limitations in hydrogen production. It's not really a primary energy but an energy carrier and so you have to find ways to produce hydrogen and there are not that many efficient ways."
Another factor is what is the best carrier says Pischinger. "It's better to select one that is already available. Take, for example, natural gas. Instead of making hydrogen from it you might as well make diesel fuel."
While FEV is well known for its engine research and alternative propulsion systems, it also offers complete simulation and rapid prototyping services. Today's engine development programs make extensive use of full 3D CAD techniques with rapid prototyping being a logical extension of this. FEV also expanded its business in 2003 when it entered a rapid chassis development growth period, which included the hiring of a number of well-qualified engineers. However, it is its test cell equipment, including turnkey test facilities for research and development as well as for end-of-line hot testing, that is proving a boon to the company. "It is a part of our business that has a growth of around 20 to 30%," says Pischinger. "We are doing very well in this area and see it still strongly growing. It's a good connection to our engineering because it is closely related. During the planning phase, we focus on cost-effective work-flow and modular set up to be able to cope with future demands in engine testing."
Hand-in-hand with this is its software side with its TestCellManager family that controls the demanding measuring and optimization tasks in the component, engine, powertrain and chassis roll environments. The system can be applied throughout the entire process from research to production hot testing. "Software is a very old part of the business although less well known that we sell it, but in the early days there were not so many applications," says Pischinger. "The combustion analyzer was one of the big products we successfully made which is a software-plus-hardware product. Last year we saw about 15% growth in our software sales."