Monday, 31 August 2020

The future of vehicle networking and CAN

The ubiquitous CAN in-vehicle network technology has been with us for quite a long time, originally developed in the mid-1980s to solve the problem of inter-control unit (ECU) communication. At that time vehicle electronic systems were becoming more complicated, with a greater need for communication between nodes. This need has developed exponentially over time with more nodes and greater bandwidth required. However, CAN has stood the test of time and is now being developed further to increase bandwidth in order to support future driving assistance sensor technology, involving computer vision and imaging, that requires much higher bandwidth than the original CAN protocol can handle.

 Just in case you didn't know the basics - CAN is a multi-master bus system that allows control units to share and pass data between themselves, avoiding the need for hard wired interfaces. Developed by Bosch, for use in automotive applications, it has a very robust protocol mechanism with high-redundancy (if you want to know more technical details just Google it - or see my earlier blog post) as such, it is a very reliable way to transfer data and information serially. It has evolved out of the Automotive only applications it was originally designed for (due to its robustness and reliability, also the high number of tools and systems that support it) such that is it now widely used in industrial automation, medical instruments, as well as maritime, construction machines and other far reaching applications.

 However, as the CAN payload requirements increased, due to the increasing number of interconnected control units on a vehicle, other options were developed - such as LIN (cheaper, lower speed ideal for body electronics) and Flexray (high performance, for X-by-wire applications). The problem is that changing a vehicle architecture to support a new network topology is a massive and expensive development task. So, in the past, many OEMs just added additional CAN networks, dedicated to a domain (e.g. powertrain, body etc.). This allowed splitting the overall serial data communications payload across multiple networks, often running at different speeds but all using the basic CAN protocol.

In parallel, the original developer of CAN – Bosch – saw that other protocols were being developed and were highlighting the limitations of 1st generation CAN. In order to retain their dominance, Bosch developed CAN-FD, this uses a “flexible” data rate within a data message, in order to optimise the message structure and be able to transfer data faster within a given message – thus increasing the overall data throughput. This was a good interim solution and is fully compatible with older CAN hardware, allowing a mix of CAN and CAN-FD transmission, using existing network systems – saving costs for OEMs and allowing them to retain the elegant simplicity and robustness of CAN networking.

In most applications, CAN operates at a transmission rate of 500 KBit and is used in automotive areas such as engine and powertrain management. It can be deployed along with complimentary networks such as CAN-FD or Flexray, that have transmission rates in the range of 1 to 10 MBit. These latter systems are more applicable to time-critical applications in body and chassis control, for example, ABS, Traction control etc. MOST is another bus network that should be mentioned, it is used for infotainment applications, with higher bandwidth but reduced focus on robustness and determinism of transmission, it covers the 25 to 150 MBit transmission frequency range

In current times though, requirements are shifting again. The advent of driver assistance systems and intelligent mobility functions, along with increasingly complex powertrains means that CAN based data throughput is again becoming limited with respect to the application – due to the adoption of vehicle based computer vision systems, i.e. imaging systems that transfer huge amounts of data for obstacle and signage recognition systems.

So, it looked like CANs future was in the balance, especially as Automotive Ethernet is also in the pipeline and can support the required needs for ECU access and data transfer. In response, CAN is taking another step forward, in the form of CAN XL.

CAN XL fills the gap between CAN-FD and Automotive Ethernet (Source: Bosch Semiconductors)

Mixed CAN-FD / XL networks are possible (Source: Bosch Semiconductors)

This is an incremental development of CAN/CAN FD and operates largely on the same principles of transmission and protocols. A CAN message can be considered in 2 parts - arbitration and data phases. CAN XL uses low transmission speeds of 500 KBit to 1 Mbit in the arbitration phase, but the speed in the data phase is scalable over a wide range of 2Mbit to 10 Mbit. The benefit of this is that it can potentially enable future automotive communication systems, to package Ethernet frames within a CAN XL message, thus allowing the use of IP communication via CAN XL. These provides the system designer with full flexibility to adjust the network to the system requirements. Note that this bit rate switching within a message concept was first introduce with CAN-FD (i.e. flexible data rate).

CAN XL message  is split into arbitration and data area (Source: Bosch Semiconductors)

Service and Signal oriented data on vehicle networks

High-performance driver assistance sensor systems such as RADAR, LIDAR and Video systems are essential for autonomous driving. But they generate massive amounts of data, to meet this challenge the industry has introduced Automotive Ethernet for fast transmission of data, covering primarily bandwidths of 100...1,000 Mbit/s (100BASE-T1,1000BASE-T1). This protocol has mostly been applied only in the areas of the ADAS systems so far. Note that this type of data relies on service-oriented communication, and this works well with Ethernet and IP technology. These applications basically need data and services, but it does not matter where it comes from or what node on the network provides it. The volume of data to be transmitted in these sensor data fusion applications is generated during the runtime of the application, such that data of this type cannot be mapped statically; instead, the communication system must serialize the data during run time. This requires a dynamic link connection between data sink (consumer) and data source (provider). So, the ability to transmit dynamic data structures is an inherent advantage of service-oriented communication.

 CAN XL is designed to be able to incorporate Automotive ethernet data within the message packets (Source: Vector)

In contrast, the current automotive networks (such as CAN/CAN FD and Flexray), employ signal-based communication technology (CAN XL is also signal based) – and this is dominant in Automotive control applications. A significant feature of signal-based communication is the predefined static communication matrix. Signals such as temperatures, pressures, speeds or positions always represent the same fixed parameters, and those are mapped to a pre-defined CAN frame and broadcast on the network to all connected ECU nodes. With respect to classical ECU tasks, the signal-based approach has been tested and proven for almost three decades – along with the CAN message priority principle – as this system constellation can really satisfy the necessary level of performance for real-time control requirements.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Hybrid Powertrain Concepts

It is clear that Emissions legislation is the main global driver for nearly all vehicle based, propulsion technology developments. Over the last 30 or so years, advances in technology around the internal combustion engine, along with its control and after treatment system have provided significant reductions in harmful gaseous and particle-based pollutants. 

In the current climate though, what has been achieved is not enough. Also, due to recent bad publicity around how engine emissions were being characterised and communicated by some vehicle OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers), particularly with respect to diesel engine emissions. The combustion engine has become somewhat “unfashionable” – and the “on trend” topic for powertrain system development is “Electrification”.
It should be stated at this point what this actually means – There has always been electrification required for the powertrain – at the most basic level to provide ignition energy – and to operate and control the engine and accessories. However, this term relates more to the context of electrical propulsion – either fully or partly in combination with a combustion engine. Generally, this terms refers to electrical assistance but also energy recovery from non-propulsive systems – for example, brakes and suspension. Or electrically operated systems to reduce parasitic losses.
It is an extensive topic – therefore this blog post focuses on propulsive electrification, that involves traction drive and energy storage to replace or assist the conventional IC engine based powertrain. In this blog we will review the typical powertrain topologies that are likely to be encountered.

Powertrain topologies
A basic understanding of Hybrid Powertrain topologies and configurations is useful knowledge for anyone involved in discussing Automotive Technology topics. When combining an ICE with an Electric propulsion system, then there are effectively 2 systems that need to be considered, plus a complete overview of the the Powertrain (with 5 elements - Engine, Transmission, Battery, Electric Motor, Control system). An overview of the main configurations is discussed as follows:

Micro-Hybrid (Start-stop)
The micro-hybrid system was and is a low-cost entry to provide some level of electrification for the powertrain, in order to reduce tailpipe emissions. The system does this mainly by providing a seamless start-stop capability such that the engine can be easily shut-off - and re-started quickly – to prevent pollution during idling conditions, or when the vehicle is stationary. This can be done via an electric machine coupled to the engine front end accessory drive system (FEAD). Typically, the size of the electrical machine is less than 5 kW, operating at the system voltage level (nominal 12-volts for passenger vehicles) with a powertrain efficiency gain in the region of 3%. A lower cost alternative is to use the vehicle existing starter motor to provide engine start-stop. In this case the implementation costs are low – as only a control system is required to monitor and execute starting/stopping of the engine, along with a starter motor and battery capable of a duty cycle with many more staring operations when compared to a standard vehicle.

Main component overview for micro-hybrid (start/stop) system (Source: Valeo)

Mild Hybrid
The next step beyond micro-hybrid is to provide a system that is capable of greater power density to provide electric traction support and energy recovery. In order to gain increased power density, the system voltage level must be increased to maintain electrical current flow and distribution at a manageable level (cost and packaging). Therefore, a 48-volt system energy storage and supply system is integrated along with the existing 12-volt system to provide the traction power. This allows a power density increase in the range of 10 to 20 kW with a potential fuel consumption (and CO2) saving in the region of 13 to 22%.

Mild hybrid concepts are relatively simple to integrate and allow provision of an electrification concept for an existing vehicle platform - where significant architectural changes to the body and electrical system cannot be undertaken due to development cost limitations. The system is generally relatively low mass so the impact on the total weight of the vehicle is limited. The voltage and power levels are below critical limits which could impact on the required homologation and legislation testing the vehicle. The overall system cost to performance ratio (fuel efficiency, torque boost) is very competitive. The main topologies are as follows:

P0 - Consists of a belt driven started generator, driving the engine via the FEAD. The e-machine can typically provide additional torque in the range of 50Nm with a power density in the range of 15kW maximum. Fuel efficiency gains in the range of 7 to 12% are possible (depending upon drive cycle) This configuration has low cost of implementation but is limited as it cannot provide electric only traction – and recuperation is limited due to engine losses that are not de-coupled. The power transfer capability is limited by the capacity of the belt drive, which also creates NVH problems to for Engineers to solve.

Left: Typical, water cooled e-machine for P0 applications (BSG – Belt-driven Starter Generator) (Source: Continental), Right: P0 System topology

P1 – This configuration places the electric machine directly into the driveline, at the engine flywheel. Maximum torque is increased to about 35Nm with power density in the range of 10kW. This configuration is more disruptive and requires re-engineering of the existing vehicle architecture. Boosting and recuperation capability is greater that P0 and system efficiency is higher as there are no belt drive or transmission losses. The electrical machine can provide torque boosting – and load point shifting (in order to operate the IC engine in the most efficient load-speed point). The device can also be used for engine starting so that low voltage starter motor can be removed. Electrical only propulsion is not possible and due to the high implementation costs, the price/performance ratio of this concept is low – as such this concept has been superseded mainly by the P2 and other concepts.

Left: P1 Flywheel motor integration (Source: Honda), Right: Topology of P1 MHEV

P2 – This configuration is similar to P1 apart from the fact that the electric machine can be de-coupled from the engine via an integrated clutch. This brings the benefit of the possibility of electric only traction, and removal of engine related parasitic losses such that maximum efficiency can be gained. Torque levels of up to 50Nm are possible with maximum Power densities around 21kW. Overall fuel efficiency gains are high – up to 15 to 20% are possible. The downside is that this concept has a significant impact on the vehicle architecture – and componentry is more expensive than the previous concepts (P0, P1).

For P2 configurations the electric machine can be side attached to the transmission, connected through a belt, or integrated in the transmission, connected through a gear mesh (Source: x-engineer).

Image result for p2 moduleRelated image
LH picture shows "piggy-back" P2 module with chain drive, the motor is no longer axially located and this allows a more flexible packaging arrangement for existing power train architectures (Source: Schaeffler). RH picture shows integrated P2 module that fits in drive train between engine and transmission (Source: Borg Warner)

P3 – This concept integrates the electric machine with the transmission and provides supplementary torque at the gearbox output. The electric machine can be fully integrated into the transmission itself (known as P2.5) or assigned directly to the gearbox output shaft (Post-transmission). This concept can also be integrated into the final drive transmission input. This concept has similar levels of performance to P2 concepts although the motor will have a different speed/torque characteristic – depending upon location. System integration costs are similar to the P2 concept (i.e. relatively expensive).

A P3 transmission module with integrated e-machine, provides a very compact and optimised package to implement a hybrid power train on a front-wheel drive layout  (Source: Schaeffler)

P4 – The electric machine is located in the rear axle providing a separate electric only traction system. Performance and cost implications are similar to P2/P3 but the axle based location allows for the possibility of improved driving dynamics through torque vectoring and all-wheel drive functionality. Note that this module is applicable to BEV applications, as well as hybrid applications (in conjunction with a combustion engine). It is a popular layout for SUV hybrid power trains as it can provide a mild-hybrid AWD concept easily for an existing vehicle layout.

An integrated e-axle module, also known as an EDU (Electric Drive Unit) that incorporates torque vectoring (Source: GKN)

P5 – A more recent classification and development based on the availability of wheel-based motors. The electric machine is located directly at the wheel hub. This has some advantages with respect to packaging - however unsprung weight is an issue and durability has yet to be proven over many vehicle lifetimes. It is very promising technology though as it can be integrated easily into an existing vehicle architecture and provides a very compact and efficient package (minimal losses), with the capability of advanced features for driver assistance (torque vectoring, stability assistance). In-wheel motors are applicable to hybrid and BEV applications

Related imageProtean in wheel motors for electric cars

In-wheel motor, exploded view on right (Source: Protean)

There are many technical solutions to the electrification of a powertrain and much depends upon whether an existing vehicle architecture is to be upgraded, or whether a new vehicle design is being created. Some technologies are already dated (P1,ISG) and some have yet to be proven (Wheel motors). However, it is an interesting time for Powertrain propulsion system technologies, the decline of diesel for passenger cars along with the hype around full electric propulsion means that the leading technology is unclear at the moment - and a combination of technologies is the most likely outcome (IEC + Electric).

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Technology Focus - Jet Ignition

Mahle is pushing the boundaries of achievable efficiency for spark ignition engines with the use of its Jet Ignition system - which is evolving quickly as a leading technology enabler to reduce emissions even further for next generation of engines. Mahle has already used Jet Ignition combustion concepts successfully in high-performance engines with a different development focus - but impressive results!

Mahle Jet Ignition concept - Injector and spark plug both mounted in a pre-chamber

The available Jet ignition concepts developed by Mahle are classified as passive and active -  Passive using a ‘passive’ pre-chamber technology to improve burn rates and reduce the likelihood of detonation. The passive design does not use a secondary injector and takes its combustion charge from the main chamber during the compression stroke. The passive system has demonstrated in race engine applications, a very high EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) tolerance, so at engine operating points where Lambda 1 if the target AFR (Air-Fuel Ratio) setting, it allows operation at relatively high levels of EGR at high load. This helps to reduce the possibility of engine knock at heightened compression ratios. This allows the possibility to extending the compression ratio and benefit from the increased cycle efficiency.

 The active concept contains both a small spark plug and a low-flow direct-injecting fuel injector in a pre-chamber capsule. The active jet ignition is proposed by Mahle as the potential “ultra-high efficiency” application. The system operates by employing the secondary injector to maintain an easily ignitable charge inside the pre-chamber. This allows the system to exceed the established flammability limits in the main combustion chamber, reaching a Lambda value greater than 1.5. The main chamber is operated at this level which is actually close to diesel air-fuel ratios (AFRs), at which point, flame temperatures are sufficiently low to mitigate any NOx generation that might occur with richer operation.

Detailed view of pre-chamber assembly

Both active and passive versions of this pre-chamber technology are in general the same with regard to combustion principle: as both benefit from an outgoing turbulent radical jet, forced from the pre-chamber, which ignites the main chamber charge; this has the effect of amplifying the available ignition energy, thus delivering stronger and more reliable combustion in the main chamber - from multiple ignition sites and with fast burn rates.

It may seem a relatively simple system - but its complexity and attainment of required refinement should is a considerable task. However, advances in direct-injection gasoline systems’ flexibility and with careful consideration of pre-chamber geometry and nozzle selection - Mahle believes this technology is a key to significant powertrain efficiency gains - in terms of fuel consumption (easily rivaling diesel figures) together with reduced gaseous emissions.

Pre-chamber technology is not new; it has been used for decades in diesel engines (but now old technology - replaced by direct injection, common rail diesel technology) and Honda introduced it in the early 1970s for the first-generation Civic’s 4-cyl. spark-ignition gasoline engine, calling it CVCC (Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion).

Development testing has shown that NOx emissions were below 100 ppm (parts per million) at ultra-lean conditions are achievable in anticipation of Euro 7 targets. Used in conjunction with further technical improvements in friction, available coating technologies and charge management - a potential of 45% brake thermal efficiency has been demonstrated by Mahle. In summary - could this technology allow a gasoline engine to achieve the fuel consumption of a diesel? Mahle stated they have achieved this already - and that by combining downsizing, Jet ignition technology and a 48V hybrid system
could deliver even better results.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Technology Focus - Super capacitors for Automotive applications

I came across some very interesting new technology recently - specifically, the use of super-capacitors in automotive technology to solve a relatively simple problem - it is a good example of how innovative technology can find a place in day to day use, once the technology becomes cheap enough!

I encountered  vehicle start assistance devices that employ super-capacitors! but first of all - what is a super-capacitor! they are also known as ultra-capacitors but basically, they are the same as any other capacitor - an electrical energy storage device that stores this energy in a dielectric field between two electrical ‘plates’. In function, similar to a battery, the difference being that a battery uses electro chemical storage. The super-capacitor however has a much greater energy storage capacity when compared to traditional types of capacitor - this greater capacity has led to super-capacitors being employed in some fields where a traditional battery may have been used, but where they can provide a specific set of advantages over and above.

Battery and Super(or Ultra) capacitor comparison (

Super-capacitors, like many other technical innovations, were developed for military applications and they have several benefits - they have a much lower sensitivity to temperature and can actually still perform very well at very low temperatures (-40 degrees Celsius). They also have excellent performance with respect to power flow density - this means they can accept repeated high capacity charging and discharging and this is a clear advantage when compared to a chemical battery (which requires a chemical reaction to take place during the energy conversion process, this takes a finite length of time thus increasing the response time to a sudden power demand). Another advantage is the life cycle - even under harsh charging and discharging duty cycles, super-capacitors maintain their performance and their expected life is much longer than a chemical battery for the same operating conditions - 10 years is expected as a minimum!

Super caps and batteries compared (

These devices are already in use in the automotive technology domain - in Formula 1 - the super-capacitor is ideal as a storage device for electrical energy from KERS and HERS energy recovery units. The high power flow density is ideal for this application as a replacement for the battery, or as a parallel device, in order to manage the complex energy flow and storage requirements during a race.

F1 KERS system layout that uses super-caps for energy storage (pre-2014 regulations system shown)

After some internet research I also found another interesting development for super-caps - vehicle flat battery assistance, also known as jump starting! I found some applications where super-caps have been employed for this - either as 'jump start' packs, or as units permanently installed on the vehicle alongside the chemical battery. In particular, commercial vehicles operating in extreme conditions at low temperature - Ice road truckers for example. In this domain they are ideal as the potential cost of downtime is very high for these vehicles. The additional weight and cost of a second storage device in addition to the battery is insignificant on a large truck or earthmover, especially when compared to the risk of not being able to start the vehicle at very low temperatures.

Super capacitor engine start module for permanent installation (

Super-capacitors are ideal for mobile jump starting (as a jump start pack) as they require much less maintenance when compared to the use of a chemical battery. They are ideally suited for where a lot of energy is required in a short time i.e. to crank the engine, they can be charged quickly for use (seconds or minutes), hence the pack does not have to be maintained on charge when not in use. 

Mobile engine start assist pack employing super capacitors (

However, if the super-capacitors are combined in a jump start package, along with some clever electronics - it is actually possible to charge the super caps from any available low voltage source -  but how is this possible? well, the clever electronics is actually a DC-DC converter - which is a device capable of transferring electrical power at different voltages levels (input compared to output). These devices are already in use on certain vehicles, specifically those equipped with start-stop engine technology – the reason is that during  an engine start , on a vehicle equipped with a traditional style electric starter motor, the starting current draw is sufficient to cause a 'dip' in the vehicle system voltage. Some systems are sensitive to this and may cause the action of a start/stop system to be more obvious to the driver. To avoid this, these electrical systems are connected to a DC-DC power supply system, which maintains a constant voltage and power level to avoid any perceivable response to voltage fluctuation for driver evident systems like HVAC, entertainment and driver information.

DC-DC converter as part of the stop/start system components (

Super-capacitors have a higher energy flow density but not a high energy storage capacity. So, it is possible to charge the capacitors with a relatively small power source, the DC converter acts like an electrical transformer to step up the voltage to charge the capacitors with sufficient energy for a single start operation. This is where the capacitors win over a battery due to their power delivery capability. Another interesting development is that using this power transform capability - the capacitors could actually be charged from the dead battery itself - as long as it has some voltage and power capacity. This seems difficult to comprehend but you should remember that the normal failure mode of a chemical battery involves its ability to deliver high power for starting - it is less often the case that the battery cannot deliver any power, even a small amount over a longer period of time, so this fact can be utilised for charging the capacitors for a start assistance situation.

The question now is, what does a package as mentioned above look like? I have been lucky enough to get access to the very latest device that incorporates all the features above - it is sold in the UK by Sealey ( who have an exclusive licence to sell the device with the manufacturer. The device is sold as a 'battery less' jump start pack - it is small and light when compared to a battery based device. It needs no maintenance and charges from the dead battery, or from another vehicle, or via USB. It can also be used with the vehicle battery open circuit, for situations where the battery is completely dead!

Batteryless jump start pack (

Sealey electrostart charging from the 'dead' battery (

In service, it works well, the package is aimed at passenger car users and can supply about 300 amps, this is more than enough power and the device also includes a diesel glow plug support mode to allow pre-heating time.

My personal view is that this technology will definitely been seen more and more in Automotive applications. Modern vehicles have complex energy flow requirements, and increasing electrification will mean that an electro chemical energy storage device alone, may not fulfil all the technical requirements. So, my opinion is, that to support all the energy storage requirements and consumers in forthcoming vehicle platforms, a balance of energy storage technologies will be required – including traditional style wet batteries, advanced batteries with new chemistries, capacitors and even mechanical storage (hydraulic, pneumatic, flywheel).

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Vehicle Wiring – Wiring Diagram Master class

Wiring diagrams! Not dissimilar to Marmite! Perhaps I should explain - you either love them, or you just don’t ‘get’ them. If you do have access to a wiring diagram, it can save you a lot of time when diagnosing faults or trying to understand how an electrical component or system works. So on the whole, they are useful, and they can save you a lot of heartache.

The biggest problem is consistency, or lack of it! Many manufacturers have their own idea of the best way to draw a vehicle wiring diagram, different representations that vary with manufacturer is the first of a series of confusing issues, add to this the increasing complexity of vehicles over time, plus the lack of harmonised wiring colours for vehicle electrical systems, and the whole thing becomes more complicated than it’s worth, especially when you can pay someone else to fix it!

In this blog feature, we’re going to show you the basic, most common types of wiring diagrams, and how to read them, so that you can decipher your auto-electrical hieroglyphics.

What is a wiring diagram?

Wiring diagrams are a graphical representation of the vehicles wiring system; they can cover the whole vehicle wiring system, or can just represent sub circuits or systems. With more modern vehicles, that have greater complexity, the wiring diagram is very often split into sections that represent the major vehicle circuit groups. There are different approaches and styles to wiring diagrams that vary according to the manufacturer. In addition, increasing complexity requires a different representation and visualisation than a simple circuit. In order to simplify this topic, lets take a quick look at the different ways of representing wiring systems:

Schematic Diagram:

This diagram type focuses on representing the actual flow of current around the circuit. Simple lines are used to show interconnections, and symbols are used to represent components. The drawing does not really represent to layout of the actual wiring system.

Pictorial Diagram:

Pictorial representation shows the circuit layout and position, using diagram elements that accurately represent the visual aspect of the components and circuit. They’re less useful for understanding how a circuit works, but, a pictorial view can help with understanding and explaining a circuit operation at a simple level

The above methods of visually representing electric circuits are often combined for vehicle wiring diagrams. Over the years different manufacturers have used various approaches and have often devised and developed something unique. It’s well worth familiarising yourself with the most common types your likely to encounter, then, you’ll be able to cope with most things you’re likely to encounter.

Some types of diagrams in use 

Some of the most commonly used approaches, by various manufacturers, for representing a vehicle wiring system are shown below. 

Current flow diagram

By far the most logical and useful type is the current flow diagram, used extensively by German manufacturers, and others (Japanese vehicles). Although the current flow diagram does not resemble the vehicle wiring layout in any way, shape of form, it uses current ‘tracks’ to represent sections of the wiring system, with cross reference markers where wires interconnect. Along the top of the diagram are the main supplies, the current flows down the page to the earth connection running along the bottom. The wiring system is broken into sub-sections, and with this approach it’s much easier to focus on a specific area (e.g. lights, ignition system) when following the circuit path. This type of diagram can be used to represent the more complex systems, such as those found on newer vehicles, in this case, the wiring diagram will be pages and pages of reading.

German Wiring

German based wiring colours are reliable and consistent, you’ll find the same basic colours used on German vehicles (VW group), as well as Fords and Vauxhalls from the 70’s and 80’s. Tracer colours are used to identify individual circuits that are generally fused. Here are the main base colours you’ll come across:
Main beam –White
Dip beam – Yellow
Side, panel and marker lights – Grey
Igniton circuits – Black
Battery feed – Red
Earth – Brown

Schematic Diagram

This diagram type shows the actual layout of the vehicle wiring harness, and the main groups of cable runs. Wires are shown as lines and are often identified with colour codes. The diagram type is more representative of how the wiring system is laid out in the vehicle, and specific, key points of interest, like earth points or main connector junctions are clearly identified as to their position on the vehicle, this can help loads when you’re trying to locate one of these. However, this type of diagram can be difficult to interpret, especially when you are trying to follow the path of an individual cable – my advice...photocopy the diagram and get your highlighter pen out! this will allow you to mark and follow the cable around the diagram. 

Classical wiring diagram

These were the first type of diagrams used to represent the vehicle electrical system, (which were, at the time, pretty simple). They are a combination of pictorial and schematic representation, and were sometimes in colour, showing the actual cable colours used. The diagram showed the actual layout of components, and each component was clearly identifiable as it was drawn as to closely represent the component itself. This meant less reliance on a diagram ‘key’ when using the diagram. This type of diagram works for less complicated electrical systems, but later vehicles (80’s onwards) were a bit too complex for the system to be represented with a diagram of this type.

British Wiring

Most British classics from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s used BSAU7 wiring colours; this consisted of basic colours for the main function groups, with tracer colours to identify sub-circuits. Later vehicles were appended with additional extra wire colours to cover the additional complexity from extra accessories that were being fitted, like electrical windows, central locking, engine management etc. The basic colours you’ll see are:
Headlights – Blue
Sidelights – Red
Battery Feed – Brown
Fused battery feed – Purple
Ignition feed – White
Fused ignition feed – Green
Earth - Black

Other types

The above diagrams will cover the majority vehicles encountered. However, there are always exceptions to the rule – for example, French, or eastern block cars. This is where the ‘diagnostic skills without diagram’ come to the fore. However, if you encounter a more obscure vehicle, complete with a wiring diagram, then that’s still a good position to be in. Just be aware of the idiosyncrasies that you may come across, for example, French cars tend to use a simple wiring colour scheme with about 4 basic colours, with the wires ‘tagged’ at each end. The problem with this is that half way along a wiring loom; you won’t be able to tell one wire from the other! Note also that the wiring diagram for these vehicles is just as confusing! with many variations and undocumented changes, irrespective of this, something is always better than nothing, and a diagram will always help.


In summary, possessing the correct wiring diagram is a great thing. It is well worth studying the diagram, to familiarise yourself with your vehicles peculiarities and details, even when don’t have any electrical problems. Then, when electrical gremlins hit (and they inevitably do), or, you want to do some mods or upgrades, then you’ve done your homework in advance – forewarned is forearmed! There are some general pointers below that offer ‘best practice’ advice for dealing with extracting and processing the info. you need from your diagram:

  • Photocopy and mark-up – Take your original diagram, store it carefully and keep it in good condition. When you need to use it, photocopy it. You can even photocopy and enlarge the specific section you need to help see the detail. This allows you to keep the original pristine, so that you can mark up or use highlighters when you need to, to aid understanding and use of the diagram
  • Analyse in sections – Don’t try to use the whole diagram at once, break it down into sections (mentioned above). If you’re using the diagram to help diagnose a fault, break the fault down into sections as well. This is a more methodical approach and will help you deal with complex problems
  • Identify cable colours and connection points – Study the diagram for the circuit you are looking at. Try to separate it out and identify the basic colours used for feeds, earths, switches etc. This will help you when you are actively tracing cables on the vehicle

Final Advice

You are always going to come across a situation at some point, where you don’t have a wiring diagram. So, it is also worthwhile when you are using one, trying to make a mental note of how the diagram relates to the vehicle system itself. Also, any general conventions that you may come across – for example, the way headlight circuits are generally fused.
It’s well worth getting into the practice of being able to cope without a diagram and this will help you be more self-sufficient so that you can diagnose faults or understand a cars electricky, in the cases when you don’t have one.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Technology focus - Steel pistons

In the continuing battle for combustion engine CO2 reduction. Engine manufacturers are hunting for new technologies that can contribute in some way – however small. An emerging trend is looking closely at loss reduction - and in particular, reduction of engine friction. One specific technology under investigation and being adopted, is the use of new materials for piston manufacture – in particular, the use of steel as opposed to aluminium.

Let’s review the current situation – in a typical, current passenger car diesel engine, loads and temperatures are high, the safe temperature limit for an aluminium piston is around 400 degrees centigrade. With these modern engines, these material limits are already being approached – failure is normally associated with cracks forming at the combustion chamber bowl rim - so how can steel help? Steel is heavier with lower thermal conductivity! Well, heavy-duty truck engine manufacturers have been using steel pistons for a while – steel is much stronger than aluminium, so with an advanced design, a steel piston assembly can actually be lighter than an equivalent aluminium piston. Thus it is possible to compensate (nearly fully) for the weight disadvantage of steel. This benefit also brings the advantage of additional strength – protecting for peak pressures that will become even higher in future. This increased strength, in combination with the engine design, can be utilised to reduce the deck height of the engine, thus reducing overall height, which has a packaging benefit.

Cutaway of a steel piston design (KSPG)

With respect to the engine cycle, the lower heat conductivity can actually be an advantage as cycle temperature is increased, which has a thermodynamic benefit. Higher combustion chamber temperatures can be reached than with aluminium piston engines so that ignition quality increases, while the combustion duration is reduced. The result is lower fuel consumption and pollutant emissions. The biggest benefit however comes in the form of reduced friction – a steel piston only expands about a quarter of the extent of its aluminium equivalent. When fitted into an aluminium cylinder block, the aluminium housing expands more than the steel piston – and the result is greater tolerance of the piston within the cylinder, with correspondingly less friction - as the piston/cylinder assembly alone causes between 40 and 50 percent of the mechanical friction - the potential for efficiency increase is significant in the lower and middle speed ranges (important in real world driving conditions where useful consumption benefits can be achieved). In addition, the lower thermal expansion of the steel piston, compared with aluminium, also means that the designers are able to reduce the working tolerance between the cylinder wall and the piston, this reduces pollutants and untreated emissions.

Steel and aluminium piston designs - steel piston on the left is much smaller

When used in a cast-iron cylinder block (Diesel engine), the steel piston enables reduced working tolerance when the engine is cold (lower heat expansion and the resulting potential of having a significantly tighter clearance between the piston skirt and the cylinder bore), with an appropriate tolerance being maintained when the engine is warm (due to complimentary expansion of the piston and block material) – the reduced clearance at cold conditions leads to less noise at cold starting, as determined by the piston contact changeover at the crankshaft angle of top dead centre.

BSFC plot showing improvements gained by using steel pistons compared to aluminium

So in summary, steel pistons have a clear advantage – and when used in conjunction with other technologies (surface treatments for piston skirt and bore) considerable benefits in fuel consumption, CO2 and efficiency can be gained. In testing engine manufacturers reported the following results:

Power increase of around 2.5 % with the same calibration
Nearly 2% improvement in torque/fuel consumption at a fixed, medium engine speed
Reduced fuel consumption by up to 4% for a given NOx emission
Heat exchange reduced by 1%, energy transferred to cylinder work

Steel piston design as used by Daimler

Steel pistons are just one technology being explored, there are many others so keep an eye on this blog for more technical information on the latest developments in automotive engines and powertrains

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Technology focus - Gasoline engine technology trends

Engine technology developments are moving at a rapid pace! The main driver being ever more stringent emissions regulations, in combination with market expectations – no-one is going to buy a car with less performance due to emissions compliance! This is a tough challenge for any vehicle OEM but it is promoting an exciting breeding ground for the latest developments in engine and vehicle technology. So, what are these likely to be?...

Smaller engines with higher power outputs are already a fast moving trend (downsizing), this trend will continue - with almost unbelievable targets. Development goals of gasoline engines producing 200kW/litre are being considered by OEM's – the biggest challenge here being durability – that is, how to make such a powerful engine last in production. These gasoline engines could be classified into lower and higher power engine design catagories – with the break point between them being around 180kW/litre. For lower power densities, the main enabling technologies will be the adoption of Miller cycling and cooled EGR, in conjunction with cylinder deactivation and variable compression – although this latter technology is expensive! 

Figure 1 - Saab variable compression concept

In addition, Miller cycling requires specific design attributes for the inlet air path, valves and combustion chamber – reason being, to promote strong tumble in the incoming charge as this ensures enough charge motion to provide good turbulence in the mixture, for rapid flame growth – that would otherwise be compromised due to the late closing of the inlet valve.

Figure 2- Miller cycling

New spark plug electrode designs are under development in order to produce turbulent jets of burning mixture into the combustion chamber, as opposed to just an electrical arc to provide an ignition source. Laser ignition has shown very promising results, however, at the moment this technology is still confined to the laboratory as it is expensive and physically too large for production applications.

Figure 3 - Electric cylinder charging systems will become the norm.

For higher power densities (likely to be adopted in performance vehicles) variable cylinder charging and porting concepts will be used in addition to the above developments. Multiple charging systems (turbo, super and e-booster) will be used to employ charging and evacuating of the cylinder. Dual injection systems will be used, with port injection for use at high-load conditions, to reduce particle emissions.

Figure 4- Dual Injection systems to reduce PM emissions from gasoline engines

For very high performance engines, in order to provide the required durability, it is likely that control system strategies will be used to ‘limit’ engine power below normal operating temperatures (cold start and running). This restriction will allow an increased safety margin for engine components - promoting longer engine life. In addition, these strategies could include the adoption of a ‘spark plug cleaning’ mode – to ensure that a high performance vehicle that is not driven with sufficient load/speed regularly, will not break down due to fouled spark plugs. (similar in concept to DPF regeneration).