Monday 17 June 2013

Flybrid and a very secret client

Next year will be particularly busy for Flybrid Automotive Ltd, the Silverstone-based company that has pioneered flywheel-based kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) for use in road vehicles.

The first production application of a KERS-based hybrid is likely to appear in the Wrightbus StreetLite product range that appears in 2014.

This activity will mark a breakthrough for Flybrid Automotive Ltd of Silverstone which has developed mechanical flywheel kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) using either clutched flywheel transmissions (CFT) or continuously variable transmissions (CVT) of the type designed and developed by Torotrak Ltd.

We will be making pre-production systems for Wrightbus in 2014,” said Jon Hilton, managing director of Flybrid Automotive Ltd, this week. “But we will be making units for another as-yet secret low-volume client.”

Hilton declined to reveal the client or indicate its sector of industry.

“The client is very secretive I am afraid,” said Hilton.

Earlier this month, at Engine Expo 2013 in Stuttgart, Germany, Flybrid Automotive Ltd. demonstrated its work with Volvo Car which could provide the British company with additional work.

“Anything for Volvo would be 'made' by the Tier 1 supplier, even though in practice we might actually do the work on a sub contract basis,” added Hilton.

Flybrid is working with Wrightbus, Voith Turbo, Productiv and Arriva to optimise the hybrid power solution for the StreetLite mid-bus range. Productiv is examining the production aspects of the flywheel hybrid system.

With Wrightbus, Flybrid has a unique opportunity to demonstrate KERS technology in action. Both Voith and Wrightbus, for example have many customers in Europe. For this reason it is important for Flybrid that Wrightbus is fully up to speed and into production. That is Flybrid Automotive’s first target.

The project, which is part-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Technology Strategy Board (TSB), aims to have the system ready for new vehicle introduction in 2014. The aim is to design the system for both new vehicle applications as well as for retrofit. Flybrid will manufacture units in-house.

‘For the volumes we are looking at for the Wrightbus application, we think we can cope with that within Flybrid Automotive. We are looking at expanding our facilities,’ a spokesman said earlier this year. ‘It is on our internal wish list of how we want to grow. We think that the volumes that will be required for the bus and truck market can be achieved within Flybrid.’

Flybrid’s KERS can be used in many different applications. For example, it could be used in off-highway applications in dump trunks or wheeled shovel loader. These operate a ‘Y duty cycle’; that is, they are driven repeatedly forward and backwards into a pile of earth.

The vehicles are heavy but the travel speed is low so the kinetic energy available is low compared with other applications. The main benefit of KERS comes through improved fuel economy – the main driver – and engine downsizing.

 There are multiple occasions when such trucks require high energy, such as driving into a pile of dirt. Power and torque levels are high and need a large engine. However, most of the time the maximum power of the engine is not being used. KERS could be used as a power boost in conjunction with a smaller engine that covers basic use.

The bus, truck and off-highway sector represents one leg of Flybrid’s business activity, and accounts for about 20% of turnover. Another 20% is accounted for by motorsport interests and the balance is made up by road-car applications for OEMs.

Truck applications of flywheel hybrids are likely to follow on from bus and off-highway applications. The off-highway use has roughly the same timing as the Wrightbus applications.

In terms of time to production, motorsport is always the quickest, followed by bus, truck and off-highway. These three are quite similar in terms of flywheel hybrid requirements and in terms of how quickly they can enter production.

Road-car applications take longer to implement; programs move more slowly – many more people are involved in the decision-making and therefore they require a longer time to put into production.

However, it is in motorsport where the main impetus for development is found. Within motorsport, timescales are short and new programs must be developed quickly. However, while production volumes are low, the intellectual effort is high and it is important not to develop a system specific to motorsport. It must be one from which technology can be transferred across to road-cars or even bus, truck and off-highway applications.

In a motorsport application, the system has to fulfill near identical road-car requirements, for example controllability, reliability, durability and refinement, but with one exception: while durability is shorter, performance aspects are higher. This aspect further assists in the development of bus, truck and off-highway applications.        

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