Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has in place regulations to further reduce automotive emissions and improve average fuel economy from approximately 35.5 mpg in 2016, to 54.5 mpg by 2025. The regulations are known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Countries around the world are requiring higher fuel economy for cars, so even if the U.S. government backed off on its own requirements, automakers, which play in a global marketplace, still are faced with meeting globally higher standards.

The task will be complex and significant for automotive engineers to address these progressively more stringent standards, employing their best product development processes, partnering with component and subsystem suppliers, to deliver compliant vehicles to customers. The challenges include finding the right experts who can support new design and manufacturer of vehicle systems that are increasingly interdependent and complex; ensuring collaboration among experts in the engineering and manufacturing processes; more complex parts; understanding how to work with new and mixed materials, including composites and lighter weight metals, and ensuring the quality of the products through measurement and testing.

An excellent description of the challenge has been written by Siemens PLM and published by the Aberdeen Group, entitled, “The domino effect of changing regulations on the automotive industry.” This description breaks down the required engineering and manufacturing tasks into understandable chunks. Needless to say, the shift to higher standards is and will be a tough challenge for automakers, but also a huge opportunity for workers with cutting-edge skills in this space. Moreover, there are great opportunities for application of new technologies and processes that, if deployed properly, could help reposition Southeast Michigan in the global marketplace as a job and innovation generator.

But first, to meet these new EPA standards, manufacturers will need to apply new developing technologies to improve the efficiencies of powertrains, enhance electronic controls systems, reduce friction and parasitic losses, and reduce the weight of vehicles through alternative materials and re-engineered structures. All of these changes are required to meet fuel economy and emission reductions, while maintaining or improving crashworthiness, drivability and reliability and maintaining safety.

No small task.

The Siemens description shows the engineering effects on vehicle design, the manufacturing supply chain and the aftermarket. But not only are there technical challenges, the description leads to the question about talent. Engineers, technicians and many support functions will have to work together to effectively design, validate, release and manufacture new vehicles meeting these regulations each model year. Welders and machinists will need to learn to work with new materials and design specifications, which also require development. The human resource talent requirements may span many of the following areas:

  • Product design engineers working with new materials and manufacturing requirements to design and develop verified product components and subsystems
  • Systems engineers to integrate components and subsystems into integrated vehicle subsystems and systems
  • Materials engineering to work with manufacturing engineers in developing optimal material properties from manufacturing processes
  • Laboratory technicians to test components/subsystems and establish design verification performance data
  • Process engineers to develop and manage optimized quality driven mfg. processes, including forming processes, fabrication and joining of dissimilar materials, and assembly
  • Process technicians to install, test and establish manufacturing processes for optimum control limits and functional characteristics
  • Product development engineers to develop and apply test standards and procedures that will validate new products to customer acceptance criteria and other regulations
  • Supplier quality assurance engineers to work with the supply base to ensure stable supplier manufacturing processes that meet company and other compliance standards
  • Service engineers who understand the product characteristics of new lightweight components and how service and reliability requirements match and fulfill customer expectations.
  • And many other functional occupational positions such as purchasing, quality assurance, product information management and more.

The Siemens/Aberdeen graphic above will help educators and other workforce development professionals guide curricula and new talent into the many engineering and technical areas needed to meet these impending regulations.

This blog post was prepared with research and content from Al Lecz, director, employer strategies, Workforce Intelligence Network.

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