The New Delhi-based Automotive Test Systems (ATS) has rich and wide-range of experience in the field of simulation, product- validation, structural testing, data acquisition and analysis, vehicle handling and performance evaluation, NVH testing and powertrain testing. In addition to its sales and support domain, it has a competence centre of engineering support and services. All kinds of critical, multifaceted typical data acquisition and failure analysis are in the DNA of ATS. It supplies test instrumentation to OEMs and component makers for testing and validation. They are manufactured in India or sourced from its collaborators in Europe, Japan or the US.
Established in 2004, ATS has offices in Delhi, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore and Coimbatore. In collaboration with the Amrita University, Coimbatore, it has established AARTC (Amrita Automotive Research and Technical Centre), a state-of-the art Tech Centre. It also has a technical centre in Pune where it provides engineering services to automotive companies. The reach of ATS is beyond the automotive sector. It has established its footprints in Defence, Railways and renewable energy. ATS has expertise in data acquisition and analysis for Road-to-Lab correlation, stress strain analysis, advance frequency analysis, and the like.ATS exports its products and systems to several counties including Iran, Thailand and China. Its plan is to go beyond Asia. “So far companies like us have been importing equipment from the developed markets. We want to export technology to those markets. To begin with, we will set up a base in Germany, the global technology heartland, and manufacture and sell our equipment developed in India worldwide. This is our goal for 2017,” S Ramanathan, Managing Director, ATS, told AutoParts Asia.
The strategic plan of ATS is to partner with a German company and manufacture testing equipment developed mainly in the technical centre of ATS in Chennai. Initially it will manufacture products for vehicle testing from a base either in Frankfurt or Munich.
“We design and develop test systems in Chennai , for example Vehicle Dynamics test software (for homologation of vehicles) and test systems used for conducting tests like brake test, acceleration test, fuel consumption test, gearbox testing, calibration of odometer, and speed governor certification. We provide the sensors and data loggers for all these. The products for the international market will also be developed here,” Ramanathan said. “Then we will go for products which can be used to reduce test time in the area of durability testing and suspension testing. This is the line-up for the next couple of years,” he added.
ATS has been developing ‘Road-to-Lab’ programmes which have helped its customers minimise testing time. It is also working with some international companies to promote car-to-x communication. “This means car-to-car and also car-to-environment communication. A typical example would be communication from a traffic light – if the light is green the car will allow you to pass through and if it is red the car will stop.
“This is more to do with autonomous driving,” Ramanathan said. ATS will shortly start a project on autonomous driving together with a multi-national company. Owing to the confidentiality agreement, he did not elaborate.
ATS has been working with the government projects since its early days. It has supplied equipment to the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP), Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and International Centre for Automotive Technology (iCAT). It has assisted NATRiP in setting up a Kinematics & Compliance test rig centre at its latest Indore facility (NATRAX).
Its customer base includes most of the OEMs and tier-1 suppliers in India, and most other companies that are into automotive manufacturing. ATS serves also the customers who had been getting support from the overseas companies.
“We have professionals from the industry itself who had worked with various OEM’s in India including companies like Daimler, Renault-Nissan, Mahindra &Mahindra, JK Tyres, Horiba, FEV and AVL for 10 to 15 years. We have recruited them to be part of the technical centre. They ensure that a very high standard of quality is maintained which increases customer confidence in us. The best companies in Europe and Japan test with us. So far we haven’t had any negative feedback. They are coming back to us for work which means we are doing a good job; we have created that trust. Our goal is not about maximising profit in this centre,” he said.
“We develop software and also provide hardware to do handling and performance trials on road. There are other companies that manufacture test rigs in India, we are not the pioneers. Our focus is to enable Indian manufacturers to purchase test rigs at a reasonable cost up to a certain level while other manufacturers outside India like those in Germany and Japan are doing at a very high level where costs are also very high. For example, a high-end gearbox test rig from Germany might cost Rs seven crore to eight crore while in India it would be around Rs two-three crore. We are trying to bring this technology to customers at a reasonable price; that is our aim. We consider this as part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative,” Ramanathan said.
Various Test Systems
One issue that everyone talks about on-road vehicle development is that design from concept to part takes a lot of time and it is difficult to manage testing. ATS offers a solution for this. Ramanathan said that “it is basically about correlation between simulation and actual on road testing. When a vehicle is being designed, when it is just a concept, if you get to know how it will perform when it is actually produced, you can save time. It needs a lot of correlation between the Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) and other factors. When I design a product and test each of the components to finally assemble the vehicle which is tested in the lab and goes out for actual road test, there has to be correlation between each of the stages, the entire V-cycle up to safety, including driver assisted systems. This is the solution we offer right now, end-to-end.”
In this endeavour ATS gets technical support from its partner companies. “From IPG, a German company, we offer a tool called Car Maker, or Truck Maker, depending on the type of vehicle to be tested. The system helps perform different tests at the model or software level, software-in-the-loop or model-in-the-loop simulation, as if you are doing it in an actual car or truck on the road. This means you have a virtual car on a virtual road but procedures are the same; the test catalogue has to be the same across categories.”
This involves components also, which are the major part. The idea is to provide information exchange among companies. These tools offer the facility to encrypt the data to exchange freely the models among Tier-1 and Tire -2 and the OEMs without actually divulging details. They can just take the vehicle model and put in the details of their component before carrying out tests.
These tests can also be based on customer requirements using simulation at different levels. Costs are minimal as you just require a PC to do the tests; no external infrastructure is needed. The correlation has to be really high so that when it goes into the actual test track it should perform similarly. About people who still insist on actual testing, Ramanathan said, “Testing and validation will be always required. The intention is to reduce the amount of testing done on road. With today’s technology you are bringing in more models at a faster rate, with each model having hundreds of variants. You have to do testing for each of those variants; if you don’t find out problems beforehand you will have to go back to the CAE and the entire process has to be repeated. The model development would then take a much longer time.”
He said that the idea behind simulation was to bring the model closer to the final product at the beginning itself. It would enable refinement at the design stage to make the models better. The infrastructure and machines required for testing is prohibitively expensive, and it may run into crores of rupees.
“Many tests are required with so many models in line. It is impossible to do physical testing on all of them. That’s why most OEMs are interested in simulation now; the best companies in the world have already established it end-to-end. In Europeit is on, and people have also started thinking about it here in a big way; we will catch up very soon,” he said.
About emission testing to suit the BS VI standards, Ramanathan said, “We have to establish facilities for that now, not all are up to BS VI. We have some special systems that can be used for development work; our customers are asking for some infrastructure to be put in for BS VI. We are in discussions with them. We will have to upgrade our facilities for that. We are placing orders for the suitable emission systems for our technical centre.
End Of Line Testing
Out of the various testing modules, the end-of-line-testing has seen the maximum growth and the company is expanding it in a big way. While the company continues to install BEP’s machines in India, it also helps in installing and commissioning these machines outside India. ATS sends its engineers to Thailand, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and other Asian and European countries when new factories are being set-up by automotive companies.
End-of-line testing has been a major business area for the company in the last one year. It accounts for a significant portion of the business this year and the company has already crossed $ nine to ten million of revenue in this side of the business. This is a remarkable shift from the last three to four years when end-of-line testing was hardly a major contributor to the company’s revenue.
The state of economy heavily determines which business vertical will perform the best in a particular year. “Let’s say if there is less capital expenditure in equipment then engineering services business goes up. Even in those times, the testing needs are there because everybody is launching models very fast; so testing requirements are there. If they are not able to do it themselves, as there is no budget to buy equipment in a particular year, they will outsource testing. Then the performance of engineering services business unit goes up. We are happy with this scenario,” Ramanathan said.
Ugradation Of Testing Lab
Developing the technical centre is a continuous process for ATS. With new technology and regulations coming in, upgradation of various laboratories happens every year. This year, the company is upgrading the engine test bed.
“This year we are upgrading our engine test bed so that we can do vehicle level work here. This means we can have a virtual vehicle, a virtual road, a virtual driver and we can create real road scenario. This real life input goes to the engine on the dyno.
Then it is like an engine without a vehicle but as if it is fitted inside a car or you are really doing the work, and the vehicle is actually being driven. This helps in testing the engine in the real life scenario inside a laboratory,” Ramanathan said. The company is also upgrading its chassis dyno lab for this.
The need for regular upgradation arises with changing regulations and coming in of new technology.
“In the United States of America and Europe a lot of focus has come on emissions which will soon come to India also. So now the on board emission has become extremely important,” he added.
Every facility will be undergoing some upgradation looking at the environment and the ecosystem. Emphasising the importance of service in this kind of business, Ramanathan said that his company believes in ‘sales by service.’
“We are good in service and bad at sales. We do not have big sales force, just a few engineers for sales because ours is a more of technical line so we are sceptical about having too many sales people trying to sell products to customers. It does not work that way in sectors such as research and development. Our USP is sales by service.”
Collaboration With Academia
As an automotive test systems company, ATS has taken up a very constructive industry-academia partnership with Amrita University for developing its Research and Development (R&D) and Technical Centre.
Describing the initiative as “brilliant,” Ramanathan said, “Co-operation among the government, universities and companies in developed nations is a very big advantage. The universities work closely with industry and industry supports them with equipment, money and other things. Most companies that we are working for are offshoots of universities. They were working for big OEMs on projects and then the thought process would have come to develop that as a product and then commercialised.”
“This ‘Road-to-Lab’ programme helps us build more systems and the customers minimise the testing time. They want us to build more systems and we are on the fast track to get them done. We are regularly upgrading the Coimbatore centre, based on customer feedback. This goes on in every laboratory. The upgradation is totally dependent on what our customers demand.”
About the possibility of setting up similar labs elsewhere in India, Ramanathan said, “That’s a very expensive proposition, not affordable right now. However, our on-road testing departments are mobile. We have teams in Pune, Delhi and Chennai to take care of things like road load /duty cycle measurement, city /highway fuel consumption easurement etc.”