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Two UK electric drive unit specialists are turning development on its head with next-generation systems

Tags: #ev-investment

Electric drive units – or EDUs – are the favoured means of turning battery power into forward motion. Light and compact, they tick all the boxes for EV drivetrains, but now a collaborative project between two UK-based entities is looking to take them to the next level.

We've touched on EDUs before, with Jaguar Land Rover and BMW collaborating on development of a 'fifth generation' unit which will be used in a new generation of each brand's cars. In this case, the 'Gen5' eDrive unit will find its way into the likes of BMW's forthcoming range of EVs such as the ix3 and iNEXT, and the new Jaguar XJ.

With the combined weight of these two global car brands behind the development, and numerous other brands such as VW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Volvo (ad infinitum) you'd think there's no space in the market for smaller players to make a difference. But EV development is evolving in a completely different way to that of traditional vehicles; small, agile and innovative companies are driving innovation which then works its way up the food chain into big brand projects.

This is where Drive System Design and the National Composites Centre collaboration come in. Neither is well-known outside of the circles within which they work, but both already have global reach thanks to work with tier one powertrain manufacturers including the likes of GKN, Rolls Royce and BAE Systems on a range of projects. Now, they are working together and turning the traditional development of EDU development on its head to create the next-generation of more powerful, more efficient and smoother drivetrains.

The team will experiment with new composite materials, developed by the National Composites Centre, to increase power density by reducing EDU size and weight which has the secondary effect of increasing efficiency. These drive units can then be sold to manufacturers – who are themselves battling with packaging and efficiency – without increasing cost.

Where the team is looking at things differently to what could be considered 'traditional' is in how it approaches noise, vibration and harshness of the drive units. Now bear with us on this one as noise, vibration and harshness, or NVH as it's more commonly known, is something that not only affects you, but is a massive part of EV competitive advantage compared to conventionally powered cars.

Essentially, all manufacturers spend millions of pounds reducing NVH so your car doesn't shake and rattle like a bag of marbles attached to a jackhammer. Unless you drive something like an original Defender, early 90s naturally-aspirated Transit or practically anything small and from France made before about 2005, work on NVH has made your driving life better.

Usually, an efficient powertrain will be developed and then its NVH mitigated afterwards. However, in this case both efficiency and NVH are being developed in tandem rather than siloed into their own development streams.

“NVH and efficiency have traditionally been at odds during vehicle powertrain development, but through this project DSD aims to overcome this challenge,” said Markus Hose, Head of Mechanical Engineering at Drive System Design. “This project considers NVH from the outset and is central to any decision making, resulting in an EDU optimised for real-world operation.”

Over the next 12 months both companies will be busy investigating ways in which to ensure that the next generation of EVs improve on the already silky-smooth experience for which they are renowned. Alongside making sure EVs don't vibrate like the result of an Ann Summers stock room incident, the work will also be buying you a few more miles from a charge. And that's good news in anyone's book.

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