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The Dawn of Active Suspensions?

Posted October 15, 2014 12:17 PM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: active automotive passive suspension

If you want to gauge the trickle down of technology from development to consumer availability, the automotive industry is a good test subject. Huge research budgets, extensive supply networks, cutthroat competition and big name partnerships means car companies maintain appeal by staying on the cutting edge of modern innovation and development.

And the auto industry is certainly one in upheaval. Staggering fuel mandates loom heavily. Aluminum alloys represent the future of automotive materials. Smaller engines are being super- and turbocharged to squeeze every engine rotation out of available fuel. Tesla doesn't plan on being a competitor, but rather a supplier, so other automakers can use their electric powertrains. Now one knows exactly when sensors and CPUs are going to drive our cars, but bets placed for sooner rather than later will surely pay off.

Yet many automotive designs have remained stagnant, sometimes for over a century. Take your average automobile or light truck suspension. With some exceptions, the vast majority of auto suspensions in the past 100 years have either been leaf springs or coil springs. These types of suspensions are known as passive suspensions, simply because they're reactive to different grade levels and road conditions. Passive suspensions represented a major improvement on the suspensions of the 1800s, which were primarily for carriages and low speed vehicles, and consisted of leather belts slung between mounts that insulated the cabin via oscillation. Of course, such designs were unacceptable for automobiles, so early automakers relied on leaf springs (and still do for heavy cars and trucks), the same suspension principle used on ancient Egyptian chariots. In this sense, passive springs are a much, much older suspension technology than what is represented in automobiles. Coil springs couldn't be accurately produced until industrialization, and still weren't implemented in significant numbers until post-World War II. Torsion bar suspensions are primarily used on B-segment European cars, where simplicity and space savings are a primary concern.

So where am I going with all this? Hopefully a new generation of active and semi-active auto suspensions will reinvigorate an exhausted product that is easily improved by modern technology. Automakers are learning how these suspensions can help them in other developments, such as improving gas mileage, and creating a more enjoyable ride experience as well.

Active suspensions have force actuators that can both add and dissipate energy from a vehicle axle, meaning that ride quality and excellent handling isn't a compromise like it is with a passive suspension. Vehicle heights can be adjusted according to speed, improving aerodynamics and therefore gas efficiency. Active suspensions can also eliminate the sway or pitch resulting from vehicle inertia when in a tight corner, braking, or accelerating, which significantly improves vehicle safety and also enhances tire lifespans. Pretty much you would never spill coffee on yourself because of sudden stops or turns during your morning commute.

Of course, just because they've been used sparingly doesn't mean active and semi-active suspensions have been ignored. Instead, their use has been limited for two reasons: additional cost has limited deployment of expensive vehicles, and standard hydraulic suspensions are slow in response but high in power consumption.

One of the more intriguing kinds of active suspensions is the electromagnetic recuperative suspension. By utilizing a normal passive spring, an electromagnetic actuator, control unit and batteries, it reportedly increases ride quality by 60 percent, and also improves safety by eliminating sway and pitch while cornering and braking. Even if electric power to the suspension fails, the passive spring can still handle dynamic loads. Furthermore, some of the power consumed by this can be regenerated by using the motors as generators. Its small package footprint means it can even be retrofitted for many cars, according to Bose. The company best known for stereo equipment has sunk over $100 million in research on an electromagnetic suspension, as a testament to its belief in the system. Bose has even demonstrated bunnyhops with the system.

Magnetorheological dampers are another active type of suspension, but have seen further implementation than electromagnetic recuperative types. In this instance, a shock absorber is filled with magnetorheological fluid and connected to an electromagnet. When the fluid is magnetized, metallic particles align according to field lines to make the fluid stiff. By controlling this stiffness with sensors and a PLC, shock and vibration is isolated from the vehicle chassis. It has been deemed the most advanced suspension control system in the world.

Perhaps the last active suspension worth mentioning is only applicable if some manufacturers implement in-wheel motors, as speculated. It would be Michelin's Active Wheel. Not only is the wheel itself powered by an electric motor, but a separate electric motor controls each wheel's torque distribution, traction and weight distribution. The Active Wheel is perfect for electric or hybrid drivetrains. This design hasn't been incorporated into a production vehicle yet, but some analysts believe an in-wheel motor realization is on the horizon.



Of course, all of this development means nothing if it can't be scaled to an affordable, middle-class targeted vehicle. Even with inflation accounted for, vehicles are getting more expensive due to additional creature comforts and tighter government regulations. Considering that active suspensions can improve MPG, safety, handling and ride quality, there may be a day where this burgeoning technology is an inevitable cost of vehicle ownership. For now though, many of us ride around on a spring that hasn't been improved in 3,000 years.

5 comments; last comment on 10/16/2014
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Who Controls Your Car?

Posted September 22, 2014 2:43 PM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Cars rely on computers to optimize performance, and these systems often reside on the same network that connects the vehicle to the Internet. This cyber link to the outside world becomes a gateway for hackers to access critical functions like steering and brakes - as demonstrated in this article's embedded video. CNN looks at popular models such as the Jeep Cherokee and Toyota Prius and gauges the vulnerability that car owners face. On the positive side, hacking today's vehicles is more time consuming and difficult than breaking into more vulnerable PCs and smartphones.


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1 comments; last comment on 09/25/2014
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A Glimpse into the Rarefied World of Rare Cars

Posted September 04, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

By the time you read about the cars featured in this story, high-rolling automobile enthusiasts from around the globe will have paid record prices for the privilege of ownership. Gizmag highlights the prestigious vehicles featured at the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance - cars from the past as well as new prototypes never seen before. It's a rarefied world of beauty held at a beautiful venue. Certainly, there's no harm in looking.


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Reinventing the Wheel

Posted August 20, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Two materials companies have teamed up with a German automaker to reinvent the wheel. Instead of metal, the new configuration will be a composite made of a high heat-resistant thermoplastic polyetherimide (PEI) resin. Kringlan Composites of Switzerland is using the groundbreaking Ultem resin from chemicals maker Sabic to design a wheel that not only offers superior performance but may one day replace those made of metal and aluminum alloy - helping automakers reduce weight, cut emissions, and lower manufacturing costs.


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5 comments; last comment on 08/23/2014
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Manufacturing Goes Virtual

Posted July 24, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Ford's IntoSite pilot project takes manufacturing into the virtual world, eliminating much of the risk of innovation, enabling global collaboration, and honing a tool that can optimize production processes. The IntoSite cloud-based application uses Google Earth technology and unified communications to share data, better understand manufacturing processes (see video), and enable navigation through 2D and 3D versions of assembly plants.


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Plug-in Sales Outpace Previous Hybrids

Posted July 08, 2014 12:00 AM by IHS GlobalSpec eNewsletter

Plug-in hybrid and electric car sales are far ahead of those of first generation hybrids at the same stage in each technology's development. A report from IHS Automotive says that at the end of 2013, Nissan's Leaf had sold 100,000 units and Chevy's Volt 70,000. When first introduced, the Toyota Prius sold 52,000 as of its fourth year of production. The report adds plug-in sales should surge even more with Ford's introduction of the C-Max Energi plug-in (video) in Europe this year.


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6 comments; last comment on 07/09/2014
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