The warning message that tells you a visit to the garage is needed and the engine that stalls at the traffic lights: it seems that no car can manage without communication and power networks. But they are also essential components in trains and aeroplanes, various types of machines, telecommunications systems and computers, household appliances and entertainment electronics, wind power and photovoltaic systems, not to mention control equipment and medical devices. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) are looking at ways to make these highly complex on-board networks meet the ever greater demands placed on them. The European Regional Development Fund is funding the project 'E|Connect – efficient communication and power networking in mechatronic systems' with 2.2 million euros.
Over the next four years, the chairs of Production Measurement Engineering, High-frequency Engineering and Corrosion and Surface Technology under the supervision of the Institute for Manufacturing Automation and Production Systems will be investigating how on-board networks that control the power supply and flow of information between components and control devices can be optimised. The researchers hope to be able to work particularly closely with small and medium-sized enterprises based in more deprived areas to promote knowledge transfer as organisations of this size frequently lack the skill and capacities to do so.
On-board networks use complex wiring systems to manage electrical and optical signals from sensors, actuators and control systems – so they are the nerve centre of all modern mechatronic systems. On-board networks are now expected to transfer information at ever higher speeds – up to 50 Gbit per second is already being talked about. In addition, they contain ever larger numbers of network nodes; for example in aircraft or wind power plants they have to cover relatively large distances, meet high failsafe standards and operate reliably over many years.
But that is not all. On-board networks also provide the power for all the electrical components in a mechatronic system, especially drive, process, lighting and information systems. In this way, they act in a similar function to the circulatory system. And they have to deliver ever better levels of performance. The main reasons for this are the continuing decentralisation of energy production, the increasing electrification of transport and the growing automation in the fields of production, logistics, medicine and finance. Moreover, both wiring and connector systems must be easy to assemble, while at the same time being able to be produced in many different designs in small volumes in a cost-effective way.
In order to provide solutions to these diverse challenges, the FAU-based team is working with various companies on seven main research topics, namely: enhancement of the intelligence of on-board networks, their functional integration into mechanical components, the transmission of information via bus and wireless systems, the development of new automation solutions, computer-aided technologies for product and process development, the development of innovative materials and reliability analysis and service life models.