Advanced Engineering at General Motors

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"Careers at the leading edge" is how General Motors describes job opportunities with its Advanced Engineering Staff. Part of the Technical Staffs Group which specializes in research, product engineering, and manufacturing systems development, AES operations are headquartered at the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.

Members of the AES team are involved in a wide range of projects. They can be evaluating the potential for artificial intelligence in design, engineering, and manufacturing; making computer software more intuitive and predictive; creating multi-level diagnostic systems that foresee trouble and call for corrective action; developing CAM system software for high-speed machining operations or for simulating new, more efficient production processes; and designing computer-controlled handling systems that can receive, store, and deliver materials throughout the factory automatically.

Other career opportunities might require applying voice response systems to factory operations; planning for automated manufacturing cells that can set up their own tooling and monitor their own performance; devising schemes for adopting programming that can enable robots to deal with minor variations; teaching multiple robots to work cooperatively in small space envelopes; finding applications for robots to do work that people don't like to do or can't do as well; and identifying machine intelligence, computer vision, laser machining, and other emerging technologies for the factory-of-the-future.

The program GM's Advanced Engineering Staff spearheaded for Saturn, the advanced small car concept, led to the creation of an entirely new automotive division, designed from the ground up to use entirely new production concepts in manufacturing.

Senior Project Engineer in Advanced Manufacturing Systems William Tiger, who joined AES in 1981 after receiving a BME degree from the General Motors Institute, describes his job this way:

"I've been working recently with high speed machining. My group is preparing for the installation of the first in a new generation of production line cylinder boring systems. It's a numerically controlled machine with extremely high cutting speeds and feed rates. This important development will improve GM's engine quality and engine plant productivity, while it also substantially lowers our capital expenditures.

"Currently, we're prototyping engine blocks for the Saturn car. This involves coordinating the efforts of Saturn Product engineering, Metal Casting, and Machining groups. We need to verify that Saturn engine blocks can be mass-produced, using our new lost-foam casting and high speed machining techniques.

"We've demonstrated that we can drill and finish cylinder bores up to 10 times faster, using state-of-the-art machine tools," he says. "Meanwhile, we are experimenting with next-generation tooling.

"With continuing design changes, we need to create prototype blocks very quickly for testing. The process used to take weeks. Soon, we expect to go from a raw casting to a machined block in about an hour. This will let GM evaluate design and material changes in parallel, giving us more engineering flexibility.

"After the Saturn block project, we'll turn to cylinder heads, camshafts, crankshafts, and other power train components."

Project Engineer with Advanced Chassis Systems Janet Goings joined AES after graduating from Purdue University, where she earned a BSEE degree and specialized in semiconductors and integrated circuits.

"Technology Assessment, my first assignment with GM, keeps our company aware of competitive engineering," she says. "It compares GM to the competition with respect to engines, transmissions, suspensions, electrical and electronic systems, brakes, air systems, and controls-just about everything that relates to automotive performance, safety, and reliability.

"This involves disassembling a variety of components, evaluating designs and materials, and running realistic tests to find out who's ahead and why," she explains.

"One day I got a call from GM's Advanced Chassis Systems. They needed someone with my kind of electronics experience and competitive engineering knowledge to help develop an entirely new kind of suspension system for GM vehicles.

"It's a classified project, but our objective is to achieve vastly improved road-handling and ride comfort, and to put GM far ahead of the competition in suspension technology."

Rani Agarwal is supervisor of ferrous casting development in the Metal Casting Group. She holds a BS degree in metallurgical engineering from Michigan Technological University, and an MS degree from the University of Wisconsin.

"Working with AES is great fun," she says. "How many other places are there where a woman can play around with molten iron?

"Our department works closely with GM foundries, providing them with technical support. We look for ways to improve metals casting processes, and we develop new ones.

"For example," she explains, "our progress with lost foam casting pours iron into patterns made from foamed polystyrene. The foam vaporizes and is replaced by the metal. We can cast strong, lighter weight, dimensionally more accurate parts than we can with the earlier green-sand process. Quality is higher, and costs are lower.

"It's a tricky process, though," she says. "You have to control the rate of metal fill and gas escapement while you keep pressures in balance.

"Today, in casting some hollow crankshafts, I used a different refractory coating on the foam patterns. It wasn't permeable enough. So we'll scratch that particular recipe. Our technicians are mixing up a new batch for tomorrow's pour."

Rani's next step with the lost foam hollow crankshaft will be to coordinate actual manufacturing and product tests with the engineering groups at Central Foundry and one or more of the car divisions. She has signed a $50,000 purchase order for prototype tooling which she designed, and she expects to see her project through to full-scale production.
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