David Fulton oversees that balancing act for Remy International Inc. As Director of Advanced Engineering since 2000, he is responsible for development of starters, alternators, and electric machines for hybrid and electric vehicles. Fulton is an innovator who holds 13 patents in the area of electric machines, as well as B.S. and M.S. degrees in mechanical engineering from Valparaiso University and Northwestern University. He spoke with us about the challenges of recognizing opportunities early, funding innovative technologies, and bringing those developments to market in a cost-effective way.
“We are continuing year after year to invest more in research and development. Original Equipment Manufacturing companies that want to buy from you today are looking for suppliers with a vision for the future. That type of supplier can offer new technology and innovation. It isn’t about being reactive and simply taking on an assignment. It’s about proactively coming up with options for the OEMs that their competition may not have. At Remy we’ve realized it’s going to take a strong commitment to R&D.”
Fulton and his team of engineers recognize this forward-thinking approach helps Remy make better products. Fulton points to Remy’s work on starters as an example. “We’re finding ways to make starters that crank the engine at faster crank speeds to provide start-stop systems that reduce emissions. Most of the time, my group works on pushing the envelope to address stated needs of the customer. Some of these are perennials like same function but smaller, lighter, and cheaper. However, we also devise things that the OEMs don’t specifically ask for. We work on them because we think they are directionally correct. And then we put them in front of the OEM and we say, ‘What do you think?’ Hopefully we’ve got something that’s at least in the ballpark of their interest if not a home-run.”
The advent of the electric vehicle has pushed Remy towards new technologies for starting and charging systems. Fulton explains, “I think technology convergence may be possible for some of these systems. One such convergence in electric vehicles is among machine types in the charging system, the alternator, and even the starter-motor. However, market sales of EVs haven’t taken off yet. So, direct application in EVs is not big for us now. However, it is a growing source of business for us, in battery electric vehicles as well as hybrids.”
“One such promising development is in area of high efficiency alternators of the future. Today, an induction machine is used in GM’s “e-Assist” system. Its output is in the 15 kW range. As market adoption grows, you can expect to see more induction machines being used in belt-driven alternator starters.”
In what other ways is Remy addressing problems faced by OEMs?
- For conventional starting-systems, Remy’s products are reducing engine idle time. For charging systems our products use less fuel to generate electrical power. Fulton explains, “The first approach is to shut down the engine when it’s not doing anything and then restart it when needed. There are a couple different ways to do that. One is with a starter-motor, although that requires frequent motor use. We call this starter-base start-stop. For that you need a very high durability starter — one that can crank and engage the engine quickly. There needs to be a very short delay from the driver giving a restart command to when the engine is back up. Our starters contain technology that ensures this short delay.
- Remy produces a belt-driven alternator-starter. “You can think of this as an alternator that can also start the engine through the belt,” says Fulton. “It’s a fairly low-powered, conventional alternator. “
- Remy has begun prototyping liquid-cooled starter-alternator systems capable of producing much greater electrical power. “There are some OEMs that want 5 kW and some that want up to 15 kW, all on a device that’s belt-driven. At the higher power levels systems have to be liquid-cooled. Air cooling is often not sufficient,” says Fulton.
Beginning as a product engineer for Delco Remy, Fulton feels an engineering career has satisfied his “search for new things.” He emphasizes that the “areas of electric machines and powertrains continue to grow and change. This can surprise people who have been in the industry for a long time.”
So, where does Fulton see additional opportunities for advancements? He cites the integration of electronics within motors and generators. “Basically, this is the idea of the power electronics and controllers working within the machines that they drive. Why isn’t this done today? The top reason is temperature. The operating temperatures for most electronics is below that of typical electric motors. Temperature limits are set in motors by their insulation systems and in electronics by the semiconducting electrical materials. Is there a way we could change that? Silicon-carbide based semiconductors offer one possible solution. Instead of using silicon, the higher temperature ratings of silicon carbide could allow us to package the power electronics right inside the machine that uses them.” According to Fulton, silicon carbide-based devices are too expensive today. The material itself is not inherently expensive, but the manufacturing processes that make them are. The learning curve effect will lower these costs in the future.
As electric machines in the automotive powertrain continue to evolve, Remy International pursues that evolution. The company is balancing direct delivery with OEM requests by proactively putting forward their own innovations. In turn, we fully expect to see David Fulton successfully catch & ride the waves of engineering advancement through innovation.
About David A. Fulton
David A. Fulton received B.S. and M.S. degrees in mechanical engineering from Valparaiso University and Northwestern University, respectively. He joined the Delco Remy Division of GM in 1986 as a product engineer in starters. After moving to Remy International in 1993, he worked as quality manager and design analysis manager. In 2000, he became Remy’s director of advanced engineering, responsible for development of starters, alternators, and electric machines for hybrid and electric vehicles. Fulton has 13 patents in the area of electric machines. He is also a licensed professional engineer, and a member of SAE.