Volume 13 | Issue 1 | Year 2010

Growth-wise, Ricardo Inc. is its parent company’s most vibrant segment. Headquartered close to Detroit (the hub of U.S. automotive manufacturing), the company, a subsidiary of the UK-based Ricardo PLC, does its parent proud by reflecting familial (corporate) values, conforming to the overall business focus, and engineering accomplishments that coincide with strategic objectives.
So, who’s this parent company and what does it do? Well, Ricardo PLC, a global organization that posted $394 million in revenues in 2008, trucks in the vehicular transportation arena. Specifically, it’s a leading independent provider of technology, product innovation and engineering solutions. Further, it has attached itself to a broad range of industries including automotive, defense, transport and new energy – as has its Ricardo Inc. subsidiary.

In addition, both parent and offspring serve in advisory capacities for governmental and independent agencies. “The subsidiary’s primary activities and expertise reflect what the entire Ricardo organization seeks to realize throughout the world,” relates Karina Morley, Ricardo’s global products director for controls and electronics.

In business for more than 20 years, Ricardo Inc. boasts a proud pedigree.

It’s genetically conjoined with an enterprise fathered by Sir Harry Ricardo, who was knighted in 1948 for achievements that revolutionized internal combustion engines. In 1915, he established Engine Patents LTD, which subsequently became Ricardo PLC.

Ever evolving, Ricardo PLC grew to include advanced, state-of-the-art technical centers in the United States, Europe and Asia. Within all locations, the corporation provides engineering expertise that positively impacts vehicle systems integration, controls and electronics, hardware and software development. Moreover, organization-wide talents extend to development of advanced driveline and transmission systems, as well as gasoline, diesel, hybrid and fuel cell power train technologies.

“Power train electrification represents a major current industry trend,” indicates Morley. Electrify the power train and you electrify almost every subsystem in a vehicle, she clarifies.

This is just one track that Ricardo has traveled in the past 12 years, as it moved toward engineering hybrid applications during the course of various research projects (Ricardo PLC and Ricardo Inc. are both very big on research and development). “We’ve engaged in more than 100 hybrid projects in partnership with tier one and OEM clients,” reports Morley.

In this way, Ricardo PLC proved itself a research leader for product innovation and program delivery for specific automotive sectors related to passenger cars and motorcycles as well as commercial, off-highway, marine, military, locomotive and motorsport vehicles.

An organization that pushes ahead with the inevitability of a cresting tsunami that breaks off Waimea Bay, Ricardo shifted focus to the world’s increasingly large and complex energy issues. It became a tidal force via industry transforming, profit-enhancing clean solutions. A self-described eco-innovation technology corporation, Ricardo PLC increased activity in the renewable energy, power generation, and transportation and infrastructure planning markets – again, as has offspring Ricardo Inc.

With its forceful focus on automotive products, Ricardo addressed that industry’s core drivers that include international competition, globalization, power development for emerging economies, safety and maximized usage of natural energy resources.

This modern direction includes two key areas: global-scale exhaust pollutant reduction and vehicle fuel economy improvement. Specifically, Ricardo seeks to help reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions and promote more efficient usage of diminishing oil reserves.

Positioned in the United States, Ricardo Inc. resides in the heart of the parental corporation’s controls and electronics sector, which leads the world as far as automotive controls, electronics and electrical systems development. The U.S. subsidiary’s primary focus areas include engine and transmission development and engine controls, hybrid and electric vehicle controls, battery system development, electrical systems integration, on-board diagnostics, intelligent vehicle and transport systems, embedded electronics design, embedded software, software tools for control system development and safety critical systems development and consulting.

But the subsidiary truly shines when it comes to intelligent vehicle and transport systems. Research and development activities have advanced new technology such as integrated torque vectoring and steer-by-wire safety systems. “Along with environment and fuel economy, automotive safety is a major concern,” comments Morley.

Ricardo’s R&D efforts also embrace developing technology that extends the electronic horizon of the vehicle through the use of internet-enabled mobile phone communications, GPS and advanced mapping data. By integrating these modules with the control system of a hybrid car and automating many of the processes of driving, the partners in the Sentience project, which was led by Ricardo, demonstrated that fuel savings of between 5 and 24 percent were possible at a very modest incremental production cost.

As the world, the industry and the company moved forward, growth of the electric and hybrid markets compelled Ricardo PLC to invest in a new U.S. facility that would advance capabilities related to battery management systems and battery pack design. “The decision was based on vehicle electrification, and batteries are a key component in this direction,” says Morley. “Also, as batteries are one of the most expensive vehicle parts, we sought to develop the most efficient way to integrate this into electrical-vehicle applications.”

Thus, in 2008 and within its Michigan-based operation, Ricardo established a new $2 million facility that advances battery system development for electric and hybrid vehicles. Located on Ricardo Inc.’s Detroit Technology campus, the center offers turnkey engineering and development of high-voltage battery-pack systems for hybrid (HEV), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and electronic vehicles (EV).

The facility, which measures 2,650 square feet, is comprised of climate systems designed for comprehensive testing within an astonishing temperature range (as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit). Further, it includes three lithium ion-capable development chambers and large HEV/EVcapable battery cyclers, as well as the necessary equipment to facilitate battery system development in simulated vehicle environments. “Simply stated, the center will facilitate development of battery packs, as well as the testing of these packs, which will include vehicle environment simulations,” says Morley.

As Ricardo moves forward, it has partnered with several clients on major projects that have facilitated the advancement of system definition (which involves review of hybrid and electrical system requirements and determination of specific performance targets); battery management (i.e., testing and characterizing cells to determine control tactics for state-of-charge and state-of-health algorithms); battery pack design (for both complex thermal evaluation and detail packaging design); electronic hardware (e.g., hardware specification and design integral with battery pack for monitoring and control), and battery conditioning (which involves design and supply of both on-board circuit boards or off-board equipment with simultaneous monitoring of key parameters for control and data-logging).

That might sound complicated, but Ricardo PLC and Ricardo Inc. have everything under control. The global parent company, which has enjoyed sustained profits despite some of the most challenging market conditions ever to hit the worldwide auto industry, is well situated to address global energy concerns, such as efficient fuel usage and emission requirements as needs present themselves across continents. Diversification and globalization placed the company in this responsible position.