Interview With Gregory Peterson, Senior Technical Specialist At Lotus Engineering

Originally published on EV Tech Expo.

In the first of the 2016 speaker spotlight interviews, Conference Director Mindy Emsley caught up with Gregory Peterson of Lotus Engineering ahead of his talk at the Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Conference. Light-weighting, reducing cost and selecting materials are just three of the issues discussed during the quick-fire interview.

Gregg is a Senior Technology Specialist working at Lotus Engineering. His responsibilities include lightweight architectures, transferring emerging technologies into commercial opportunities and program management. He has led numerous light-weighting programs for automotive and non-automotive applications. These include aerospace, military, commercial vehicles and agriculture, as well as government-funded studies used for developing future US fuel economy standards.

His experience includes plastics and composites, ferrous and multi-material structures, chassis design and development, electronic control systems, powertrain, aerodynamics, thermal systems and electrical power generation. He has been involved in hybrid and electric vehicle engineering for over 20 years. Gregg holds numerous patents in multidisciplinary fields. He has been published by SAE, IMechE, the International Appliance Technical Conference and Purdue University. Gregg is a member of the Ohio State University External Advisory Board for their Center for Automotive Research, and is the Lotus liaison for NASA.

ME: Mindy Emsley

GP: Gregory Peterson

ME: Tell us about your role as Senior Technical Specialist at Lotus Engineering; what are your key focus areas and responsibilities?

GP: My key focus areas include lightweight design, material selection, manufacturing, joining and assembly. I work with a wide variety of companies, government agencies and universities to ensure that Lotus is at the leading edge of technology. My roles include directing the engineering of customer programs to create lightweight, cost-effective solutions as well as transferring emerging technologies into commercial products.

ME: What are the key challenges and opportunities you currently face?

GP: The key challenges are creating lightweight solutions that are cost effective. Some of our programs start out with an order of magnitude material cost disadvantage. By holistically considering every aspect of the design, including how it would be manufactured and assembled, we have created commercially viable ultralight products.

ME: What would you say most excites you about your role?

GP: The most exciting part of my role is the wide variety of challenges our customers bring to us every day. There are very few positions where you are responsible for engineering innovative designs for not only the transportation industry but also for the military, heavy truck and bus, energy, agriculture, aerospace and most recently, the oil and gas sector.

ME: Is there a common thread that connects these diverse industries relative to your involvement?

GP: The common element that connects these seemingly unrelated industries is the need to reduce weight. Lotus’s experience with engineering affordable, 2,000 lb sports cars translates well into assisting companies with a long history of engineering ferrous intensive products to reduce mass in a cost-effective manner.

ME: What are the key manufacturing technologies and trends that you think will have the biggest impact on the automotive sector, both in the near and longer term?

GP: Additive manufacturing is at the top of my list for long-term impact on the automotive industry. The ability to build essentially production parts almost overnight without tooling using ferrous, non-ferrous and composite materials is an engineer’s dream. AM parts are already in production on several turbine engines; 3D printing combines multiple parts into a single unit and eliminates tooling, jig fixtures, joining and assembly and this allows them to be cost effective in numerous applications today. Additionally, it provides complete design freedom; there are no functional compromises due to the need for draft or because of tooling limitations. Other key manufacturing technologies include using extruded or pultruded parts to replace stampings and to eliminate welding by using structural adhesives. Lotus has been building cars using extrusions and riv-bonding for several decades. The advantages of an extrusion intensive, bonded structure include greatly reduced tooling costs, integrated structural ribbing, 100% flange joining (increases stiffness) and no reduction in parent material strength that occurs as a result of welding. Lightweight is an obvious advantage; the Lotus Elise/Exige chassis weighs about 150 pounds. There has never been a single field issue with this low mass platform, despite the fact that the power level has been tripled over the years and that these cars typically spend a lot of time putting smiles on the faces of their owners at near peak-load conditions on race tracks.

ME: What are some of your key sources for emerging technologies?

GP: OEMs can’t exist if they aren’t profitable. R&D is an expensive, long-term process that doesn’t contribute to near-term bottom lines. For example, when I worked at General Motors, our R&D programs were 10-to-15 years ahead of production. As a result, OEMs rely more and more on suppliers for new technologies as opposed to innovating internally because of the expense and the risk. My recent experience for hardware has been that national labs, universities, and other government agencies are significant drivers of new technology. High potential ideas from these sources are licensed to private-sector companies for commercialization. As an example, Ohio State University has recently transferred several internally developed innovations into the private sector, one for inexpensively processing low-carbon steel to create weldable and formable ultra-high-strength steel and two other new technologies for forming and for joining. NASA is an incredible asset for US automotive suppliers; they have developed a wide range of significant technologies that are being de-classified. This includes everything from light-as-air (almost) aerogels to extremely sophisticated software designed to autonomously keep Mach 2 fighters safe from ground/mountain strikes. These innovations are now in the public domain and NASA has created user-friendly agreements to simplify the transfer process.

ME: Following the lead of the aerospace industry, automotive OEMs are increasingly using a variety of more exotic materials to lower cost and improve the performance of their products. Which materials are you currently working with and why do you think they are gaining traction in hybrid and electric vehicle designs?

GP: We are doing a lot of carbon-fiber-based designs for a variety of surprising (and confidential) applications. I’ll be speaking about why carbon fiber has the potential to play an important role in the design of alternative powertrain equipped vehicles.

EVT_CONF-300x250ME: We’re looking forward to hearing you present, but what are you most looking forward to about the show this year?

GP: I’m looking forward to seeing the technical and financial advancements made over the last year in this important and rapidly accelerating field.

You can hear more from Gregory Peterson on September 13, 2016 when he will speak on the following session at the Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Conference: 3:45 PM Technology Transfer from Aerospace to Electric Vehicles

This post was generously sponsored by The Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Conference.

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