Piaggio and research and development

Anticipating customer requirements, creating products that are innovative in terms of their technology, style and functionality, pursuing research for a better quality of life are all fields of excellence in which the Piaggio Group excels, as well as a means for measuring its leadership position on the market.
The Piaggio Group develops these areas through research and development at 6 centres in Italy, India, Vietnam and China.  

In particular, the main objective of the Piaggio Group is to meet the most progressive needs for mobility, while reducing the environmental impact and consumption of its vehicles, guaranteeing their performance and levels of excellence. A constant focus is placed on research into vehicles that are at the forefront in terms of:

  • environmental credibility; products that can reduce pollutant gas and CO< emissions in town and out-of-town use; this is achieved by further developing traditional engine technologies (increasingly sophisticated internal combustion engines), as well as making more use of renewable, sustainable energy sources;
  • reliability and safety; vehicles that enable a growing number of users to get about town easily, helping to reduce traffic congestion and guaranteeing high standards of active, passive and preventive safety;
  • recyclability, i.e. products that minimise environmental impact at the end of their useful life cycle;
  • cost-effectiveness, vehicles with lower running and maintenance costs.

In this framework, Piaggio successfully submitted its MUSS (Safe and Sustainable Urban Mobility) project for the 2008 tender ("Industry 2015") called by the Ministry for Economic Development. The project, which commenced in April 2010, targets the development of innovative solutions for environmentally-friendly urban transport which is more sustainable.
During 2012, the experimental development stage of the MUSS project began, with many results having a tangible impact on production. In particular, the following results were achieved in the project's main macro areas:

  • The greatest contribution to reducing consumption and emissions was achieved by the optimisation of engine thermal fluid dynamics, with particular reference to the combustion process, as well as by a reduction in organic leaks and an improvement in the performance of the CVT transmission system. The new 125/150 three valve engines were further developed and optimised, with a specific version for the Vietnamese market focussing on consumption rather than performance.
  • Research on alternative fuel engines targeted biofuels, with particular reference to bioethanol.
  • Technical solutions for hybrid plug-in and electric engines were studied and developed, to improve the performance and reliability of electronic control and energy accumulation systems, and to achieve greater vehicle usability with smart autonomy management. The development of new 1.5 kWh modular (lithium) batteries was completed; a prototype comprising 4 batteries in parallel was produced and tested, studying its potential use up to 10 elements. Considerable focus was also paid to the regulatory framework at national and international level (Two-wheeler).
  • Numerical/experimental methodologies were developed in the field of engine acoustics and timbre, with the aim of designing intake and exhaust systems and engine components with acoustic emissions that are increasingly lower and "more pleasant”.
  • As part of weight reduction activities, calculation methodologies for structural optimisation were applied to the design of a new die-cast aluminium chassis (Moto Guzzi chassis) and also led to the development and manufacture of scooter wheel rims (Piaggio X10). Numerical/experimental activities also got underway to characterise the mechanical behaviour of scooter chassis welded joints.
  • During the second year of the project, aerodynamic simulation methodologies (CFD) were developed, with a detailed breakdown of engine components and the virtual rider model. The virtual simulation methodology was validated by comparative analysis of experimental data obtained in the wind tunnel at Perugia University. In attempting to improve and develop wind tunnel performance, a new configuration for the aerodynamic load balance was defined. A first release of the data acquisition software has been issued and instruments to display the wake have been implemented.
  • In the “Life Cycle Management” sector, Piaggio partnered Florence University in analysing the recyclability characteristics of the MP3 125 Hybrid according to ISO 22628:2002, which led to vehicle recoverability and recyclability indexes being calculated. Some vehicle components were also developed, to be moulded in PP/PE obtained from reusing post-consumption materials (Plasmix), and experimental tests were carried out following company standards.
  • In the field of active safety systems, studies and experiments led to ADD (Aprilia Dynamic Damping) semi-active electronic suspensions being used in the mass production of Guzzi (California 1400) and Aprilia (Caponord 1200) motorcycles. The ride-by-wire technology, which has been extended to most of the Group's vehicles, has enabled functions such as cruise control, multi-map systems and ATC (Aprilia Traction Control) to be implemented. An electrically adjustable suspension was developed for the Piaggio X10. An LED "light guide" headlight was also created for the X10, to increase vehicle visibility.
  • In the field of human-machine interface and on board information systems, the Piaggio Multimedia Platform info/mobility system, based on a Bluetooth® smartphone/vehicle connection, was made available to the public as an accessory for the Piaggio X10. The application software was released for iOS operating platforms and a version for Android platforms is being finalised. The system implements an innovative virtual pressure sensor function, available for vehicles with ABS, that lets the rider check tyre pressure. http://www.multimediaplatform.piaggio.com/eng/index.htm.  

Piaggio's research and development is strongly focussed on two main themes: developing engines that are even more environmentally friendly and with an even better performance, and vehicles with an improved functionality and safety.

  2012 2011
  Capitalised Expenses Total Capitalised Expenses Total
In millions of euro
Two-wheeler 30.0 16.2 46.2 30.1 27.0 57.1
Commercial Vehicles 10.5 2.9 13.3 8.2 3.2 11.4
Total 40.5 19.1 59.6 38.3 30.2 68.5
 
EMEA and Americas 21.9 17.2 39.1 20.8 21.2 42.0
India 12.4 1.1 13.5 14.8 8.1 22.9
Asia Pacific 2W 6.2 0.8 7.0 2.7 0.9 3.6
Total 40.5 19.1 59.6 38.3 30.2 68.5
 

In 2012, the Piaggio Group continued its policy of retaining technological leadership in the sector, allocating total resources of 59.6 million euro to research and development, of which 40.5 million euro capitalised under intangible assets as development costs.

Research into engines

The design and manufacture of engines is an activity with a high technological content requiring extremely specialised resources.

The Piaggio Group's engine research and development teams are unique in Europe, capable of developing an unrivalled range from 50 cc. to 1,400 cc., 2 or 4 stroke engines, with one or more cylinders, fuelled by petrol, diesel or natural gas, with carburettor, indirect or direct injection, and with continual drive, gears or sequential transmission, suitable for mopeds, scooters, motorcycles and light transport vehicles.

Engine research mainly focuses on high-performance, environmentally friendly products.
The new 350 4-stroke 4 valve water cooling engines for the GT - RA “premium” and “125 and 150 three valve” segments, unveiled in 2011, are concrete proof of this commitment. In particular, the latter embodies several technical solutions aimed at capping emissions and reducing internal friction. Emissions have been reduced by adopting a unique fluid dynamics design of the suction ducts and combustion chamber, creating a "tumble" motion of the inflowing air/fuel mix that makes it possible to improve thermodynamic performance. An in-depth study was carried out to decrease internal friction (lubrication, use of roller rocking levers, roller bearings etc.) which produced outstanding results in terms of reduction and consumption.

In recent years the most cutting-edge effort to reduce environmental impact has definitely been the development of the 125 Hybrid engine in 2009. This innovation uses a hybrid powerplant combining an ultra-modern internal combustion engine with electronic injection and an electric motor. The integrated management of two powerplants improves overall vehicle performance and drastically reduces pollutant emissions. For several years now, the 125cc model has been joined by the 300 Hybrid version.

In 2011 a new modular battery with 30% higher capacity was developed for two-wheeler applications. UL safety certification is currently underway for the battery and battery charger.

The development for new 1.5-kWh modular batteries is also currently at an advanced stage.

In further pursuing the goal of zero emissions, 2011 saw the official unveiling of the Liberty e-mail at the EICMA Exhibition. It is the electric version of the agile and lightweight Liberty that is already a part of the delivery fleet of institutions and companies in more than ten countries. Over 60,000 Liberty vehicles are used, among others, by the French, Spanish, Austrian, Swiss and Italian postal services. Liberty e-mail has a new, advanced 2.6 kW electric motor with a range of up to 70 km, namely a performance that is in line with that of the best 50cc 4-stroke, 4 valve combustion engines while ensuring zero pollutant and noise emissions. The Liberty e-mail has a spacious rear trunk, a front carrier to carry the mailbag and documents and a large windshield. The graphic design can be customised with the colours and logos of the institution or company. Sale started with the delivery of the first lots to various European postal services.

Innovation and safety

The Group's research and development into vehicles mainly focuses on new solutions to improve customers' quality of life.

The Group's product range, including vehicles, is extensive, from scooters to light transport vehicles, from small engine motorcycles to super sports and racing bikes, from touring to custom bikes, and from small scooters to GT models.

In European cities, two-wheeler vehicles are a practical solution to individual mobility needs and can help reduce traffic congestion, while guaranteeing good levels of safety and comfort, plus considerably lower consumption and emission levels.

The Group is therefore committed at all times to improving safety systems (braking systems, suspension systems and electronic dynamics management) and to identifying new architectural solutions through new product formulas, and aerodynamic and ergonomic analysis.

Piaggio continued to focus on improving the active safety of its products in 2012, extending ABS and ASR to other Group vehicles. The ABS/ASR version of the new Piaggio X10 350 and 500 features a combined, three channel ABS system, which is a first-time application for the Group's scooters, plus ASR electronic traction control. This function has also been developed for and assembled on the Aprilia SRV 850 maxi scooter with twin cylinder engine.

Improvements in the field of suspensions has resulted in the application of an electrically adjustable rear suspension system on the X10. The system lets the rider easily adjust the rigidity of the suspension system to load/road conditions and riding style, from the handlebar controls, for even better active safety.
Another new safety feature is the "virtual pressure sensor" installed on the PMP system to monitor tyre conditions (pressure and wear), and ensure optimal performance.

As part of its research work on preventive safety and dynamics, Piaggio's most ambitious objective is the study and development of new product concepts, such as three- and four-wheeler tilting vehicles that guarantee an unprecedented stability even on wet or uneven road surfaces, and shorter stopping distances compared to conventional scooters. The benchmark in this sector is the tilting three-wheeler Piaggio MP3, which went on sale in 2006.
These new concepts, in addition to other safety devices, can achieve active and passive safety levels on a par with car manufacturing standards, whilst retaining all the benefits of two-wheeler vehicles in terms of size, emissions and consumption.

Piaggio has always played a major role in European projects to improve the safety and comfort of motorcyclists.
During 2012, in the third year of the VERITAS project, Piaggio worked on the development of a predictive model for the ergonomic analysis of two-wheeler vehicles, based on anthropometric measurements and scooter and motorcycle posture surveys, also on a sample of older users. The results were used to develop a software programme for ergonomic controls during new vehicle configuration. Tests on the software's usability in Vehicle Design are now being run. Easy access functions have been designed for man-vehicle interfaces and are planned for installation on the Piaggio Multimedia Platform, after testing. 

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