Auto Electronics

Vehicle Thermal Management Systems are Getting Smarter, Better

One key to significant advances in fuel economy, emissions reduction, and powertrain performance lies within a single area of the vehicle — the thermal management system. Electronics and new technologies are now playing a greater role in cooling vehicles and delivering results that are hard to ignore.

Traditional mechanical cooling systems rely on an engine-driven water pump, a restrictive thermostat, and a radiator — all of which add considerable weight and consume vehicle power. While these mechanical systems have met basic cooling needs for several decades, the pace of change for vehicle thermal management is about to heat up.

Sophisticated new cooling systems, developed by industry partners such as Dana Corporation, enable the internal combustion engine to operate at higher temperatures with far greater efficiency. The innovations also provide more precise thermal management required for fuel cell and hybrid powertrain systems.

These new “smart” cooling sub-systems feature rapidly evolving technologies such as high-performance electric water pumps, including Dana's new family of Intelligent Cooling pumps; multiport, proportional flow control valves to replace the thermostat; speed-controllable cooling fans; smart cylinder head gaskets with embedded temperature sensors; and system control units.

Electric cooling pumps reduce engine parasitic power loss by varying the coolant flow rate independent of the engine's speed. This improves powertrain performance in demanding low-speed, high-load operating conditions, including up-hill trailer towing or off-road driving. It can also provide heat soak protection and continue cooling — even after the engine is shut down.

Dana's new brushless Intelligent Cooling pumps deliver between 3% to 5% enhanced fuel economy, while further lowering the environmental impact by reducing emissions.

These significant benefits are achieved as more accurate thermal management enables engines to reach optimum operating temperatures faster, increasing combustion efficiency. In addition to engine cooling, the Intelligent Cooling pumps range is suitable for charge air circuit circulation for increased performance, hybrid vehicle powertrain cooling, and thermal management for fuel-cell systems.

These newer cooling technologies — the electric pumps, valves, and speed-controlled fans — can all be controlled through pump-mounted processors, or the three functions can be run through the vehicle's electronic control unit.

To deliver input to the control unit, Dana has developed a cylinder head gasket with embedded temperature sensors to provide real-time thermal data. This technology has excellent correlation and response speed to temperature changes, even in the hottest areas of the engine.

After a long period of stability, powertrains are now rapidly evolving, and thermal management systems are adapting to keep pace. The performance, efficiency, and environmental benefits provided by enhanced thermal-management technologies are compelling. These advantages will no doubt become even more crucial as environmental regulations continue to increase, along with consumer demands for more fuel-efficient vehicles.


Heinz-Ubbo Eilks is an executive vice president, business development and technology, Dana Corporation. He is also responsible for the total portfolio development of engine and fluid-related products. Eilks earned master's degrees in economics and engineering from the Technical University of Berlin. He has also completed the Dana Executive Development Program.

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