Day Twelve: Some Delphi(ne) Engineering

At Delphi ICE, we met Dr. Han, the head of the branch and an alumnus of the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt. Dr. Han completed his PhD. of Mechanical Engineering under Dr. Slaughter in only two years, deriving equations to describe dynamic behavior at micromechanical levels. While he says that he doesn’t think that his doctoral studies provided him any direct benefits, Dr. Han believes that it improved his thinking and problem-solving abilities. After leaving school, Dr. Han did engineering work for a few years before being employed as a translator for the head of sales at Delphi. Eventually Dr. Han was so good at his job of translating sales pitches, that he began his job as a salesman. While I thought it was funny that one of the first engineers we met on our company visits was now working in business, he was still able to provide some valuable information on his company and the trends of car manufacturing in China.

Delphi was once the components division of General Motors, but split off in the 90s to focus on manufacturing power trains, from combustion engines to electric motors. Dr. Han says that the Chinese government is driving forward innovation in this field, but it has some unintended side effects. For example, China doesn’t subsidize the electric vehicle market, instead, they place requirements on car manufacturers by requiring that for every six vehicles built, one needs to be an electric vehicle. To get around this, many companies have made those required electric vehicle models very small, very cheap, and very ugly. The Chinese market is now at two extremes in the electric vehicle market, with higher end cars such as the Tesla on one end, and these government mandated cars on the other. The price of the battery is the main bottleneck for widespread implementation of electric vehicles, with the battery accounting for a third to a half of the total price of the car. Many cars in China will however be switching to hybrid vehicles as China continues to tighten their environmental restrictions.

Following Dr. Han’s talk, we were taken on a tour through the Delphi laboratories where motors and vehicles are tested for emissions and quality in a number of simulation machines. Delphi tests their components in conditions from temperature shock, to heavy vibrations, to pressure cycling. A majority of their work seemed to be mechanical engineering, so I was fascinated, but also in a little bit over my head when trying to understand some of the machinery and testing procedure. Overall it was an incredibly interesting visit and it felt good to have a company visit almost purely focused on engineering.

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Our second company visit of the day was a visit to Shanghai’s branch of the American Chamber of Commerce, or AmCham. They provided us with a very in depth look at what their nonprofit company does for American businesses. They also described how business in China looks right now, and how it’s expected to change in the coming years. They had a unique perspective because AmCham works closely with the government to try and introduce favorable legislation, and they were therefore much more knowledgeable about the government’s plans for the future, even if the Communist Party’s five-year plans are often “intentionally vague” in the early years.

For dinner, a large group of us went out to get dim sum with Lilliana, as it would be her last day with us before she had to return to her school to take her final exams as a senior. We had some delicious foods, including some sweet buns filled with a creamy yellow liquid, and hot pear tea. It was a bittersweet dinner, since we would eventually have to say goodbye, but it was a good meal all the same.

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