Product Lifecycle Management a boon

Manufacturers are not alone in looking for ways to improve electrics/electronics (E/E) management.

When an automotive manufacturer marketing a range of brands decided to improve the management of its electronic control unit (ECU) software handling process from development through to field service, it had a number of objectives in mind.

The company wanted to replace ad hoc solutions and a variety of legacy systems, while simultaneously harmonizing workflows for the management of vehicle configuration changes, software distribution, and the management of workshop processes, such as calculations relating to repair operations.

Process harmonisation was combined with functional enhancements to make it possible to manage the vehicle software in a single IT system throughout the entire organisation, with a common distribution process for software components covering the entire product lifecycle.

This integrated approach helped the company master the complex task of managing the on-board vehicle electronics and software.

E/E and onboard software are highly complex, networked, fast changing and error-prone. To prevent development and test costs from mushrooming and rule out E/E related failures from the outset, rigorous processes and the associated IT support are required for E/E management.

This can help reduce development costs, increase product quality and accelerate innovations. Considering the product lifecycle as a unified whole (the “holistic view”) creates a consolidated IT landscape that minimises manual effort and potential errors. Development, manufacturing, sales and service all benefit from the increased product quality.

Addressing the Challenge of Complexity

Consider the complexity inherent in a typical manufacturer’s E/E environment: Up to 80 ECUs, networked over as many as five different bus systems.

Onboard software consisting of several million lines of code. Software that may be updated and enhanced on a monthly basis. Millions of possible configurations.

The growing complexity and the fast pace of E/E results in significant challenges for the automotive industry. For one thing, developers often have an incomplete view of the overall system and this causes co-ordination problems and errors.

In addition, ever larger amounts of data have to be distributed to plants and workshops, and faulty data can cause assembly line downtime. What is more, it is just not viable to test all the possible configurations.

The result: Approximately half of all vehicle breakdowns are caused by E/E problems.

To address the challenges posed by complexity, what is needed is a holistic view of E/E and mechanics throughout the entire product lifecycle.

This approach is called E/E PLM Integration and means managing E/E within a global product context incorporating, in particular, the management of mechanical parts.

This task involves special E/E processes such as compatibility management, the maintenance of message catalogues, the simulation and analysis of the interaction between the ECUs, together with software distribution for manufacturing and aftersales.

It also incorporates general Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) processes, including requirements management, change management, test management, document management and configuration management.

Lastly, it involves the integration of E/E with mechanics-related areas such as mechatronics (mechanics plus ECU) simulation, mechatronics validation and the mapping of software IDs to article codes.

An effective E/E PLM Integration solution must consider at least three categories: mechanical parts; E/E hardware (ECU hardware, sensors, actuators, wiring harness); and software (ECU software, coding data, characteristic curve data, activation codes).

There is a strong logical connection between ECU hardware and software; however, from a PLM point of view, ECU hardware can be handled analogously to mechanical parts. The real challenge is the integration of onboard software in PLM.

At first sight, the product development processes for software and mechanics appear to be very different. However, a more thorough analysis reveals analogous data and artefacts in the two processes and therefore makes it possible to exploit the synergies between them.

For example, change management for the source code and the CAD models should be aligned and synchronized to permit the optimised management of mechatronics changes.

However, there is also a major difference: In the software development process, there is no equivalent to the manufacturing bill of materials (MBOM).

This is because software is intangible and thus the amounts required for manufacturing do not need to be calculated. For instance, it is typically sufficient to distribute only one “part,” which can then be integrated in as many cars as required. Furthermore, there are no problems with end-of-life stock, disposal or recycling.

At the same time, software and data require complex configuration management. As a result, the main challenge in the integration of E/E and mechanics is not the unification of E/E hardware and mechanics (at least not as far as PLM is concerned). Instead, the challenge is to integrate the software with the other product categories.

To successfully implement E/E PLM, companies must overcome a number of hurdles. Available Product Data Management (PDM) systems are not yet ready for E/E and, consequently, the implementation of E/E PLM also involves the development and integration of custom components.

However, the extension capabilities of many PDM systems are not sufficiently versatile to permit easy integration. As a result, extension capabilities are a prime factor influencing product choice.

Furthermore, the implementation of a company-wide PLM solution requires discipline. Some operational departments have their own simple tools, based on Excel, Access and the like.

For the units in question, this is ideal because of the flexibility it gives them. However, it is not the optimum solution at the corporate level.

When a uniform company-wide PLM solution is implemented, departments such as these lose some of their flexibility.

Download the full approach to achieve E/E PLM integration.

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