The automotive sector is undergoing a major “who moved my cheese” moment. How can the traditional automotive firms accelerate development of their automobiles? What are the new technologies, processes and strategies they need to adopt? Here are some ideas…
Automotive companies across the world have adopted different digital technologies to accelerate product development and release products faster, cheaper and of better quality into the market. The vision to do rapid digital prototyping of solutions has resulted in large-scale use of technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing using 3D printing and generative design. Through these, the software program can learn the next move in the design process based on history and make helpful suggestions, thereby enabling companies to progress much faster in their businesses.
Technological disruption in the automotive space requires enhancements in:
Product Innovation Process Automation
1) Autonomous 1) Design, Simulation and Manufacturing
2) Electrification 2) Software and Systems Engineering
3) Shared mobility 3) IoT, Cloud and Data Analytics
4) V2X and V2I connectivity
In the future, Product Innovation and Process Automation are predicted to merge and have no boundaries to separate the advancements happening at both ends.
Addressing The Complexity
To realise the concept of remote design and manufacture, plants on the IT platform, V2X, V2I and more need to be developed in a very secure environment. The aim to develop cost-effective and customer-centric products should leave no room for compromising with quality. With so much to do, the complexity is surely going to increase.
But such complexity can be used for competitive advantage via developing a comprehensive digital twin. Digital twin over here does not just refer to the twin of the automotive product, but also of the plant where the assembly or manufacturing will take place. Once the vehicle is rolled out, people would want to check its performance with respect to its behaviour. Therefore the aim should be to deliver a personalised, adaptable and modern product.
Despite the design maturity, enhancements and improvements will continue to happen in the digital manufacturing world. Thus a flexible, open ecosystem also needs to be in place so that you can adopt any new technological changes with ease.
Requirements For Autonomous
With regards to autonomous driving, the key concerns are safety and comfort at all times. To clear away doubts, many major automotive companies have steadily begun pre-silicon verification and validation for efficient energy consumption, compute power, and security and safety. You too need to imbibe the same whilst the vehicle is in motion between different destinations in different scenarios.
Hyundai Mobis, an automotive company based out of South Korea actively performs simulations in virtual environments to check the behaviour of autonomous vehicles under different scenarios. Testing in a virtual environment drastically reduces huge amounts of time that is spent on gathering data in a real environment. This enables you to launch your autonomous vehicle (AV) quickly to the market while maintaining the vehicle’s safety aspects.
Secondly, complete system verification and validation should happen. Automotive companies during product development should comprehensively follow processes as defined by IEC 15288.
Thirdly, autonomous vehicle development should happen by keeping in mind the different traffic flow in each city. Therefore, you need to cater to such needs and at the same time also ensure how V2X and V2I communication can seamlessly occur.
Requirements For Electrification
When it comes to electrification, there are a lot of challenges to overcome. One is on the battery aspect. Although battery technologies are converging, it will take a couple of more years to fully develop them to meet electrification needs. Meanwhile, research is going on in cell chemistry with a heavy emphasis on electric powertrain design. As and when results are declared, you must leverage them to ensure the proper design of motors, inverters and converters.
The second aspect is the different electrical and electronics architecture required for vehicle design. This is a major part to improve upon because wires make up the architecture that carry different voltages at different temperatures.
Next is vehicle optimisation so that its energy management, noise vibration, aerodynamics etc. can be taken care of.
And finally, there is the electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing, which includes proper production of batteries and electric powertrains for ensuring your vehicle is lightweight and has an enhanced mileage per battery charge.
Additionally, when launching an EV, you need to ensure that the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) issues are adequately addressed. The reason is that, while in an ICE vehicle, all the traffic noise gets masked by the ICE engine noise, in an EV, the humming noise produced by the electric engine comes across to the passenger. So besides finding a way to mask that noise, an appropriate warning system should also be in place for alerting the pedestrian about an approaching EV (whose engine is known to produce very little noise to pedestrians).
Software and Systems Engineering
Along with mechanical, electronics or mechatronics components, a lot of embedded software goes into an EV. Unlike a typical PP or PPAP process that is followed for the mechanical and ICE engine vehicle development, the embedded software development follows the Agile Scrum methodology. So to manage the different binaries that go into different variants, everything from software requirements to writing the test cases needs to be tracked and managed. This ensures that all the test cases are executed, and the code, binary and feature get delivered for that particular vehicle.
For all of the above, life-cycle management consisting of Model-based Systems Engineering (MBSE) can be adopted, which follows a V-model of continuous verification and validation at each stage of designing.
Uniti, a Sweden-based automotive company specialising in the development of electric cars, uses digital twin technology to create not just its products but also its plant much before the production takes place. This approach helps in complete capacity utilisation, identifying the bottlenecks upfront in the plant, and understanding how humans and machines could together engage in manufacturing. Once the vehicle is rolled out, information through IoT applications is captured to ensure the vehicle performance meets expectations.
Accelerated Product Development
Generative Engineering: It is about how fast your system is going to learn and decide upon the next optimised steps that a designer should take. In short, it is engineering innovation with intelligent exploration.
Simulation: It emphasises on how you can front-load the simulation of a virtual product so that it behaves in a manner as in the real world.
Integration: Integrating your design with additive manufacturing ensures that whatever product you are designing can be printed across, even if it is a prototype of some critical part that is very difficult to manufacture on the shop floor.
Nissan Motor, a Japanese automobile manufacturer, has brought down its development cycle from 20 months to 10.5 months. After the vehicle release, nearly 80 per cent fewer problems have been recorded. On top of that, design changes that are typically done at a later stage on different variants of a particular vehicle have been reduced by 60 to 90 per cent.
Also referred to as Industry 4.0 or Dark Factory, it is nothing but mass production and customisation of products in the cyber-physical world.
Vehicle manufacturing, whether for ICE or electric can get impacted via:
Long term production planning and scheduling to identify which plants/factories have flaws and deciding what the operator will do on the shop floor. It also includes identification of issues due to variations in the tolerances or statistical reports.
Complete process validation in the virtual factory before going into the real physical factory. Any anomaly in the design process needs to be captured and sent to the manufacturing engineer for improvement.
Focus on increasing the execution velocity while gaining the prescriptive insights with respect to complete line monitoring, overall equipment effectiveness, reduced downtime and productive maintenance of tools.
On the same lines, making use of the IoT & analytics technology is a great addition. The simple definition of IoT is sensing the data and making sense of the data. It helps capture the required data, feed it to the cloud and then do a lot of analytics on that. Digitalisation is a tool with which automotive companies can survive the present. It also ensures that you overcome future challenges with regards to autonomous, connected, electrification and shared mobility.
Banking integrations for digital payments will play a crucial part in the entire autonomous and EV ecosystem deployment. Many city corporations across India are considering it and taking the help of OEMs to operate and manage particular fleets. This will enable passengers to pay through their smart cards while entering or getting down at their destination, say from a bus. Banking transactions will also be involved at different charging stations to calculate the amount of power that is taken from the grid.
Putting It All Together
The complexity in the automotive industry can be relaxed by leveraging digital twin technology and simulating the operation of the product and plant to get a competitive performance edge. Digitalisation enables personalisation as per your company’s and client’s business needs. The entire technology ecosystem is open so you can plug and play with different technologies. To incorporate the different yet evolving digital technologies in the manufacturing processes, especially for the automotive sector, one should be willing to learn, unlearn and relearn them as per requirements.
Rakesh Pandey is the Automotive Solutions Head at Siemens India. The article is based on the talk ”Accelerate Your Digital Future” held at Tech World Congress 2021, and has been prepared by Vinay Prabhakar Minj, Technology Journalist at EFY.