The automotive landscape has under-gone a revolution in technology demands in the last two decades. Today, automakers can integrate cutting edge silicon chips, space and energy efficient electronics, and powerful software into their vehicles. As a result, differentiation in the modern automotive industry is no longer derived from mechanical and physical design, but by the vehicle features and functionality that embedded chips, electronics, and software deliver. Analogizing today's vehicles to 'smartphones on wheels’ has never been closer to reality.
This fundamental shift in the automotive market, in concert with other megatrends such as vehicle electrification, is creating a new competitive landscape for automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Automakers must launch innovative products faster to capture market share earlier, or fall behind. To keep up with these aggressive demands, they must also develop new technologies faster and more cost effectively, as well as with less budget and fewer resources. In other words, the mandate for automakers today is to “do more with less — faster.”
Renewed Focus on Time-to-Market
While getting products to market quickly has always been important, new factors are accelerating the pace of innovation today and in the future. Technology advances are occurring faster than ever to keep up with CO2 reduction mandates, customer demands for new features, and the transition to electric powertrains. A key challenge for automotive OEMs is to support the development of new and complex products on accelerated timelines. At the same time, competition from legacy automakers and new entrants is on the rise, adding more pressure for automakers to reduce their time-to-market.
To illustrate the complexity being faced by today's engineering and product development teams, consider just the definition process for a new electric vehicle (EV). It starts with the specification of design requirements, which may come from a variety of sources, and constrain the design space.
Requirements for an EV may come from technical specifications, such as a minimum target drive range per charge; market research, specifying the target price range or highly desirable features; manufacturing, identifying materials to be used and appropriate production processes; or from the strategic or legal perspective, ensuring that the vehicle meets the regulatory standards of key markets around the world.
Each of these requirements must be captured and cascaded throughout the vehicle development lifecycle and to all relevant teams. Then, companies must find a way to track these requirements, ensuring that a new vehicle design meets these specifications. As the number and complexity of vehicle requirements grows, automakers are attempting to develop processes and products that support the numerous and interdependent requirements of a modern vehicle program. Failure to achieve this in an efficient and systematic manner can put a company on the back foot, slowing down the entire development process and consuming resources.
Automotive companies are seeking ways to elevate the efficiency of their processes to address these mounting challenges. The most critical area of improvement is in the reduction or elimination of waste — of material, time, and money — throughout the vehicle development lifecycle. Vehicle design, testing, and manufacturing processes should become frictionless, from the initial concept definition to production and infield service. Of course, automakers have long sought ways of reducing or eliminating waste and interruptions in their product development processes. At Sie-mens, we have found that the solution to this challenge is to rethink the product development process, embracing digitalization to enable faster and more innovative vehicle design.
Digitalization, or digital transformation, offers key benefits to automotive OEMs developing the vehicles of tomorrow. First, it establishes connections between previously siloed teams or departments and the entire automotive supply chain, eliminating data flow problems and reducing mistakes or miscommunications. New connections and increased collaboration also ensure that mistakes, inconsistencies, and other issues are identified and resolved more quickly when they do occur. Digitalization also opens the possibilities of virtual design verification and validation early in the development lifecycle to drive optimizations and ensure the satisfaction of requirements. It can also integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into product development to help engineers generate cutting-edge designs and concepts faster than ever.
A Digitalized Approach
So, what does this entail? There are three key elements to accelerating product development through digitalization. First, companies should focus on integrating the next generation of design, simulation, and lifecycle management technologies into their product development processes. Traditional processes and methods are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges and complexities of modern vehicles. Development processes must grow and adapt along with the rapid advancement of vehicle technology.
One of these advanced design technologies is known as generative design. Generative design uses AI and machine learning to develop new design concepts in a time-efficient manner, while satisfying the requirements for a given part. Generative engines can quickly produce multiple design alternatives that all meet requirements, while optimizing for certain parameters. Engineers can then select the best option for the application.
Second, it's critical to underpin the entire product lifecycle with strong data analytics and a powerful product lifecycle management solution. This element helps to organize and offer deeper insights into the development lifecycle. The data management capabilities of a modern PLM solution ensures that information is provided to the right stakeholders at the right time to efficiently progress through each stage of development. Analytics and the ability to capture lessons from the past creates a closed loop of development, analysis, and improvement for following generations of vehicles.
Third, automakers should ramp up the use of virtual verification and validation technologies. In a traditional vehicle development process, a physical prototype is constructed to meet the current design specification. This prototype is tested to verify and validate that the design meets requirements, and to root out unforeseen issues or problems in the design for remediation. After testing, the design is iterated to resolve any problems, and the testing process is repeated. This cycle continues until the vehicle satisfies all requirements.
In today's fast-paced and competitive environment, this process is both too slow and too expensive. But, with the capabilities of next-generation design, engineering, and simulation software tools, automakers can shift much of this physical testing to the virtual world, where it is faster and more cost-effective to complete early testing and evaluation. Modern solutions can even perform cross-attribute optimization in the concept phase to help engineers narrow in on optimal design choices based on vehicle requirements. These capabilities ensure that vehicle designs are more mature when the time for physical testing, verification, and validation arrives, reducing the number of physical testing cycles required, thus eliminating waste from the development process.
A Faster Future for Automotive
By beginning a digital transformation, automotive companies can eliminate waste and accelerate their product development processes to deliver more exciting and innovative products on aggressive schedules, all while consuming fewer resources and less budget. Companies can begin the process of digitalization by, first, taking a holistic view of their product development processes, from concept to product development, manufacturing, service, and to the end of life.
With this holistic perspective, companies can establish their goals, targets, and current pain points to determine an order of priority for digitalization efforts. Then, the business can evaluate and define solutions based on their ability to bring the organization closer to achieving its goals while also remedying pain points in current processes.
Despite growing complexity, heightened competition, and shrinking time-to-market across the industry, automotive companies can continue to thrive tomorrow by embracing digitalization today. Such efforts offer not only faster, but also more efficient development processes. In addition, through advanced design technologies and more seamless collaboration, digitalization fosters the development of the innovative and exciting new features and vehicle designs which customers have come to expect. With such capabilities at hand, the future of the automotive industry is as bright as ever.
This article was written by Nand Kochhar, Vice President of Automotive and Transportation Strategy, Siemens Digital Industries Software (Plano, TX). For more information, visit here .