Engineers examine software's impact on automotive industry

  • 13-Oct-2011 02:34 EDT
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Where 61% believe there was a great deal or some reuse five years ago, 88% believe so now, and 94% believe there will be five years from now.

In today’s automotive industry, companies are faced with pressure in many forms—the pressure to lower cost, reduce cycle times, and ensure high quality—to name a few. The pressure to innovate is also greater than ever. New powertrain, safety, and infotainment technologies are all heavily dependent on software to function. Many of today’s vehicles include more than 100 million lines of embedded software code. While offering incredible opportunities for innovation, software also increases complexity and risk.

As the amount and complexity of software in vehicles continues to grow, OEMs and suppliers are recognizing the importance of software engineering as a method to address the challenges of software development in the automotive industry. Change management and requirements management systems, as well as version control and configuration management tools, are some of the ways companies are addressing these challenges. Stand-alone and coupled suites of tools can also pose their own risks and challenges, such as a lack of traceability across entities in the repositories, limited reuse, process and information silos, and a lack of support for cross-domain product line management.

To evaluate how software is changing the face of product delivery into the market, a survey recently went out to SAE International-member engineers and managers. The online survey was conducted in August 2011 by Signet Research Inc., an independent research company.

When asked to rate the importance of software in a variety of areas, the nearly 500 respondents selected innovation, hybrid/electric vehicles, and safety as the top three areas, with 97% rating innovation as “very important” or “important.”

Respondents selected the pressure to reduce cycle times, achieve high levels of quality and innovation, and the volume and complexity of software as the top three issues currently being faced in their software development work.

The amount of software content in products is growing at an intermediate rate, according to 49% of respondents, while 39% believe there is high software growth in the automotive industry, faster than other technologies. While 85% of respondents indicate growth of software content in their products over the last several years, more than one-third (36%) indicate that it increased dramatically.

More than 40% of respondents indicated that they use different tooling for managing systems, software, and hardware requirements, which is causing issues with managing change and traceability, while 38% said they use different technologies to manage systems, software, and hardware requirements and are not experiencing any problems.

Within a project, traceability enables upstream impact analysis to requirements or customer requests and downstream traceability to defects or development tasks. While finding and fixing a defect in one device is good, having it surface in a dozen others that make use of the same component can have a profound impact on a business. A lack of traceability can result in errors, rework, risk to quality, and significant manual effort.

While 39% of respondents rated the current level of traceability across data repositories and the entire product life cycle as “good,” 42% rated it as “fair” or “poor.” When asked to rate the importance of traceability in a variety of areas, improving quality, reducing errors, and eliminating rework were the top three selections, with 92% of respondents rating those areas as “very important” or “important.”

With today's automotive engineering activities distributed across the globe, collaboration is an area of critical importance. Systems and processes that are not efficiently implemented can result in longer development cycles and increased costs, and the lack of coordination between teams creates significant overhead, redundancy, and waste.

While only 49% of respondents believed there was some level of collaboration between software groups five years ago, 92% believe there is some collaboration now. That number is expected to climb to 96% five years from now. Collaboration is a bigger problem when collaborating with external software groups, according to 79% of respondents.

Making the right decisions at the right time and ensuring product quality are dependent on real-time visibility into release readiness of features, software components, and systems. Process and information silos across an organization reduce visibility and obscure the impact and cost of change, leading to reduced productivity and a negative effect on product quality.

Today, there is currently some or great visibility into product status across organizations, according to 92% of respondents, while only 59% believe that was the case five years ago. That number will continue to increase five years from now, according to 96% of respondents.

Reuse of development assets is one of the most important strategies for improving quality and increasing productivity. Reuse can lead to lower development costs and shorter delivery schedules, better reliability and reduced maintenance costs, and increased productivity as a result of not constantly resolving the same technical problems.

Reuse comes with its own management challenges, however, and development and testing organizations need reliable ways to manage the development, assembly, and ongoing use of software components.

While 92% of respondents agree somewhat or completely that reuse of development assets leads to improved quality and productivity, 85% believe reuse can have a negative impact on quality and productivity when not properly implemented. The level of reuse is sharply on the rise, according to respondents. Where 61% believe there was a great deal or some level of reuse five years ago, 88% believe so now, and 94% believe there will be five years from now.

The independent research that served as the basis for this feature was underwritten by PTC.

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