Lifecycle management tools help as more complex modules interact

  • 11-Sep-2012 05:15 EDT
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When vehicle electronics communicate externally, data management must improve so engineers can finish complex, interdependent systems.

As the number of electronic functions on vehicles soars, engineers are increasingly linking them together to provide more sophisticated functionality without increasing the number of modules. As these modules work together in a more holistic fashion, it’s becoming more challenging to ensure that all the functions and interactions are integrated efficiently with high reliability.

Over the past few years, functions such as electronic stability control have relied on many subsystems to provide improvements in safety and other areas. That’s placing a greater emphasis on the need to manage design software, which is increasingly created and shared by multiple sites located in different regions.

All these design teams must be working closely together as more modules interact. The synergistic relationship between modules is even extending beyond the vehicle. The growth of telematics adds external servers to the mix.

“Sync 911 requires coordinated operations between the restraints module, the driver information module, and cloud computing,” said Chris Davey, Senior Technical Leader at Ford. “Adaptive cruise control links six modules.”

He added that the close interaction is expanding. There are 103 dependencies in the mechanical domain, rising to 105 in the software domain and 106 when on-board and off-board systems communicate.

A different set of dependencies and relationships occur when these systems are being designed. At Ford, engineers in different groups use a range of software tools from multiple vendors such as dSpace, MathWorks, and Vector.

Most of the time, data flows freely between these programs, which are often linked under product lifecycle management tools. Ford uses tools from Siemens PLM to manage data throughout its global design network.

These tools help ensure that files are synchronized regardless of where they are created or used. PLM software eliminates many of the incompatibilities that occur when data moves from one software environment to another. Still, Davey noted that some compatibility issues still arise as data moves from initial design through to manufacturing setup and production.

“Data translation is always a challenge. Standards help, but there’s always a question of which version of the standard someone is using,” Davey said.

A larger issue is ensuring that engineers can quickly access the data they need. The shift to model-based design has helped make information more accessible and understandable, but the complexity of many components and subsystems can make it difficult for engineers to see how changes in one component will impact all the related elements in a section of a system design.

“We’re doing a lot with model-based design, but models can get complicated, with 2000-3000 data points,” Davey said. “We need to be sure engineers can drill down and see all the parameters they need. They also need to be able to do decomposition and see the dependencies between elements.”

These developers are often located in many geographic regions, so they’re storing data in many places. It’s important that all of them can share data and get to the latest version of a design.

“There needs to be one source of the truth so all the teams can be working on the same technology. Having the right framework is critical,” Davey said. “We need to be able to retrace steps easily. We also need to have a single database for hardware and software. We’re using Siemens Teamcenter PLM software for a lot of this.”

This change comes as more automakers and suppliers use more global design teams, forcing automakers to pay close attention to the way they manage data. One of the key factors is to ensure that when changes are made, all parties are working on the latest iteration of a design.

“We can do tradeoffs analysis to help us make decisions like determining whether to use a centralized or distributed architecture,” Davey said. “When we revise or repartition something, we need to move all the components in a coherent fashion.”

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