Model-based design: Driving innovation in the off-highway industry

  • 19-Jul-2010 11:57 EDT

Sameer Prabhu, Industry Marketing Director, MathWorks

During an economic downturn, it is tempting to manage for survival and simply wait for a recovery. Competitive order, however, can change dramatically during a recession, and seizing that opportunity requires companies to renew their focus on innovation rather than looking for ways to reduce R&D activities.

In the off-highway industry, one of the key factors driving innovation over the past two decades has been the increased adoption of electronics and electrohydraulic systems. This increased adoption, in turn, has been driven both by legal requirements, including stricter engine emissions standards and sound emissions regulations, and customer demand for increased performance and novel productivity features.

The use of electronics and the embedded software that controls the electronics has also fostered innovation in automatic diagnostics features, which increase machine uptime and enable a broad range of safety features such as interlocks. As a result, the complexity of software used to control various onboard systems and simplify operator interactions with the machine is growing rapidly. Moreover, the embedded software is becoming a key differentiator for these machines.

Going forward, MathWorks and others believe that regulatory requirements will likely only become more restrictive. (In the U.S. the EPA’s Tier 4 emissions standards currently being phased in are just one example of stricter requirements.) Likewise, customer demands for increased functionality and lower costs will continue to increase.

To fulfill these requirements and meet these demands, off-highway manufacturers will have to continue to drive innovation in their products. New products and capabilities will spur corporate growth, and improvements in the product development processes will reduce wasteful activities and increase overall efficiency.

For off-highway companies around the world, the impact of these trends can be seen in several recurring themes.

First, the machine systems that are being developed are more complex and they are performing more functions than ever before.

Second, the key to fully realizing the benefits of these machine systems—for both the customer and machine manufacturer—is integrating the individual onboard electronic systems to form a so-called system of systems. This system-of-systems approach is facilitating the move toward autonomous vehicles, such as agricultural machines that drive without input from the machine operator.

Third, the development of these machine systems often requires an intense collaborative effort of engineering teams that span multiple disciplines, numerous geographically distributed locations, and several companies in the supply chain.

Developing the embedded software for sophisticated machines that rely on complex interactions between mechanics, hydraulics, electronics, and software is a difficult task in itself, but the difficulty is compounded by the challenges of collaborating across companies and across locations.

Traditional development processes are unable to fully address this increasing system complexity, while simultaneously shortening time to market and meeting customer demands for more functionality and higher quality. In moving beyond these traditional processes, many off-highway manufacturers have increased their use of mathematical models and simulations in their machine development process by adopting model-based design.

With model-based design, engineers create and use models in the early design stages instead of relying on paper specifications. The models serve as executable specifications of the machine that enable engineers to validate and verify specifications against the machine requirements early in the process. Engineers also use the models to communicate specifications in an unambiguous manner with their colleagues who may be working just down the hall or at another company across the globe.

Further, these multidomain models allow the machine designer to evaluate the complex interactions between mechanics, hydraulics, electronics, and other physical phenomena. Designers can perform rapid design iterations to make system-level trade-offs between various design parameters and optimize overall machine performance, enabling engineers to try innovative ideas and concepts for improving machine performance without the significant investment in time and resources that hardware-focused development processes require.

When the models are instrumented and linked to requirements, simulation results can be used to formally verify machine behavior against documented requirements. By enabling rapid evaluation of innovative concepts and designs, model-based design helps teams find and fix errors early in the process, when the cost and effort needed to fix them is lowest.

Once the engineers have verified and validated the model specification, they can implement the design by automatically generating code in a range of languages including C, C++, HDL, or Structured Text for PLC implementation. The use of models makes it easy to separate the data and implementation attributes from the core algorithms. This is particularly helpful, when the implementation target changes.

For an example, when switching from an embedded processor to a PLC, the software code can be quickly regenerated from the same model using the appropriate data and implementation attributes for the PLC. Thus, the model serves as the golden reference for the software and can be reused across machines and development programs, which further improves the efficiency of the development process.

Once the production software is automatically generated, the test cases and machine system models can also be reused for testing the generated code via software-in-the-loop, processor-in-the-loop, and hardware-in-the-loop simulations. The use of automatic code generation technology reduces errors introduced during hand coding, shortens product delivery times, and improves the efficiency of the development process.

In terms of improving efficiency of the product development process, off-highway companies have reported reductions in development time of more than 50% by using model-based design. Another related measure used by many organizations is the dollar cost of developing the lines of code (LOC) on the production embedded system. A large commercial vehicle manufacturer saw a reduction of approximately 70% in the dollars per LOC for their production off-highway machine over the traditional approach.

In an industry marked by the need for constant innovation, model-based design can help companies seize the opportunities available in today’s economic climate by designing, implementing, testing, and delivering innovative off-highway machine systems that meet new regulatory requirements and exceed customer expectations.

Sameer Prabhu, Industry Marketing Director, MathWorks, wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.

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