July 29, 2021 By Jeff Hojlo 4 min read

Guest blog by IDC blogger: Jeff Hojlo

Progress in the evolution of autonomous electric vehicles (EVs) has been relatively slow given the multiple layers of complexity that manufacturers and suppliers need to address. These complexities include the development of new technology and systems within the vehicle to ensure safety and quality, securing the management of and access to the data underlying the connected and autonomous operation of the vehicles, and the overall operating experience of owning and driving these new automobiles. There are also broader ecosystems and partnerships that must be in place to support EVs – from tier one suppliers of subsystems and parts to academic and industry research to smart cities that have broader electric charging infrastructures.

EV growth will accelerate through the combination of continuing incentives, availability of broader lineups of brands and models, and continued development of technology (batteries, plug-in hybrids, charging times, etc.), which will reduce consumers’ reluctance to consider an EV. A key aspect to this technology development is ecosystem collaboration to accelerate time to market and produce eco-friendly products in an environmentally sustainable way. In fact, 66% of discrete manufacturers plan to focus on environmental sustainability initiatives and metrics together with their partners, according to IDC’s Future of Industry Ecosystems 2021 global survey. Many consumers are waiting for technology and scale improvements in EV batteries that lower their costs/kWh and allow them to achieve greater cost parity with current internal combustion engines. Buyers also want to see more vehicle charging locations open up, making it easier to drive long distances.

From a development perspective, companies need to evolve their design and engineering processes to focus on delivering greater electrical content and improving the efficiency of the electric motors and battery subsystems. They also must consider the increasing importance of software. This new development perspective needs to embrace a holistic approach throughout the product life cycle to ensure visibility during the entire development process and seamless collaboration across mechanical, electrical, and software development teams.

Managing the complexity of developing the next-generation vehicles
There are converging technologies that will define the connected, electric, autonomous vehicle of tomorrow. Starting with the vehicle itself, there is a well-documented shift from a primary mechanical focus to a much greater software focus. This shift entails numerous challenges including managing the parallel development of the mechanical, electrical, and software systems in order to properly align and coordinate the release of a vehicle. Engineering teams need to embrace these new challenges and adapt engineering processes to meet them. The industry is ripe for the digital transformation of automotive engineering processes — a transformation that lays a digital foundation where information and data can be shared across teams and with ecosystem partners, providing full transparency and traceability in the product development life cycle.

This digital foundation will improve the flow of information enabling the digital and physical innovation required to successfully drive EV growth. Companies need to adopt an environment that promotes communication and collaboration to ensure all internal engineering teams as well as external teams (partners, suppliers) are working in sync and with a common purpose. According to IDC’s 2021 Product and Service Innovation Survey, the top focus area for engineering teams is to improve internal and external collaboration across the design, engineering, product management, manufacturing, supply chain, and service teams. The seamless flow of data (Figure 1) will help eliminate the miscommunication and misunderstandings that often lead to lower quality and required rework.

Figure 1. Harmonize the organization on a product innovation platform (Source: IDC 2021)

Given that electric and autonomous vehicles are introducing new technologies, many automotive OEMs are expanding their ecosystems of partners and suppliers. Managing these growing ecosystems will be yet another challenge unless a company adopts a holistic management approach to the engineering process that connects mechanical, electrical, and software development and can be extended to third-party design tools and teams. This challenge reinforces the need for a digital foundation that enables teams to share data across the design, development, and manufacturing processes, further facilitating coordination between all stakeholders.

Ensuring quality, compliance, and safety is critical when introducing new automotive technology
Developing new technology introduces unknowns. The engineering team is establishing new skills and processes, building new partnerships and relationships, and enforcing new compliance standards. Companies say that during this period it is often challenging to sustain the same quality standard, ensure all compliance and regulatory rules are enforced, and optimally manage the trade-offs between development timelines and safety testing. For many companies, this is a very stressful time. Success is often dictated by how well they manage their data. Do they maintain a single view of the truth across their entire development life cycle, and is that data available in custom reports and dashboards allowing stakeholders to see the current status of the development? Is the data readily accessible for all compliance and regulatory requests, and can it be leveraged by employees to make more intelligent and informed decisions during the development life cycle?

Autonomous vehicles will introduce the additional challenge of managing ongoing updates as the software that operates the vehicle is enhanced or patched. Development teams will no longer be able to close the books when the first vehicle leaves the manufacturing line. Development and testing will likely continue for the entire natural life of the vehicle.

EV manufacturers need to adopt a management environment that enables and enhances how they can use their development data not only during the original development of the vehicle but also throughout its entire operating lifespan.

Future next steps for product development processes
While the transition to electric and autonomous vehicles will be a significant challenge, it also represents a significant opportunity to evaluate how well the development environment is functioning. If an honest assessment identifies gaps, manual or one-off tools, or productivity or quality concerns, there may be no better time to strongly consider adopting an end-to-end, holistic management solution across the entire development environment. A holistic solution can establish a digital foundation that fosters better collaboration across respective stakeholders, streamlines compliance and regulatory adherence, supports existing or future third-party tool access, and helps engineering teams better manage the daily development processes.

Message from the Sponsor
One of the leading holistic solutions that provides a digital foundation for engineering development is IBM Engineering Lifecycle Management (ELM), which helps many of the largest engineering companies successfully compete in today’s marketplace. ELM is designed for adaptability and leverages the industry standard OSLC specification for data exchange. So, ELM not only provides the digital foundation needed to manage today’s increasingly complex projects but ‘future proofs’ your development environment with built in connectivity capability.

Hear Dr. Seigmar Haasis, CIO, Mercedes-Benz Cars R&D discuss how leading companies are embracing digital transformation in engineering.

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