Electric Vehicles (EVs) are not new to the industry but their rapid growth in the recent past is redefining the transportation industry of the future. EV focuses on delivering user experience and not just addressing the core needs of transportation. Hence the complexity to manage the requirements of EVs is completely different from how conventional automotive vehicles were managed and delivered. This rapid growth is fueled by the adoption of various digital technologies by organizations that build them so that they can connect the bridge between what end users want, to what technology can do.
Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is one of the primary systems that manages product data and authors it for further consumption across the enterprise. While PLM is a tool that manages product data across its lifecycle, it is the business processes that are implemented in them that determine how the cost, quality, and time to market the product is well managed. Inefficient business process slows down product realization. Early adopters of PLM used this as a system to manage and release the Computed Aided Design (CAD) data through a structured design Bill of Materials (BOM) authored by the engineering team. In today’s world, PLM encompasses a complete journey of the product from managing requirements to supporting product services.
The first challenge that the EV industry faces is more around the need to collaborate between Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics, and Software components which need to coexist and must be engineered simultaneously. The second challenge that they face is the ability to bring new EVs into the market at an accelerated pace to reduce New Product Introduction (NPI) timelines which require the engineering and manufacturing teams to work concurrently. The third challenge is more in terms of establishing end-to-end traceability between different systems and enhancing the reusability of systems, sub-systems, and components. To solve the above problems, EV OEMs implement a digital backbone that addresses the concerns with short-term and long-term objectives. While PLM creates a foundation to solve these problems, what is really needed is a digital transformation with PLM at the core.
Digital transformations focus on four major pillars namely People, Processes, Data, and Technology. Business processes at its core is what differentiates an organization from another in terms of the adoption of tools and technology. To shift gears, an organization needs to review its business processes and make changes as required to address the needs of an electric vehicle. As part of the digital strategy, a well-defined blueprint is created to understand their current IT landscape, current processes, gaps in the processes, areas of improvement, target state architecture, and more importantly a roadmap that leads them to their final goal.
The EV industry focuses on leveraging PLM by making it a single source of all engineering and Manufacturing Engineering data. A One PLM strategy is typically taken as a quick-start approach to ensure that data gets authored once and consumed across the enterprise. All product requirements are managed centrally and then cascaded to individual disciplines for further decomposition before jumping into the detailed physical design of components. EV focuses on building the right systems that address these requirements. A Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) approach is taken to define Functional and Logical models before getting into physical designing. This approach helps EV organizations to reuse systems across multiple platforms. This approach not only consumes the design data but also all associated test and validation reports managed in PLM, thereby, establishing traceability.
EV carries software binaries that run into Giga Bytes, which typically is the brain behind the vehicle. These software packages need to be managed in the context of the EV as a product hence there is a strong link that needs to be built between PLM, which manages the Mechanical, Electrical and Electronic data, to Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) which manages the software development. The digital maturity of software development and release processes is much higher than product development, so EV organizations do not focus on bringing them into one system but develop an integration between PLM and ALM so that software is managed as an object in PLM and the requirements are tagged to the software binaries to establish traceability. It is important to manage this traceability as the industry today is facing a challenge in managing the hardware-to-software interoperability matrix. The integration we are referring to is not just tool integration, but process integration like Change Management, Release Management, etc. The complexity of Hardware-to-Software continues to increase and to mitigate this, EV organizations focus on building the required processes and toolchain that adheres to an industry framework, namely, Automotive Software Process Improvement Capability determination (ASPICE).
From the concept car shown to customers in auto shows to building pre-production of the vehicle, EV organizations are always running behind time, to bring the product faster to market, thus requiring multiple departments to work together on the product. Be it Engineering teams creating the Engineering Bill of Materials (EBOM), Procurement teams working with suppliers for long lead items, Vehicle integration teams performing Digital Mockups (DMUs), Engineering teams working with global design centers to co-design, Manufacturing Engineering teams to perform manufacturing simulations and create Manufacturing Bill of Materials (MBOM) and Bill of Process (BOP). The challenge is that underlying data is changing continuously based on the feedback received, and to address this challenge PLM implements various processes that are tightly integrated and EV industries implement the following modules, namely, Requirements Management, CAD Data Management, BOM Management, Change Management, Variants, and Configuration Management, Issue Management, Document Management, Visualization Management, Compliance Management, Supplier Management.
To have the entire organization consume the data it is essential that PLM provide the required integrations to downstream applications. EV focuses on three major enterprise systems which are their lifeline for them. The industry calls them ‘The Holy Trinity’ and they comprise of PLM, ERP, and MES which need to be communicated efficiently for the enterprise to bring the product dream to reality. A fourth element is being included these days, which is ALM, and, given the value, the software brings to an EV, organizations focus not just on integrating these IT systems, but more on the process integrations so that value of data is realized. It also helps in close-loop communication for efficient impact analysis leading to effective change management at the enterprise level. The establishment of Digital Thread is essential for an organization to leverage the data and drive a continuous feedback cycle. This also enables upstream applications to create and validate data that will be consumed by downstream applications in a useful manner.
EV organizations also enable a data analytics layer to pull data from the ‘Holy Trinity’ and beyond, so that meaningful information can be derived which also provides the organization an opportunity to analyze data on a real-time basis. Business Information (BI) dashboards are created for a quick overview of status through slices of data and quick decisions can be made to make any course corrections to the program.
EV organization typically has a DNA that is fast-paced, new age EV OEMs carry very few legacy applications and hence can carve out new ways of working, to manage enterprise applications like PLM. IT infrastructure is a critical element but is considered overhead, and to overcome this, EV organizations are adopting a cloud strategy. Thanks to the new technology evolution in security, data protection, and connectivity, PLM and ERP cloud adoption is picking up pace and more organizations are embracing cloud strategy. These organizations have also changed their way of working to follow a more agile way of development and DevOps practices to launch new functionality to end users periodically.
PLM also contributes to measuring the organization’s contribution to sustainability and climate change by helping them with data points to measure the organization’s total environmental impact, including but not limited to, source and procurement of raw materials, translation of raw materials to product production, delivery, consumer use, and disposal of the EV by the consumer in near future. These system-driven measures will help an organization take proactive action on product reusability, and limit carbon emissions where needed, thus contributing to a better future for the civilization.
In summary, EVs today are fully leveraging digital tools and technologies like PLM so that vehicle design, vehicle engineering, vehicle manufacturing, and testing are completely validated in the digital world before bringing it to the physical world. This helps them in transforming their vision into reality in a time-bound manner. EVs continue to raise the bar in the adoption of PLM and leverage the implementation partners to bring in the best in class to implement and manage their PLM systems. In the coming years, as the adoption of EVs as a transportation solution to a greener world is increasing, we are going to see the scope of PLM increase and play a larger part in reducing the design and manufacturing complexity by integrating people, processes, and data in an efficient way.
About the Author:
Anand Ananthanarayanan, VP & Global Delivery Head for PLM, Tata Technologies
Engineering Automation Enthusiast, with a determination to bring in new technology solutions to automate engineering and manufacturing principles across the product development lifecycle.