DETROIT -- Automakers need technical support, not just parts, from electronics suppliers, a panel of senior engineers from major auto companies said at the SAE 2010 Convergence conference yesterday.
The panelists cited a need for assistance from suppliers in the form of tools and competencies that will help with software, systems engineering and technical validation. That will require changes in business models and in the automaker-supplier relations, they said.
“At the moment, it is quite hard for us to do all this by ourselves,” said Yoshio Suzuki, senior chief engineer at Honda R&D Co.'s automobile r&d center. He said Honda's top priority is systems engineering support to help the company add features to its designs for controls, driver alerts, and other aspects of the so-called human-machine interface.
‘Bumper to bumper' validation
Micky Bly, General Motors Co.'s executive director of global electrical systems, hybrids, electric vehicles and batteries, said the increasing interconnectivity of electronic components and software has made validation of parts and software as important as the technology itself.
He sees a growing role for virtual engineering. “Our engineers cannot think of all the test cases, so we're going to have to rely more on automation and fuzzy logic as we go through validation,” he said. Diagnostics alone are expanding at an exponential rate. “Diagnostic features used to be limited to the engine. Now we're diagnosing from bumper to bumper,” Bly said.
As automotive electronics are becoming more complex, design and build cycles are shrinking. The challenge is how to validate and integrate systems on time using many different software platforms.
No more ‘build, test, fix'
Alan Amici, head of electrical and electronics engineering at Chrysler Group, said, “We need more stable, mature software earlier in the development process.
“The notion of build, test, fix, should be shipped off to a museum. We don't have the time.”
Suppliers' roles are changing as business models evolve to adapt to the new dynamics of building electrified cars. The surge in automotive electronics is blurring the traditional lines between automaker, Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers.
Panelists said all parties must rethink their core competencies. “More silicon can't be the only thing a supplier brings to the table,” said Michael Wurtenberger, BMW vice president for ConnectedDrive Infotainment. Wurtenberger said the concept of supplying semiconductors without software is quickly becoming outdated.
Playing catch up
GM's Bly said many electronics suppliers are new to the auto industry and therefore are playing catch up. They are more accustomed to serving customers in consumer electronics and do not yet understand automotive-grade requirements for sensors, batteries, control modules and other components.
Bly said electronics in cars are exposed to significantly different types of use and wear than electronics used around the house.
Chrysler's Amici said suppliers also need to increase capital investment and improve strategic planning. “We need our Tier 2 suppliers, especially our suppliers of semiconductors, to invest in capacity so that we are not just a semiconductor allocation,” he said.
Split on protocols
Panelists gave mixed responses to a query as to whether a number of communication protocols such as Autosar, FlexRay and Terminal Mode would be in use in some of their company's high-volume vehicles by 2015.
All six carmakers represented on the panel said they will use or are considering using Autosar, a standard that allows carmakers to reuse software in multiple platforms.
But the panelists said cost remains an issue with many of these protocols while others, such as standards that would permit vehicle-to-vehicle communication, need infrastructure development before they can be commercial.
Michael LeGault is a Detroit area free-lance writer