Digital product lifecycle management (PLM) drives innovation in the auto industry

Added: 21st June 2018 by DXC Technology

In the automotive industry, the challenges of designing, building, selling and updating a product has become more about software than steel, and all roads lead to digital-driven product lifecycle management (PLM).

Perhaps no industry is undergoing more transformation than the automotive industry, with customers demanding personalisation, connectivity, self-driving features and entertainment centres.

In response, carmakers are embracing the concept of ‘sell locally, design globally’. They are creating globally dispersed design teams consisting of mechanical, electrical and software engineers.

To maximise the effort of these global teams the industry is deploying digital twins, technology that makes it possible to run simulations on digital replicas of actual products, particularly in the areas of connected and autonomous vehicles. Digital twin technology, which creates massive amounts of data, also simplifies product decomposition, which can lead to increased reuse of components and thus reduce the time and effort needed to engineer new products.

However, managing the large number of easily changeable “soft parts” is creating new challenges for product engineering organisations. Their compute environments, for example, aren’t set up to cost-effectively scale. Companies are considering cloud-based and high-performance computing (HPC) options to augment their existing solutions, but ultimately the pressure to modernise and globalise engineering will force them to replace their ageing PLM systems with digital solutions.

The good news is that there is a way forward for companies that find themselves divided by silos, calcified by old habits and riddled with technical workarounds. Here are three steps on the road to digital-driven product development and PLM:

1. Break down silos. Globalisation has changed the way the automotive industry thinks about developing products and managing design resources, especially when it comes to skilled engineers and software developers.

Siloed development teams limit a company’s flexibility to leverage unique worker skills. And the lack of design collaboration means parts and software can’t be reused as effectively, problems already addressed are being tackled over again and products manufactured at different plants might not be uniform.

Digital transformation can help companies overcome these issues, effectively blending design teams so they can reuse parts, assemblies, code and engineering plans.

2. Manage complexity. Automotive companies are discovering the challenges posed by products that contain a growing share of software-defined features. For example, manufacturers must be certain that firmware and software updates won’t render some vehicles inoperable due to differences in car models or years.

What’s more, customers are not only demanding some level of customisation, they also want autonomous features like lane correction as well as an mobile entertainment centres. The growing sophistication and complexity of vehicles will require automakers to deploy digital PLM systems.

3. Cross the digital divide. In many companies, engineering teams have become technologically isolated from the rest of the enterprise, as they have continued to modify and customise their legacy toolset, while other departments have transitioned to cloud-based applications.

Moving engineering teams to modern PLM tools requires planning, but it can be done. For example, engineering teams can migrate select functions into Microsoft Azure, and companies can begin moving data to platforms that are accessible to global teams.

The benefits of moving to digital PLM extend beyond day-to-day processes and can actually change the culture to help drive innovation across the company.