When we look back into the history of the automotive industry, it is dominated by some key developments that have caused major disruptions. It is probably better to say that the growth of the industry has been driven by disruptions. The industry is now looking at the next level of disruption through the concept of digital twin, which refers to a digital replica of physical assets, processes, people, places, systems and devices that can be used for various purposes. We find out how this would impact the automotive industry.
Automotive history can be segregated into many periods, but we’re focussing on the periods as defined in (1), as these events created a new way in which automobiles were produced by manufacturers and perceived & bought by consumers. In the periods mentioned in (1), the advances made were very important but essentially incremental in nature.
If we take a broader look at the eras, we can essentially classify the automobile industry advancement into two categories. Until the late 1980s, it was the “mechanical era” and 1990s was the start of the “digital era”. During these times, the electronic content of the automobile grew faster than all other components. The digital era continues and one can easily forecast it to grow even faster in the foreseeable future.
RISE OF ELECTRONICS
When we look at a modern car today, it has electronic hardware, software and electrical connectivity to make the hardware and software work together. It is common for a modern high end car today to have 100 mn lines of software code, 80-100 ECUs, 4 km long copper wiring, as many as 10 communication protocols (LIN, CAN, PCI, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc.) and multiple operating systems. This electronic content controls and impacts almost all the functions of the car, notably controls for the engine, steering, airbag, cruise, in-dash infotainment, seat positions, and navigation, among others.
Numerous studies have been conducted on this subject, and they agree that the contribution of electronics in an automobile will continue to increase. Within the next 20 years, electronics will account for more than 60 % of the total cost of the car. A typical Japanese car today has electronics content worth $ 500, while it is around $ 180 in a typical Indian car. Clearly, as the India market matures, electronics content has much room to grow.
When the first generation electronics started to appear in automobiles, it was essentially invisible to the car user. It controlled mechanics of the car that were far removed from the driver and occupants; for example, engine control, fuel injection, etc. The second generation of electronics – HVAC control, cruise, seat control, infotainment console, etc. – provided information to the user and became interactive.
We are now at the start of the third generation of electronics – electronic stability control, collision avoidance, body control, and automatic braking control are just the beginning. The main factor that differentiates the third generation is that electronics will now make decisions for the driver. This is a very important but often overlooked detail. As electronics based machines start to make decisions, two very important needs take the forefront, and all energies of the electronics and semiconductor industries are being focussed on addressing these needs.
Safety: It is about protecting the world from the device. For example, an automobile must stop when it sees a pedestrian.
The International Standards Organisation (ISO) has released a standard – ISO 26262 – that all semiconductor suppliers must comply with. It has defined different sets of requirements for electronics and semiconductors based upon their application in the vehicle. Upon complete distillation of the standard, it essentially put the burden of proof on the supplier. The supplier must certify that every component:
i. Performs the function exactly as it is specified;
ii. Performs ONLY the function that it is designed for;
iii. Can tolerate and continue to function when it encounters a fault; and
iv. There is documented proof that the above conditions are met.
When one starts to think about these requirements, the enormity of the challenge in front of the electronics and semiconductor industry starts to become evident. The industry had to and is still undergoing a fundamental change in mind-set and design process. Products that are now being designed for the automobiles need a much greater verification and validation cycle. In addition, before a part is shipped, it needs to be thoroughly tested to remove all defects. Zero-defect is now more than a goal; it is a requirement. Companies supplying electronic parts to the automobile industry now spend more than 70 % of the time on verification, validation and testing.
Security: It is about protecting the device from the world. For example, the automobile must be able to defend against hackers.
We are all familiar with the term hacking. What we see and hear is the tip of the iceberg. We always hear news about a breach by the software programmer, who gets into the network and either steals data or installs a virus. A security breach at an application level affects only the users, who have installed the application. A security breach at the operating system level has a much larger impact and affects all users, who have the operating system on their machines. The third level is when the breach happens at the hardware level. This breach has the most impact, as it affects all users, who have the hardware irrespective of what software they use.
It may not be apparent to many readers that there are many counterfeit IC chips that make their way into the market. Sometimes these are overruns from productions and sometimes they are created intentionally by agents with a bad intent. Then there are several actors, who try to reverse engineer an IC chip to steal the secret code inside that chip so that it may be hacked. The third kind of security breach is when bad actors implement a malicious circuit into the hardware by intent. The electronics and semiconductor industry is working to address these possible issues as well.
Details of the safety & security measures adopted by the electronics and semiconductor industry are slight out of scope for this article, and are left out for a follow up in the near future.
The electronics and semiconductor industries embraced the concept of “Digital Twin” long time back. The intent is to create a fully functional digital model of the part and simulate all possible use cases before manufacturing. At the design phase, the IC circuits are visualised and verified for correct functionality and safety requirement. After the IC is built, it needs to go on a PCB. Again at this stage, a digital model of the PCB helps the designers perform comprehensive simulations to analyse the functional, electrical, thermal and mechanical features of the PCB.
(2) shows examples of procedures that have become standard practice in the Industry for the last 20 years. Every single electronics part today follows the digital twin process, and that is slowly making its way into the automobile industry as well. The first thing to acknowledge is that all PCBs become a part of some system. They get connected by physical wires and cables to other parts of the system. In this article, we take an example of an automobile.
There are lot of electrical and electronic parts in the automobile, (3). This creates a need to model the automobile electrical distribution system. Engineers define, design and simulate before the harness is manufactured. Extensive simulations are performed to arrive at the most compact and fully functional electrical distribution system.
It is now time to extend the digital twin to rest of the automobile manufacturing process. A lot of advanced automobile companies have already started to implement the concept. The car body is digitally modelled, followed by modelling the mechatronic components. Software is then added to the digital twin of the car and analysed across various parameters. For instance, it is possible to model and analyse the behaviour of the car – when driving in wet conditions, or while manoeuvring around sharp turns. Body roll, road grip, etc. can be easily understood before making a physical prototype.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Why stop here? It is possible to take the digital twin concept to the next level. We can now model the entire factory and simulate before a single physical structure is constructed. Layout of the lines, layout of the robots, including the human interaction with the machine and robots on the line can be simulated, (4).
In the automotive design-to-build value chain, digital twin is the next disruption. Companies who deploy digital twin on the entire automotive value chain will be able to take advantage of the ‘Visualise > Analyse > Realize’ process. These companies will make the most optimum products for the market and make them right the first time, and make them more efficiently than the ones who don’t.
RUCHIR DIXIT is Technical Director, EU & India Sales at Mentor Graphics, a Siemens business in Bengaluru (India).