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Automotive Complexity Sparks Shift in Design Tools

The growing complexity of automotive electronics and wiring is prompting automakers to augment geometric models with functional tools.

By Terry Costlow

Automakers are relying more on electronic technologies to differentiate products and add safety systems that pave the way to autonomous driving. The resulting increase in complexity is prompting OEMs to adopt design tools that go beyond geometric data. Connectors are an important factor as the automotive industry makes the transition to modeling and simulation tools that provide functional data like behavioral and business information. Understanding all the signals that move through connectors and wiring harnesses is one of the goals at General Motors (GM).

“We want the ability to have flexibility out of the box. We want to be able to customize the inputs and outputs,” said James Midtun, IT development manager at GM.

Automotive managers who spoke at the Siemens PLM Connection in Phoenix in June stressed that they’re looking to move beyond the current generation of 2D and 3D models and gain the benefits of functional development.

“Everything is in 3D, everything is modeled, but that’s not enough,” said Bob Trecapelli, director, Global Digital Innovation and CAE at Ford. “We’ve got to go to functional engineering, that’s the next generation.”

Both companies use Mentor Capital, a tool suite designed for electrical systems and wire harnesses, as one of the tools within their Product Lifecycle Management programs. Wiring harnesses and connectors, one of the largest and most complex systems in modern vehicles, are a critical element in the design phase. That’s because they involve both electrical and mechanical technologies.

“We need tools that have instant search capabilities, we need to know that this pin is tied to this function,” Midtun said. “Engineers can sketch topologies in Capital, so engineers can work in parallel on mechanical designs before everything is finalized. Electronic engineers can do functional analysis before the mechanical designs are completed. We do not want groups to wait; we want them to work in parallel.”

The size and complexity of wiring harnesses and the connectors terminated to them will soar as electronics become a primary differentiating factor throughout the auto industry. Many factors are behind this rapid change in wiring density: increasing demand for infotainment options, techniques for reducing emissions and fuel consumption, as well as the adoption of more safety systems like lane departure warning and emergency braking.

“We have to deal with an explosion of electronics, which requires large wiring harnesses and adds a lot of weight,” said Martin O’Brien, vice president and general manager of Mentor’s Integrated Electrical Systems Division. “Engineers have to architect all systems together and architect the placement of parts in the vehicle, designing all this at the full vehicle level. They can only do that if they have all the electrical and mechanical information.”

Though the increasing size and complexity of wiring harnesses is a driving force in the connector and wiring fields, it’s far from the only factor driving the change to functional design tools. For engineers designing these systems, the wiring harness is just one aspect of an electronic architecture that’s increasingly being viewed as one giant system.

In the past, many electronics systems stood alone, with comparatively limited communication between different systems. But going forward, many will interact. Sensors in safety systems may work in close conjunction with the brakes, engine, and steering system to avoid obstacles. At the same time, these systems may automatically mute the infotainment system. Communication systems may report an accident or obstacle in the road so other vehicles know about problems.

The expanding focus of design tools no longer ends with the design phase. More and more automotive companies are using the same digital files, often called digital twins, from initial concept designs to setting up production lines and building cars.

Product Lifecycle Management programs from Mentor Capital, Siemens, Autodesk, PTC, and others make it easier to manage the many issues that arise when global design teams are sharing information over a span of years. The development tools for design and manufacturing are advancing quickly, as are functional and geometric tools.

“Both fields are moving rapidly. The need to bring the domains together is clear,” Trecapelli said. “The move from geometric digital twins to functional digital twins is a major disrupter.”

 

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Automotive, Consumer, Industrial, Medical, Mil/Aero, Datacom/Telecom, and Transportation

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