OEMs Add Functional Engineering as Digital Tools Evolve

With software making it easier to create digital twins, automakers are moving beyond geometric models to provide parameters such as behavioral and business info.

image: Mentor

Now that the use of digital models and simulation make it straightforward to create digital twins of any system in the vehicle, the industry is looking to move beyond geometric models. Automakers are gradually deploying functional models that augment existing models by providing parameters like behavioral and business information.

Modeling and simulation have transformed the design, validation and testing worlds, letting design teams try out more options and complete projects more quickly. Many strategic planners are now looking to move forward with functional design tools. “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.”

Functional modeling will give developers a broader, more holistic view of the complex systems being designed into new vehicles. “Functional architectures help us see and determine what we’re going to build,” said James Midtun, IT Development Manager at General Motors. “They help create an implementation architecture, a deployment architecture and vehicle-specific applications.”

OEM presenters at the recent Siemens PLM Connection in Phoenix noted that it’s becoming much easier to link the varied design tools needed to build a vehicle. This improved compatibility makes it far easier for design groups to share digital files and get updates when relevant files are revised by other groups. “The digital twin is the backbone of product development,” Trecapelli said. “We’re often dealing with multiple engineers in multiple groups that often have custom tools.”

Eliminating incompatibilities is a necessity given the speed of change in the automotive industry. Simplifying data transfers helps various groups that need to work together as digital twins are used from initial concepts to final production. Everything that designers of complex systems have to deal with is moving rapidly, so engineers don’t want to spend a lot of time learning how to use tools. That’s important for keeping projects on schedule.

“We have engineers who have been designing products for 30 years. If you plop a new interface in front of them, it must be easy to use,” Midtun said. “If they miss a deadline, it’s the IT department’s fault for changing tools.”

Engineers and the IT staffs that support them are moving forward in many different realms. The technologies they use are becoming more complex and they’re interacting with a broader range of networked systems. On the tools side, digital twins are playing a more dominant role in design and manufacturing, and both functional and geometric tools are advancing quickly. “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.”

Trecapelli defined a range of benefits that can come when technologies are combined. One is that system definitions could describe the internal content and external connections. These digital twins could provide requirements, attributes and design rules that must be met and interfaces that must be made compliant. They would also simplify the validation of transmittals, model in loop and software in loop models. Finally, a bill of material structure could be created and delivered to production facilities.

Trecapelli also said it’s easier to manage variants of vehicle models with functional descriptions. The technology also lets engineers better detail and understand how features and parts fit together.

Image: Mentor