We have seen, in the past 20 years or so, phenomenal growth in software in cars, much of it driving systems that replaced less reliable mechanical equipment.
That would make cars more reliable, but as industry analyst Joe Barkai sees it, engineering processes have not evolved enough to handle the complexity. For example, says Barkai, practice director for Product Lifecycle Strategies at IDC Manufacturing Insights, automakers think they have to support all of the features and options available with a vehicle, but they find it difficult to test against every combination and do not always do that testing well.
Because of the complexity of so many configurations, flaws show up not because of wear and tear, as with mechanical systems, but because the flaws were never exposed during testing.
Requirements and functionality definitions are sometimes insufficient, so tracing requirements to testing is more difficult. Integration testing is complex and automakers have little time for it. In general, automakers and suppliers have difficulty matching the software development cycle with the hardware/mechanical life cycle.
“Automakers, PLM vendors, ECAD vendors HIL system suppliers and others, understand the problem, but there is no consensus of how the pieces need to come together because no one has enough pieces,” Barkai observes. “ECAD vendors tend to focus on functional simulation of circuits, and a circuit may work perfectly, but when you reduce it to a PCB and put it inside an ECU there may be new behaviors. Other companies may do a great job in functional definition and auto-code generation but they tend to be weaker on the mechanical side. PLM vendors provide mechanical design and can store everything, but don’t really do software. I have not seen anyone who provides the ability to share information across disciplines. The problem is very complex.”
Barkai says some automakers are beginning to think about these issues and focus on how the software development cycle becomes an integral part of the product development process. “These are the automakers who will be able to accelerate both the time and the quality of their software.”