Alastair has over 10 years’ experience leading research activities in scaled, high-growth industrial and technology markets. At Interact Analysis he is responsible for electric trucks and buses, autonomous trucks and off-highway electrification.
Once upon a time there was a car company – let’s call it the Really Great Motor Company. The Really Great Motor Company was well, really, really great! It made millions of cars around the world, employed hundreds of thousands of people and had even created a few design classics. Times were good and profits were flowing in the kingdom of the car.
But a pall fell across the kingdom and the rulers of the kingdom told the Really Great Motor Company that its cars needed to be cleaner and safer. Wanting to be a GOOD corporate citizen, the Really Great Motor Company opened its coffers and, with much cleverness, was able to make its cars safer and cleaner.
But the Really Great Motor Company couldn’t celebrate for long. The rulers told it they must do more, and they must do it faster. And to make matters worse, there was a new car company – The Exciting Start-Up – whose cars were already cleaner, safer and more appealing to consumers. Beset on all sides it seemed to be the darkest days for the Really Great Motor Company.
But there was hope. The Really Great Motor Company had a secret weapon – the Sword of Simulation. And it has a purpose: cutting costs.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
The investment to bring about zero emission, autonomous and shared mobility could well represent the single greatest capital expenditure the automotive market has ever seen. For example, VW has invested over $90 billion in bringing about mass production scale for electric vehicles, GM Cruise has received $1.15bn recently and $2.75bn from Honda and $2.25bn from Softbank, Ford Motor Co. will significantly increase its planned investments in electric vehicles to $11 billion by 2022 and BMW and Daimler, two of the biggest German automakers, are partnering and investing $1 billion into an effort to create all-electric on-demand autonomous mobility.
With such an influx of capital, surely the automotive market is expanding and creating a wealth of new jobs and facilities. Not so – GM is closing production plants, Ford Will Close Six European Plants as Part of Global Downsizing, Fiat Chrysler to cut nearly 1,400 jobs at Illinois plant, PSA, Dongfeng to drop 2 China plants, halve workforce, Reuters reports and Porsche shuts down production in Leipzig.
The hard fact remains that the automotive industry has chronic overcapacity, fierce competition and is being tasked with doing more new things whilst supporting existing, flat and declining businesses. In this scenario the only way to ‘make both ends meet’ is to find new tools and processes that allow operations to be conducted more quickly and less expensively. The automotive industry is turning to simulation to save the day.
A sword for cutting costs and increasing value
Simulation is far from a new tool for the automotive market. OEMs and suppliers have used it to model components/systems, thermal and fluid processes, electronic design and many others for decades. However, in a regime of extreme cost pressures, it has a new lease of life in supporting the bottom line:
- Using simulation to reduce R&D engineering square footage. Test equipment is costly – both to purchase and operate. It also requires a sizeable physical footprint that could be used for other activities. By using simulation more often in the design/test phase of development, space and resources that are used for test equipment can either be eliminated or re-assigned for other activities, thereby reducing lease costs or the need to build new facilities.
- Using simulation to replace test vehicles and/or provide better asset utilisation. Test vehicles are a significant cost in the development of new vehicles, with single vehicles sometimes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. These assets also suffer from poor utilisation as engineers are not available 24/7 to use the assets. Simulation helps solve these problems by reducing the need for test vehicles and, when they are essential for physical testing, ensuring that the test vehicle is optimised such that it can be used in a highly effective way.
- Using simulation earlier in the design cycle to reduce time to market. By using modelling and simulation to better constrain a design to desired outcomes is one clear way of reducing costs. Designers that take more of a ‘manual’ approach and/or don’t have a clear set of outcomes in mind may take longer and spend more time creating prototypes. By using simulation and AI, designers can allow much of the ‘heavy lifting’ to be done by a computer in terms of material/property selection.
There are clear examples of companies offering these approaches today:
- IPG Automotive, maker of CarMaker, worked with PSA and on 8 projects to “…cut the number of prototypes by a total of about 30%, which in this specific case corresponds to several hundred thousand euros.”
- Dassault Systemes, which counts most automotive companies amongst its customer base, recently shared a case study of a project with Bosch Multimedia. Bosch needed to develop a new head unit and was able to do so without physical prototypes, reducing costs and accelerating time to market.
- Even on test, National Instruments was able to support a significant increase in project speed for Hyundai Kefico by offering a standard set of powertrain models from which to build ECU tests.
Pretenders to the Throne or Plucky Underdogs?
For every established OEM, there are probably 10 start-ups looking to develop cutting edge vehicles and new mobility models – NIO, Byton, Zoox to name but three. These companies are exceptionally lean and work in the tech world of ‘failing fast’ and actively embrace simulation as a ‘force multiplier’ to get their products to where they want them quickly. This development pace puts pressure on established OEMs to design faster and they too are using simulation to make up ground. Rather than seeing it as a battle between the start-ups and the established vendors, Interact Analysis views this as a mutually beneficial process where both company types are forced to evaluate traditional processes and find ways to work faster, smarter and more efficiently.
Happy ever after?
Simulation has many benefits but is far from a panacea. It is still the case that systems in automotive are complex and, in many cases, brand new. As such, there is often still a need for a physical testing because a simulation doesn’t have sufficient inputs to be able to replicate the new system(s) – the simulation needs to be calibrated by a real-world system.
However, simulation is a ‘force multiplier’, bringing capabilities to start-ups which they wouldn’t otherwise have, and allowing established brands to move more quickly. It is also being brought to bear in an operational context, allowing automotive manufacturers to reduce costs.
It might just be the fairy tale ending the automotive market needs.
For more information on our Automotive Design, Test and Simulation research, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org