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Software: The Road to Zero Defects

Cathy Martin
By Cathy Martin Vice President, BigLever Software

Reducing the risk of automotive defects is one of the most critical issues facing manufacturers today – to protect the well-being of consumers, as well as their own reputations and financial health. Leading automotive companies are intensifying their efforts toward achieving a “zero defects” goal, an extraordinarily ambitious objective given the rapidly growing diversity and engineering complexity of today’s product lines.

Consider the extreme degree to which the hardware, software, systems and subsystems contained in an autonomous vehicle must work together, seamlessly, to replicate the actions of a human driver. Most new models on the road today have self-driving features to autonomously accelerate, brake or steer – such as adaptive cruise control, lane-centering or hands-free steering. Imagine how this complexity grows when you consider the entire automotive product family, and the variation that exists across the products in that product family, which is astronomical in scale.

Considering these mounting complexity challenges, the traditional product-centric approach to designing, producing, maintaining and evolving an automotive product line becomes untenable.

Under this traditional approach, each vehicle is treated as an individual product with engineers working on a specific car model. Taking software as an example, a common practice is for source code to be duplicated and shared across products in a “clone and own” scenario.

Copying and reusing engineering assets, such as source code or other artifacts, leads to vast amounts of inefficient, replicated, error-prone work. Within many manufacturing organizations, functions across the product lifecycle – and across the enterprise – are siloed, with each team using its own set of tools and methods. These silos create another layer of inefficiency, complexity, misalignment and potential for human error.

When an organization operates in a product-centric siloed manner, it’s extremely difficult and costly to not only trace where cloned assets have been used, but also to make the necessary fixes when a defect occurs. The sophisticated, interconnected nature of today’s automobiles demands a new way of managing product variability across functions, tools, artifacts, methods and processes.

Feature-based Product Line Engineering (PLE) has emerged to fill that role.

Leading automotive manufacturers are turning to Feature-based PLE, which changes the fundamentals of how their product lines are engineered, produced, maintained and evolved.

PLE allows an organization to create a “superset” of digital assets that are shared across the product line. These assets are equipped with all the feature options offered in the product line. Product line features are contained in a feature catalog, which becomes the “single source of feature truth” for the entire organization. The features chosen for each product are specified in a bill-of-features, which is used by the PLE product configurator to assemble and configure the digital assets to create a product instance.

Feature-based PLE changes the way manufacturers address the challenge of finding and fixing defects – and, most of all, avoiding them. Since all products in the product line are created from a single asset superset, defects that occur in one product can be found and fixed once in the superset, and the new product versions can be automatically generated, dramatically improving the defect management process. Additionally, with PLE’s automated approach, human error caused by manual approaches can be avoided.

With the single source of feature truth provided by PLE, organizational functions across the enterprise have a common language for managing a product line, based on features. This removes operational silos.

As manufacturers move away from product-centric approaches – and embrace Feature-based PLE to simplify and streamline the way they find, fix and reduce defects – they will accelerate their progress toward the zero defects goal.

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