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  • Writer's picturehelen ristov

Driving Digital Transformation in Manufacturing.

The future of the automotive industry will be digital. In order to support new devices and other innovative products on vehicles, various different systems will need to be transformed in order to handle the introduction of data which will be streaming much faster than some legacy systems are designed to handle. Cloud technologies as well as any enterprise software that manage business operations will need to be modified and potentially overhauled to meet the use cases. Transformation projects pose more challenges than greenfield implementations because you also need to consider the existing workflows as well as any in the future state. These systems are constantly in a state of flux, and it is often the case that documentation is lagging and in some cases not existent. These projects can be especially difficult as you manage the double edged sword of what is known and what is unknown. We can discuss that later, but first let’s delve into the mechanics of the data on cars.

Command and Control: Introduction of Data Handling Units on Vehicles

A significant step toward autonomous vehicles is placing a data handling unit which can read and register data from various sensors and parts in the vehicle and relay that information to a processing center which is typically an IoT enabled cloud infrastructure like Azure IoT Hub. The device itself plugs into a wire harness and CAN bus which allows microcontrollers to communicate with the device without a host computer. Pictorially it looks like the vascular system of the car.


To support the introduction of these data handling units on the vehicles, the systems that most manufacturers utilize need to be updated to handle new inventory in the supply chain as well as device related data. The main centers being cloud communication and any SAP systems used to manage the supply chain and orders. All of these would need to relay information to the production line for the installation of the device. The time constraints on production parts introduce additional complexity as you are only allotted a certain amount of time to perform various tasks, and there is very little buffer for error. As a way to manage this, new stations will need to be introduced to program the device in the factory and test the device. I will discuss of few of the new products that were created in consideration to enable new devices on vehicles.

Production Ready Programming Station

The programming station serves as the touch-point where the device itself can be configured and activated. There are many activities to consider such as flashing firmware, configuring wifi, SIM activation, device provisioning on IoT hub, and any vehicle and device associations that need to be updated in the SAP records.

Testing Stations

While the bulk of the activities related to device data happen at the programming station, new quality control tests need to be introduced to ensure the functionality of the device with the vehicle. These checks are necessary in addition to the other tests that are performed during production. The test results can run automatically when the device is powered on and/or in combination with actions by technicians on the floor. Since the device is able to communicate directly with the cloud to send data, reports on what is received can be gathered there and sent back when requested.

Mobile Application Configurator

Mobile Applications can be utilized to interact and program the device in the field so that installations and configurations can be managed through either a phone or tablet. The application can be used as a display and send messages directly to the device and/or the IoT hub.

Most of these devices have extensive custom firmware development designed to handle the features of vehicles they are to be installed on. Technologies such as FOTA, or firmware over the air, provide the advantage of sending updates to the device when a new release is made to the underlying software.

For most vehicles that don’t have advanced display technology, the mobile app can serve as the interactive dashboard between the driver and the vehicle sending custom reports and diagnostics with the device control on demand. The application is thus designed not only to work with the firmware but also cloud technologies. The devil is in the details, and in this case, it is the coordination of all the development work that needs to happen for a functioning application to be built and installed during production.

Introducing SaFe Scaled Agile Framework

The scaled agile framework (SAFe) is a set of organization and workflow patterns intended to guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile practices. SAFe promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of agile teams, and it is a good choice in this sector as it blends true agile with waterfall implementations. The solution backlog can be used to manage the flow of epics and capabilities, which are then bundled into features and associated to various release trains. Here is an illustration published on the approach, but putting this in practice is still littered with obstacles in most real-world examples.

System Modifications for Device Data

Now we return back to some of the system modifications that are necessary to stream the device data which at the end of the day means coming to terms with any technical debt in your data processes. The communication between SAP and the cloud will in most cases need to be updated to process and store master and transactional data. From the SAP side, the consumers of the device data include inventory management, warranty, parts distribution (serialized DHU shipments) and product support. The IoT hub is well equipped to handle various different event activities like pairing requests, device authentication and provisioning, testing, and activation. All of the high frequency transactional data can be processed through the hub. It’s a good approach to design the integration patterns between SAP and IoT hub to transfer the necessary information using an event driven architecture. The benefits of switching to an event driven architecture include decoupling, scalability, support of real-time workflows and simplified auditing. Here is simplified approach and architecture, but there are various different ways to introduce event based data into SAP using SAP Event Mesh.

While the above might seem like a daunting task, the technology that can support the incorporation of high frequency digital data into your environment is more robust now than ever before and available to start you along on your transformation journey.

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