Automotive manufacturers are constantly looking to add new features that offer vehicle owners a richer experience, a safer drive, and a higher degree of environmental compliance. As electronics in vehicles are becoming more and more complex, manufacturers are also looking for smarter solutions and integration of multiple control units in order to optimize space in the vehicle and energy management. Electronic component suppliers like Bosch are innovating solutions to cater to these trends.
Bengaluru-based Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions Ltd, the second largest R&D center of Bosch worldwide, has been serving automotive companies for decades and is at the center of this shift toward highly complex electronics for vehicles of the future. The company won PMI India’s Project of the Year (Micro) award in 2019 for a project that involved the upgrade and integration of two critical systems that together form the heart of a vehicle.
Bosch was approached by a customer, a US-based manufacturer of off-road vehicles such as snow mobiles, extreme sports bike etc. to design and develop a chipset that combines the functions of the Engine Control Unit (ECU) and Body Control Unit (BCU) into one unit. The integrated component will offer compatibility with the latest vehicle emission standards, enhanced engine management functions through the use of more sensors in the engine, and control new value-added luxury features in the vehicle. Moreover, the combined unit must be optimized to suit cost and space for the printed circuit board. In addition to it, the software development for both the ECU and BCU had to be adapted to meet the requirements of the integrated unit.
Complexities in the design process
Among the key challenges the team faced were coming up with an innovative design that accommodated all the functions in the limited available space. The team had never designed a chipset that integrated both the ECU and the BCU. It was a novel project even for the customer.
Off-road vehicles are different from other product categories as they are high powered and can operate in different terrains - rocky surfaces and mountains. It was difficult for the team to find relevant use cases for vehicles of this nature in order to understand all the functional and non-functional requirements at the beginning of the project.
The project called for inclusion of multiple product domains into a single product design such as the powertrain domain and the body control domain. Given the space constraint, there were restrictions on the options available for the design rules of electronic circuits.
The client had imposed a target cost of the product and it was a challenge to meet that target, especially with the inclusion of additional functionalities and price increases of electronic components across the market.
Lastly, there were cultural and time zone factors to consider. The project spanned three continents – the development center in India, the Bosch headquarters in Germany, the customer in the US and the manufacturing facility in Mexico.
Adaptive project management, mature processes
The project was going to be a test of the engineering and project management capabilities of the Bosch team in Bengaluru. The timeline was stringent, the budget was tight, and the team was venturing into a new territory. The team decided to conduct simultaneous development of the hardware, software, and mechanical aspects of the project so as to meet the customer expectations.
“We went with adaptive project management where we followed the Waterfall model with some flavors of agile. We adopted rapid prototyping that helped in incorporating customer feedback into the product design as we progressed so that we don’t lose valuable time at the later stages. The adaptive approach helped us to also save costs since we didn't have to repeat tests later for the verification and validation process,” said Pramod Motiram Phate, technical project manager, Robert Bosch.
The project required innovative thinking to achieve a desirable outcome. To accommodate all the functions in the limited space, the team used system in package (SIP) technology. SIP is a way of bundling two or more integrated circuits inside a single package. They also used front-loading and simulation tools to integrate the body control functions into the ECU. Scalable architecture was applied so as to reuse the design for multiple project variants with minimal cost and effort.
The team followed the company’s internal project management processes for integration management. The Bosch engine management development process library has evolved over decades and takes care of various automotive standards, data integrity, and data transfer within various verticals; for example, the plant receives bill of materials via SAP.
The company’s advanced project management tools also helped in the smooth delivery of the project. The team had access to the integrated global project management tool to plan and track schedule, budget, and cost; the hardware information system to record and track electronic components, parts, and bill of materials; a stakeholder register; a responsibility assignment matrix, and a standardized process of quality gates.
Stakeholder management was another key aspect since project success depended on how well the various teams built trust among themselves. The team in India took care of the development, product verification and validation, while the vehicle testing, industrialization, and system integration was done in Mexico and USA.
Bosch initiated a face-to-face workshop so as to understand and communicate one another’s requirements better. Through regular simultaneous engineering team meetings and project review meetings, project status was regularly shared across all the teams. In these meetings, teams could give a heads-up about potential bottlenecks and ask for support on time.
“We overcame a number of complex challenges and successfully delivered the product to the customer. We owe this success to our internal processes that have been developed over the past 130 years, strong technical capabilities, adaptive project management, and strong communication that helped us to build trust among the various teams,” added Mr. Phate.