Digital Transformation of the Development Process

Engineering of tomorrow: virtual instead of real-world prototypes, higher level of maturity sooner, greater flexibility

Advancing digitization is opening up new ways of extensively developing products on a virtual basis. This transformation of the development process will only be possible if all fields of development and all members of staff are involved at every level. In the “Digitalization Network” at IAV, specialists from many different divisions are working together on developing new processes, methods and tools for tomorrow’s digital engineering.

Today’s product development process (PDP) takes about three years; the first actual prototypes are usually available after twelve to fifteen months. “Producing them involves a lot of time and incurs high costs”, says Veit Lemke, Executive Project Manager at IAV. “This is something we want to avoid in future. Our aim for future development activities is to dispense with physical prototypes.” Besides developing representative models, new methods and tools, this will make it necessary to adapt the development process.

Product development process for the digital age

This is what the “Digital Transformation of Engineering” team is working on in IAV’s “Digitization Network”. In pilot projects, staff from different divisions are developing ideas for a new PDP and the methods and tools it will require. By increasing the level of virtualization, they want to make it unnecessary to use prototypes.

Instead of constructing real-world vehicles, they will use digital models as the basis for testing and validation. “We have already defined this new PDP for virtual development processes and discussed it with initial customers”, Lemke reports. “In the concept and early development phase, we only want to run through two cycles instead of three which will leave us more time per cycle and lead to better results.” The use of new digital methods aims to produce results with a higher degree of maturity earlier on, enabling the developers to carry out virtual validation at an early stage – without any physical prototypes and the expensive tools needed to construct them.

“We will plan these virtual prototypes far sooner than the physical prototypes in the conventional PDP”, Lemke says. “In future, this will mean that we will be able to release the production tools at an earlier stage and start work on final validation sooner using pre-production vehicles.” In the new PDP, however, the start of production is not to be moved forward. The manufacturers are likely to invest the time saved from virtual prototypes into homologation and a higher level of product maturity at the start of production. The new approach also saves costs and increases development flexibility. Ultimately, if changes are made to the concept or components, it will only be necessary to adjust the digital model and not make new tools.

Shared data platform for all developers

Besides the digital models, the interaction of development tools will be of crucial importance to the new digital development process. “Some of them will come from IAV, others we will take forward in cooperation with established manufacturers and startups”, Lemke says. “To do this, we will bring together the interdisciplinary expertise of our engineers and work in agile teams.” One important aspect here is the gigantic “data lake” that is involved in developing a vehicle today and which, among other things, also contain the models for virtual development.

In future, they are to be consolidated to a greater extent as the basis for creating a shared platform – while maintaining the confidentiality of customer data at all times. The new methods in the development process will include Virtual Reality (VR), Mixed Reality (MR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). VR makes it possible to work on a model from any location.

“The developers can meet up in the virtual space and work together on an engine, look inside it or exchange individual parts”, Lemke says. “And for customer presentations we can present interim results in shorter cycles and also convey a highly realistic picture.” The first IAV development center will be provided with a VR room at the end of 2017, with the other sites soon to follow.

Learning algorithm for better solutions

AI will also change everyday work routine for many engineers: Even today, algorithms can automatically try out variants and suggest new approaches from which the human being can then choose an option. “With engine maps or with transmissions, there are many different parameters that influence performance”, Lemke explains. “Computers are much better here than humans are.” In future, thanks to AI, the systems will be able to continue learning and make ever better suggestions. Initial approaches in this direction are already in place in IAV tools, such as transmission and powertrain synthesis. These will be continuously extended and advanced.

In 2017, IAV will be ready to start developing the first derivative using the new PDP. Alongside this, the start for a first new development is planned from 2018. And as early as 2020, IAV wants to implement the interconnected and new digitized work methods throughout the company. “We are taking an all-embracing approach to the subject and are not just limiting ourselves to individual steps in the development process”, Lemke says summarizing. “Using the new processes, methods and tools, we want to make it possible to develop vehicles on an extensively virtual basis.”