Who’s ready to manage complexity of BOM for connected cars?

Who’s ready to manage complexity of BOM for connected cars?


The complexity of modern manufacturing products is skyrocketing. It is hard to imagine a product without electronic and software components. But if you think, industry reached the top of imaginable complexity, think again. It gets even more complicated.

The future of “connected cars” is coming fast. Modern automobile is already very complex device with lot of electronic and software. But, it is getting even more complex. Forbes article U.S. And European Automakers Will Need To Be More Aware Of The Chips They Put In Their Cars speaks about complexity of car electronics and its connection to security related issues. I found the following passage interesting:

With the modernization and electrification of vehicles, electronics as a percentage of the BOM (bill of materials) of the car has skyrocketed, and we haven’t seen anything yet. This will only become a higher percentage as piloted and self-driving vehicles start to become more commonplace. Up until this point, silicon brand and security hasn’t really mattered all that much as long as the functionality was there, and as a result, vendors simply implemented whatever met the utility, was more cost effective and passed regulatory rules.

As the percentage of the BOM that is electronic components increases and features are added that could increase potential security risk, I believe that this will change, and branding and security will become more important.

The complexity of BOM management is well know thing in PLM industry. My earlier blog post – Multiple dimensions of BOM complexity. The need to trace manufacturers of electronic components in a car bill of material will only increase the complexity of data. Most of PLM products today are managing multiple views of engineering and as-built BOM. The requirement for additional traceability and regulation in this space can potentially break the level of complexity PLM products are capable to handle.

In addition to branding, security or at least perceived security, will become an even more important factor in automobiles. Previously, people simply worried about people breaking into their cars with crowbars or wires, but now high-tech carjackers are breaking into cars remotely. Just think of all of the safety and security concerns with a vehicle that is fully in control of the driving experience at 65 Mph or more. Few really thinking that one through, yet.

A potential security concern and government regulation will create a demand to expose more information about vehicle electronics. To make some of the information available will be another challenge for PLM systems in automotive domain. Bill of materials data is siloed between multiple systems often not available from a single place.

What is my conclusion? The complexity of automobiles and specifically car electronics will increase the demand for sophisticated data solutions to manage bill of materials (BOM) and related product data. Some of existing PLM vendors might be unprepared for such change and for some systems it can be beyond what can be managed. This is an alarm call for PLM architects and technologists. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Images courtesy of Mashable article,  Doug Chezem, Flickr, colinbrown


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  • Hi Oleg,
    I wonder if discussing “BOM complexity” isn’t missing the point. The increase in functional complexity of cars (connected and not) is not proportional to the (much smaller) increase in BOM parts count. Furthermore, the challenges facing strategist and designers of connected cars are mostly outside the physical boundaries of car as managed by the PLM software.
    There’s no doubt the industry is facing challenges (see for example http://joebarkai.com/connected-cars-circling-the-wagons/) but the answer doesn’t hinge on better PLM (or ALM) software.

  • Colin Bull

    I have to agree with Jo, the complexity is not just BOM or the application we have to manage, it is the supply chain is extended far beyond that of just the Car Package it’s self. The connected car must connect with other devices beyond the control of the auto maker, obviously standards etc will help. The problem for auto makers is that sotware driven innovation moves faster than the automakers development cycle, so they will ahve to change the way they develop and introduce software innovations, and even seperate this from the car.

  • beyondplm

    Joe, thanks for sharing link to your blog! Valid point that connected cars are facing multiple challenges. Without dismissing other points, product complexity will increase. Especially when it will come to complexity of electronic parts in a car. In other words, maybe a line for PCB in a car BoM can be not enough in a future?

  • beyondplm

    Colin, thanks for brining this point up! Yes, it is about how multiple lifecycles are interplaying together – automotive OEMs, electronic and software. These parts are separated today in most of PLM (and other lifecycle management) systems. The question really is who can up to the goal to manage this level of complexity.

  • mdubey

    Oleg, Here’s an input on how complexity is managed in a networked environment in the electronics / chip manufacture industry itself (which as you point out is the source of new complexity in the automotive industry). Our software ( http://www.e2open.com/resource-center/resource/design-for-manufacturing-module-brief ) is used to manage the outsourced semiconductor manufacturing process, not just in terms of design, but also manufacturing process and test specifications (including software). It connects to PLM, ERP and MES systems and supports a rapid and distributed NPI process. I realize this is not traditional PLM, but some new ideas may emerge from a review. (We have recently had success in applying these ideas to pharmaceutical manufacturing as well, so perhaps a case can be made for cross-industry learnings). Thanks! Mohit Dubey

  • beyondplm

    Mohit, thanks for sharing link and the story of e2open. I will take a look on what you do. Why do you call it not traditional PLM? What are differences in your view?

  • mdubey

    Oleg, We go beyond the tree-based BOM representation and use a 3-layer network model to represent network manufacturing flows and many-to-many relationships between parts and transformation processes. Traditional PLMs often store documents that hold the much of this master data (instead of parametric representation) since the BOM structure describes only a small fraction of these relationships and constructs. Then, there is the link to “shop floor IT” (to use a phrase from your post on Multiple Dimensions of BOM Complexity). When combined with our Manufacturing Visibility solution, the DFM does as-built, as-tested tracking of lots, devices, components, etc. It also allows the validation of actuals to spec (even in an outsourced environment). This is important for quality control, traceability, validation and different types of compliance. Thanks, Mohit