Tesla, iPad on wheels and BOM management complexity

Tesla, iPad on wheels and BOM management complexity


The complexity of manufacturing is skyrocketing these days. It sounds reasonable for many of us when it comes to spaceships, jetliners and defense systems. You can think about car as something much simpler. Navigate to Ford Heritage website article – Ford Celebrates 100 Years of the Moving Assembly Line. The complexity of Ford Model T just about 100 years ago was few thousands parts:

One hundred years ago today, Henry Ford and his team at Highland Park assembly plant launched the world’s greatest contribution to manufacturing – the first moving assembly line. It simplified assembly of the Ford Model T’s 3,000 parts by breaking it into 84 distinct steps performed by groups of workers as a rope pulled the vehicle chassis down the line.


The situation is completely different these days and it raises concerns of cars reliability because of design complexity. My attention was caught Business Insider article – Consumer Reports Says Infotainment Systems Are Ruining Car Reliability. Picture in the article shows central computing unit of Tesla Model S. I’m not sure the concern of authors was specifically about Tesla, but I noticed the following passage:

“Of the 17 problem areas CR asks about in its survey, the category including in-car electronics generated more complaints from owners of 2014 models than for any other category.” Automakers have invested heavily in infotainment systems since consumers began demanding them in a wide variety of vehicles. Furthermore, the entire auto industry is looking forward to a future in which in-car electronics, displays, related infotainment systems, and advanced self-driving features will be increasingly prevalent, if not dominant. It can be difficult enough to engineer a highly reliable car from a strictly mechanical standpoint. There are quite literally a lot of moving parts. Bringing a whole new cluster of technologies into the picture has created additional pressures — and to a certain extent given Consumer Reports’ testers more to find wrong.

This article reminded me few topics I touched before on my blog. One of them is related to some of my speculation about future plans of Tesla to build their own PLM system. Another one is related to future need to combine engineering and software BOMs. I think, these are very critical elements of modern PLM system to serve the needs of many manufacturing companies. Tesla is probably an extreme case. But the question is for how long.

Here are some interesting examples about Tesla electronic and software. Navigate to Autoconnectcar article – Telsa S super connected car is a giant iPad on wheels? The article speaks about some interesting tear-down project made by IHS, which is known for tearing down smartphones and tables. IHS recently tore apart 2013 Tesla Model S. Read the article and watch few videos. The following passage gives you an impression of Tesla media control unit (the hub of infotainment and everything else in Tesla)

The Premium Media Control Unit is gigantic as compared to other cars with a 17″ diagonal display that controls the whole car with a NVIDA Tegra 3 1.4-gigahertz quad-core processor. It’s large, with ten printed circuit boards with wireless communications (Sierra Wireless 3G HSPA+ cellular module), GPS, Bluetooth/Wi-Fi (Parrot), a visual computing modual, DRAM, supporting components, touchscreen controller,  display controller and motherboard. The instrument cluster is NVIDIA Tegra 2 based

The complexity of bill of material just for this unit goes beyond average smart TV set. Which can give you an impression of overall complexity. The article briefly mentioned future connected telematics with internet access. Which connects to even more complex topic of IoT complexity and scale I posted before – IoT data will blow up traditional PLM databases.

What is my conclusion? The challenges and complexity of product development and manufacturing are real. The wide spread of electronic and software in modern manufacturing products and the overall complexity level is growing up. While all eyes are now following Tesla, my hunch other cars are not much different and modern product development trends will not make car simpler. It raises many questions about requirements to PLM software capable to manage such level of complexity. PLM vendors and engineering IT architects can take a note and do some homework. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Pictures credit Business Insider article and Ford Heritage website.


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