Two major, undesirable costs that can occur in a compressed vehicle development cycle are the result of: (i) Correcting problems that were not caught until late in the development cycle, and (ii) Failing to catch problems at all before they are introduced into the marketplace. The best case in these situations is that an OEM receives complaints in the field that result in warranty claims; the worst is a product recall. The old advice of never buying a car in the first year of a new model release (delay purchase until the bugs have been ironed out), is still followed by many. Such buyer uncertainty can be amplified nowadays due to the complexity of vehicle systems that are now in play.
No one likes to see an issue that wasn’t picked up during development that results in a recall that’s damaging, not just financially but in terms of overall brand image. Case in point: The most extensive and complex recall in US history, concerning Takata airbag inflators deployed across multiple brands, is only now coming to an end after nearly 20 years and more than 100 million inflator repairs.
Chassis systems are not immune. Recent recall examples include 350,000 2016 Honda Civic coupes and sedans for interference between ESC software and the electronic parking brake, more than 130,000 older Volkswagen Group models for potential problems with their ABS and ESC, and 56,000 Nissan Muranos on which a power steering hose clamp may become detached, leaking fluid.
Time for Cake
Let’s picture vehicle development as a layer cake. The base layer is regulatory compliance – a minimum level of performance that has to be addressed. The layer above that consists of internal requirements – fundamental performance criteria set by the OEM to which vehicles in each product class must adhere. Next up are market requirements – the car will compete with others on sale and the team may be aiming for best-in-class performance in a particular performance category such as handling, snow performance, or plushness.
The icing on top is meant to be excellence criteria. The magic ingredient pursued by the best automotive manufacturers, but ignored by those who, well…do not have the time. The clock expires, the development phase must come to an end in order to meet production deadlines, and the engineering team must wait until the product is in the field to focus on the fine tuning that might lead to excellence in a minor model revision, by which time other projects are underway...
With so much onboard technology and specialization in today’s vehicles, the tendency is to restrict simulation activities to the off-line realm. The aim here is usually quantity rather than quality: Perform thousands of simulations followed by data reduction and analysis in order to make judgements. In the best cases, Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) testing is included. Given that there are now so many electronic systems that have to be verified, it’s a logical approach. But a development process driven exclusively by off-line simulation processes in hopes of short-cutting the classic V-Model can place a vehicle development at risk of forgetting the most important “equation” of all: The human equation.
As it turns out, many people don’t want to drive an appliance. Vehicles must appeal to the heart as well as the head, and product differentiation is vital in an era when cars share more components than ever across brands and model lines. The human element should therefore be considered and infused into the development process as much as possible. Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) simulator technology provides an opportunity to do this without disrupting the efficiency gains of off-line simulation workflows.
As cited in a previous article, injecting engineering-class DIL simulation into an EPAS development (for example) can result in a surplus of development time for a steering functional group to allocate as it chooses. The same logic applies to other functional areas as well: DIL simulators provide a virtual test-driving environment that places real people in direct contact with vehicle systems that are under development – even before physical prototypes exist – thus securing surplus later in the cycle. In many cases it benefits a vehicle manufacturer to invest such surplus in the pursuit of excellence – on fine tuning, making the vehicle class-leading – rather than reaching the end of the development cycle with only the ordinary satisfaction of having met the baseline requirements for production sign-off, but nothing more.
Sufficient human exposure throughout the development cycle, via early and often human contact, reduces the prospect of having to rectify at a later date something that slipped through the cracks in development. Far better to have an excellent product in the field and be ordering a celebratory cake, icing and all, instead of a recall!
If you’d like to learn more about how automotive manufacturers use Driver-in-the-Loop simulators as product development tools, download our FREE white paper, “Look Down the Road: Driving Simulator Technology & How Automotive Manufacturers will Benefit.”