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Rethinking the electronics systems value chain
























A “rethink” by the automotive industry of the electronics systems value chain is needed for the sector to meet its goals of higher quality and shorter time-to-market, says Massimo Mannori, director of strategy and operations at Italian specialist INTECS.

The company entered the automotive market eight years ago. Today its automotive division accounts for 15% of its total business, maintaining the highest growth rate across all divisions. INTECS is Premium Member of the AUTOSAR consortium. “Electronics is an opportunity as well as a nightmare for OEMs. They must, and they will, re-take control of it,” says Mannori. He believes this will be achieved through AUTOSAR, which “will soon deliver all its revolutionary power by deconstructing the Automotive industry value chain as much as Microsoft Windows did to the Computer industry”.

The core competencies of INTECS include its expertise of real-time operating systems on all major platforms such as VxWorks, QNX, Linux Real Time and Windows CE. INTECS multi-domain presence includes technologies like CAN, LIN, MOST, FlexRay, Bluetooth, WiFi/WiMax, IPv6, UMTS/LTE, GPS and Cartography.
INTECS products include SOFTREC, a Galileo-based positioning system developed with advanced Software Defined Radio technology, OBLUE, a SIG-certified Bluetooth stack and HRT-UML, a development methodology/tool for modeling hard real-time and dependable systems.

INTECS also developed MicrOsek, a hard real-time and networked operating system that runs critical railway and space applications as well as automotive components. The company says it capitalizes on its real time and embedded systems know-how to provide consultancy services and process improvement support to its customers. This includes CMMI process improvement, and Automotive SPICE ((Software Process Improvement and Capability dEtermination) process improvement, integrated safety processes, quality management, configuration management, software engineering concepts and tools, and component and system assessment. 

“The automotive industry is dramatically changing and it is no more the sole kingdom of mechanical engineers – 50% of breakdowns and 70% of differentiating features are coming from software.  

INTECS’ current plan is to consolidate its European market while increasing focus on regions like China and India. The company is also focusing on issues like safety. “Electronics have become so pervasive that cars are more like ‘computers on wheels’, as the Head of our Process and Safety Consulting Division, Paolo Panaroni, likes to say. But computers can be wrong and this is even worse when they have wheels,” says Mannori.

In response, the industry has been working on a new ISO standard (26262) on functional safety which should be made available soon as a Public Available Specifications (PAS). “Safety analysis has always been accurately performed by OEMs and Tier1 suppliers, but the results of that analysis has not always had a direct and consistent impact on the software lifecycle throughout the industry. The official introduction of ISO 26262 expected by 2010 will certainly change that forever – as happened in the railway domain with the introduction of the Cenelec 50129 family of standards,” says Mannori. 

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Mannori how well the Automotive SPICE standard had been accepted by automotive electronics firms?

Mannori: The Largest multi-domain electronics suppliers have always been familiar with quality standards – well before Automotive OEMs. It is well known, among quality experts, the case presented by Bosch at the Software Engineering Process Group in 2004 demonstrated with hard numbers the dramatic quality improvement they could reach after six years of a CMM practice initiated in 1998. Today all Automotive players, from the largest OEM to the smallest suppliers, have realized the growing role software is playing within their products and the unsuitability of their current processes to develop high quality industrial software. The pressure coming from OEMs is often the primary motivation to comply with Automotive SPICE, but they soon realize how the deployment of mature software processes pays back in terms of efficiency and flexibility. 

AI: What role does INTECS play in propagating the quality process?

Mannori: INTECS has been very active on ISO 15504 – also known as SPICE – since its initial standardization efforts in 1998. INTECS contributed to tailoring on-board space software, sponsored by the European Space Agency and known as Spice4Space (2002). This experience has been deployed to the benefit of the automotive industry through AutoSPIN Italia. SPICE was officially launched in 2007 as the standard for automotive software. 

INTECS’ unique value proposition in running process improvement programs for its customers stems from its 35 years of quality practice on its own projects and from its independence from any specific standard or certification scheme (SPICE, CMMI, etc.). We ‘walk the talk’. INTECS coaches automotive suppliers on the set-up and roll-out of mature processes, methods and tools with a special attention given to pursue quality and discipline without losing efficiency and flexibility. We call it ‘disciplined agility’. 

We also believe model-based framework (Simulink, Stateflow, Real-Time Workshop; TargetLink, etc.) is key to reach ‘high quality at automotive industry pace’. It has been a reality for many years in the space and avionics domains, but is now widely adopted in automotive as a smart solution to meet the three-fold challenge: exploding software-intensive functions, shorter time-to-market and a globalized network of ECUs, software components and suppliers. However models and automatically generated code are items to be handled with extreme care. “Collateral damage” is often under-estimated and quality processes are once again key for success. 

AI: Cars are becoming ‘computers on wheels’– how close are we to this?

Mannori: Software intensive electronics systems are substituting key legacy systems (eg. brake-by-wire) as well as bringing most of the innovation to the industry, from active safety (eg. emergency braking or ADAS) to powertrain (eg. emission control or hybrid engines) and to the whole infotainment and telematics package. This means that modern cars today are equipped with a minimum of 15 ECUs interconnected through a forest of networks, and this count explodes to 70-80 for higher range cars. The total amount of on-board software exceeds easily that found in an early Airbus plane. The car is becoming an ‘intelligent device’ supporting the driver or even compensating his driving mistakes 

AI: What is the work INTECS does in the safety facet of automotive electronics?
Mannori: Software is not only driving most vehicle functions, but is also deployed to prevent, detect and possibly compensate electronic and/or mechanical failures. It is a safety ally, an intelligent continuous supervisor watching, second by second, km after km, for any potential hazards. But computers can go wrong. Erroneous software may command (or fail to command) actuators when it should not. In some cases, this may lead to serious hazards with little driver control. INTECS is supporting the industry with all its experience on RAMS (Reliability, Availability, Maintainability, Safety) techniques, throughout the whole system and software lifecycle, from design to development and to staged and formal testing. 

Our consultants have adapted IEC 61508 in order to set-up a proper and efficient safety process. FMEA and FTA analysis includes software as integral part of the system safety. Moreover, compliance with safety standards is enforced through rigorous application of techniques tailored to the relevant ASIL (Automotive Safety Integrity Level), with most critical systems (eg. brake-by-wire or ADAS) requiring a mix of sophisticated techniques like Defensive programming, Redundancy and Diversity.

Last but not least INTECS is actively contributing to the finalization and enhancement of the overall safety concept of AUTOSAR architecture with guidelines on safety process and functional safety requirements, clearly mapped onto AUTOSAR components and terminology. 

AI: What are some of the breakthroughs INTECS is making with AUTOSAR-compliant applications and ECU/MCU solutions?

Mannori: The AUTOSAR ‘deconstructed’ architecture will be more flexible and efficient but also harder to debug. INTECS is contributing to the definition of procedures to facilitate analysis of a system failure or malfunction. Our focus is the definition of software modules able to collect and store significant data used to analyze the history of the Software Component via an external tool. INTECS’ objective is to become a focal point in the AUTOSAR domain for debugging and diagnostic tools which can support technicians during development, production and after-sales phases.

It is exciting to work side by side with OEMs, which realize how much they are already depending on AUTOSAR. Thanks to its common framework, they are actively driving and participating in the customization of key vehicle functions they buy from Tier1 suppliers. Not only do OEMs and their customers get exactly what their designers want, but they are also able to monitor re-use and therefore timing and costs within their supplier solutions. Finally, they are gaining an increased control of single components and overall vehicle engineering.

INTECS is also active on the basic software side of the equation, where we are working on interesting projects for specific drivers and MCAL (Micro Controller Abstraction Layer). It is amazing how quick microchip suppliers were to jump on AUTOSAR from day one and to drive it consistently throughout their product development, and by partnering with leading edge software companies. On the other side it is sometimes surprising to see how slow some established Tier1 companies are in understanding the opportunity, but also the threat, that AUTOSAR is bringing to their world. 

AI: What’s your game plan for China and India?

Mannori: Our natural playground is Europe, but we are looking into China and India for both sides of our business. First as low cost sources of skilled workforce even though costs have gone up and deliveries’ timing and quality are sometimes an issue. More interestingly, with China as the largest world car market, we are looking at “new entrants” to the global markets like Tata or Chery that might be interested in a high-quality and cost-effective electronics partner like INTECS.

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Tue. June 18th, 2024

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