Siemens’ Mentor Applies Generative Design to Electronics
John Hayes posted on July 11, 2018 |

Mentor claims that its software can be used to generatively design electrical and electronic architectures for vehicles. But what exactly does this mean? And does it matter to vehicle development teams? Will Siemens make generative electrical design more broadly available outside of transportation applications?

A render of automotive electrical systems. (Imagecourtesy of Siemens PLM.)
A render of automotive electrical systems. (Image courtesy of Siemens PLM.)

What Is Generative Design?

When product developers speak of generative design, they are typically referring to a process whereby the design team uses computing power to iterate geometry that humans would be unlikely to suggest. The structures produced by generative design are often heavily latticed and reminiscent of organic shapes.

The role of the human designer in generative design is to provide the software with a set of requirements and constraints, and then refine the solutions that the software provides. This approach is proving to be useful for light weighting part designs by creating designs that meet structural requirements with less material.

Within the realm of electrical and electronic architectural design, there is also the potential for hundreds of constraints, particularly within vehicles. A generative design system for electrical and electronic architectures would use computing power to develop alternative architectures that can meet system constraints in a way that is faster and better optimized than a human could.

Automotive Electronic Architectures Are Becoming Too Complex for Humans to Comprehend

As vehicles increasingly embody a system of electrical and electronic systems, the underlying architecture can become so complex that it requires a new approach to design and optimization. “In many cases, it is beyond the capability of a human brain to manage the interdependencies and to solve for an optimal solution,” said Martin O’Brien, general manager of the Mentor division of Siemens PLM. “Model-based systems engineering allows design teams to solve problems that are otherwise unsolvable by simply adding more engineers.”

For example, in-vehicle Controller Area Network (CAN) communications systems were historically separate systems. One network might control the lights, the windshield wipers, the braking system or the powertrain. It’s now common for commercial vehicles to incorporate as many as six separate CAN systems, all of which are interdependent. As those systems become more integrated systems of systems, the network design process becomes dramatically more complex. Designing these networks quickly to be failure proof outstrips the capabilities of spreadsheets and macros.

Mentor recently announced an extension of its Capital electrical design software, called Capital System Networks. This extension addresses the Society of Automotive Engineers J1939 standard for in-vehicle electrical communications within heavy-duty commercial vehicles, such as trucks, buses and off-road vehicles. O’Brien said this new “model-based solution enables a highly effective design approach offering the potential for 90 percent design efficiency improvement for J1939-based CAN networks, while at the same time handling several thousands of signals.”

Off-road vehicles are proving to be a useful environment for developing autonomous driving systems because these vehicles encounter less variability in their travels. A truck on a mining site or a harvester in a field does not have to account for road signs, traffic rules or the variability of human drivers in other vehicles. As a result, these sorts of vehicles are becoming autonomous at a more rapid pace than passenger vehicles. With the rise in these autonomous systems comes a dramatic increase in system complexity.

Electric drive train complexity(on the left) vs autonomous drivetrain complexity (on the right). (Image courtesy of Siemens PLM.)
Electric drive train complexity(on the left) vs autonomous drivetrain complexity (on the right). (Image courtesy of Siemens PLM.)

One Mentor customer that has used Capital is CNHi. “Capital supports advanced platform architecture exploration, allowing us to generate rapid iterations and evaluate different implementation options directly within the design environment,” said Rosa Talarico of CNHi.

The trend toward the electrification of all aspects of vehicles is unlikely to slow down. The demands of autonomous vehicles and electronic drivetrains will only increase the need for automation within electrical and electronic architectural design.

Applying Generative Design Outside the Automotive Industry

It seems that by tackling one of the more complex environments first (vehicle electronics), Mentor has set itself up to offer generative electronic design to a broader market. That makes this space an interesting one for design teams from all industries to watch.

Siemens is also continuing its integration between electronic design and the mechanical design applications—one of the more exciting promises of its acquisition of Mentor. According to O’Brien, “You have to functionally integrate the electrical systems together, and ideally you also have to architect them in the context of the 3D physical geometry that is the nonelectrical parts. We now open up NX models (MCAD) directly within the Mentor (electronic) interface, and the NX team can open up electrical files. The level of integration we can achieve is unparalleled now that we are on the same team.”

Given the irreversible trend toward integrated electronic and mechanical products, product design teams will appreciate a unified design environment. With the rise in system complexity, a generative approach seems to make a lot of sense.

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