The CGI Solution That Made Volvo Cars and Geely Overcome Their Fear of the Cloud
Verdi Ogewell posted on October 19, 2015 |
Is there a “fear of the Cloud” in the automotive industry?

Is there a fear of the Cloud” in the automotive industry?

While perhaps not quite fear, there is a reluctance and skepticism against storing product IP in cloud environments.

Sales material: no problem. Financial transactions: no problems there, either.

Product data: BIG PROBLEM.

But the world is a dynamic place, and things have started to happen that might help erode that resistance.

At Volvo Cars, global IT consultant CGI developed a SaaS solution (Software-as-a-Service) that may help the cloud skeptics change their minds.

Generally there are many a good reasons for using the cloud. The automotive industry is evolving towards collaboration to leverage their huge investments in technology such as new platforms and powertrains. Volvo Cars is no exception: the number of external partner projects has been growing over the last 15 years.

During this period, the ownership of Volvo Cars has changed from Ford to their Chinese owner, Geely, and the challenges of collaboration are getting more complex.

Handling product data is one of the key elements in controlling the complexity.

Irene Gustavsson of Volvo Cars – responsilble for the CGI developed cloud based collaboration solution.

Irene Gustavsson of Volvo Cars – responsilble for the CGI developed cloud based collaboration solution.

I spoke about the challenges connected to the growing complexity with Irene Gustavsson, senior manager of business development at Volvo Cars, during PDT Europe 2015, a PLM event that took place in Stockholm last week.

Gustavsson has played key roles in several major Volvo projects over recent years, including the Delta project, separation from Ford and the development of Ford’s C3PNG (CAx and PDM: Catia V5 and Siemens Teamcenter). 

She is also involved with Volvo's currently existing PLM solution, based on the proprietary product data base and configurator KDP, in combination with CATIA and Teamcenter.

She describes the Delta project “as the Perfect Storm for PLM,” and definitely something they don’t want to go through again.

But today, a PLM solution is in place as described in one of my previous articles. The IT people have laid a solid digital foundation for the company's development and metamorphosis in recent years.

The engine range is now based entirely on the Volvo Engine Architecture (VEA), all the bigger cars in the model program are on the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA)  and the cooperation with Geely for  China-Euro Vehicle Technology (CEVT) is based on the Compact Model Architecture (CMA).

Volvo Cars, as many other OEM’s in the automotive industry, has a ”fear of the Cloud”. The idea of putting product data in Cloud environments is not something they want to do. The new CGI solution can change all that.
Volvo Cars, as many other OEM’s in the automotive industry, has a ”fear of the Cloud”. The idea of putting product data in Cloud environments is not something they want to do. The new CGI solution can change all that.

A PLM SaaS Solution that Integrates

At Volvo, the pace of development is unusually high, which places great demands on communication platforms and collaboration processes.

To meet this demand, the global IT consultant CGI developed a solution that will sharpen the communication between VCC CEVT and committed partners,  called  “CGI Partner Collaboration Service.”

It is a SaaS solution that integrates VCC's PDM/PLM systems (Teamcenter & KDP) with CEVT, suppliers and partners, and provides 24/7 information on everything from product design and manufacturing to finance and aftermarket.

Responsible for the solution in VCC is Irene Gustafsson. From CGI's side, Clemens Rubensson is responsible for delivery. The project began in January and was completed in early June.

“We use Eurostep’s Share-A-Space software as a database and hub, and it is delivered as a service (SaaS) which is paid monthly for actual use. We can divide the service into three layers: infrastructure, application management, and service (services), where we - CGI – are responsible for the whole,” says Rubensson, who belongs to PLM expert Peter Norstedt’s CGI team called Manufacturing Industry.

He adds that CGI at the basic infrastructure level is responsible for the 24/7 availability, control of IT operations, security and functionality.

“The service focus is on collaboration, but also external partners and suppliers will be a part of the user community,” says CGI’s Peter Norstedt.

“The service focus is on collaboration, but also external partners and suppliers will be a part of the user community,” says CGI’s Peter Norstedt.

“At the application level, we have Share-A-space as the engine of the system, development of user interfaces (in the familiar Windows environment) and integration. At the top we have a service level that includes the connection of new partners, delivery of new services, change management, problem solving, training, support, documentation, strategic development (governance management) and continuous improvement. It’s a complete solution for efficient, virtual collaboration,” stated Peter Norstedt.

“The service is built with a focus on collaboration, primarily between VCC and CEVT, but also with external partners and suppliers,” added Norstedt.

SaaS PLM Based on Established Collaboration Standards

One of the major points concerning the Share-A-space software is that it’s based on established standards such as STEP and PLCS (“standards based PLM”), making it easy to map new sources of information to the hub and connect or remove players at the project start and finish. 

The software has been successful in recent years and today it serves as a collaboration hub for many large companies in the automotive and aircraft industries.

Share-A-space is based on STEP AP239, Product Lifecycle Support (PLCS), and AP214/242. It acts as a neutral base for integration with many sources of information in PDM/PLM and ERP environments.

“With STEP and PLCS, all sources becomes compatible regardless of the basic logic. It provides a flexible, secure and scalable solution in the Windows environment, that is easy to implement and deploy, which was an important component of this project,” asserts Peter Norstedt.

To Overcome Skepticism

Norstedt concludes that the skepticism in the automotive industry, not least at VCC, to conduct development in the cloud can be overcome and,  “the CGI solution is the reason for it.”

VCC and Geely have many projects in the pipeline and there was a rush to get started without costly investments in hardware and software. “We started the project in January and finished in June,” says Rubensson.

“It is worth noting, that the solution in this case is not limited to the exchange of product data, but also provides information about assets and resources, projects, finance and sales. It is a fully integrated solution delivered as a service and therefore does not require specific investment in either infrastructure or software,” claims Norstedt.

Why STEP and PLCS are Needed

In a world where the file formats for industrial IT support are varied and not always compatible between different software, neutral standard formats play important roles.

This is significant, and spans everything from requirements management and product development to maintenance and service.

In conclusion, the systems must be able to communicate with each other. These conditions are the background for systems such as the ISO STEP format (Standard for the Exchange of Product model data). 

The point is that "STEP-storage" of a 3D CAD model made in any of the commonly used CAD solutions, means that it can be read and processed in another.

But today, solutions for the exchange of only CAD models is not enough. One must be able to work in terms of the whole and with solutions that can manage all data related to the product life cycle area.

In the latter case, the solution is called PLCS (Product Lifecycle Support) which is a specially developed application protocol to be used in connection with data exchange: AP239 (Application Protocol).

But there have been factors complicating the quest to develop globally applicable standards that are accepted by many industries, something that would make life easier for suppliers of PLM and CAD systems.

For example, the US and aviation industry influenced CAD protocol AP203 versus the German and automotive influenced AP214.

CAD users and providers eventually became tired of supporting two versions of the same character. Therefore, the new AP242 was released about two years ago.

"The really great thing about this is that you don’t have to make a choice of what it is you want to support as the new standard covers most aspects," commented Håkan Kårdén, who leads Eurostep Group, the company that developed the Share-A-space. He adds that "this work for a common standard for the aerospace and automotive CAD and manufacturing have now been harmonized with the PLCS (AP239)."

No doubt this is an important point. Today, according to CIMdata, there are more than 200 different standards. That’s a lot, but by referring to the variations between different branches of industry, many of the different standards could be relevant.

But certainly not all of them. With too many standards, there are no standards.

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