Volkswagen Solves “Massive Software Problems” for New Electric Car, and is On Track Industrially and in PLM
Verdi Ogewell posted on June 09, 2020 |
First 10,000 vehicles built on the new MEB platform had problems with the software architecture.

“Massive Software Architecture Problems.” It was a discouraging headline that met Volkswagen’s developers just after the completion of the first series of VW’s new electrical ID.3 model late last year.

It turned out that the first series of 10,000 vehicles completedwhich were built on the new MEB platformhad problems with the software architecture. According to later reports from sources inside VW in March of this year, the cause of the software problems is that the basic architecture had been developed "too quickly," resulting in parts of the system not working together correctly and therefore malfunctioningand to some extent not functioning at all.

But this will not affect Volkswagen’s plans for the cars in terms of the ID.3 launch.

The timeline for the ID.3 that we have been communicating for months has not changed. The world premiere took place at the IAA 2019, production started as planned in November 2019, and the ID.3 will be launched this summer 2020,” Volkswagen’s spokesperson for eMobility, Andreas Hoffbauer, said to engineering.com. “The software is installed in the vehicles when they are produced in Zwickau, and will be updated to the latest version in the summer prior to customer handover.”

As with many newly created advanced platforms, new solutions are often afflicted with “teething problems.” VW's MEB platform for the design of electric vehicles in the mainstream segment is no exception. However, despite the troubled start with the ID.3, the larger journey the company has begun related to the electrification of its entire range of vehicles is exciting—and bottom line, industrially it is absolutely right.

But what is the background of the industrialization phase of VW's electricity program and the MEB platform? Which PLM software is being used? What do VW's pioneering thinking and solutions mean about the "Industrial Cloud” concept? What role does Amazon Web Services (AWS) play? Why does electrification mean a radical shift in competence needs, integration thinking and development and production methodology?

I will look at these questions in today's article.

A TOUGH START, BUT VOLKSWAGEN IS ONE OF THE LEADERS in the industrialization of product development and manufacturing of small and medium-sized electric cars and hybrids. With its MEB platform and the investment in a new concept for industrialization via the Industrial Cloud concept, VW has good prospects. Although the software architecture of the first car manufactured on the MEB platform, the ID.3 (pictured), has suffered a setback, the conversion process from fossil-fueled to electric or hybrid vehicles is a dramatic change from a product development point of view. Automotive industry products are extremely complex—
A TOUGH START, BUT VOLKSWAGEN IS ONE OF THE LEADERS in the industrialization of product development and manufacturing of small and medium-sized electric cars and hybrids. With its MEB platform and the investment in a new concept for industrialization via the Industrial Cloud concept, VW has good prospects. Although the software architecture of the first car manufactured on the MEB platform, the ID.3 (pictured), has suffered a setback, the conversion process from fossil-fueled to electric or hybrid vehicles is a dramatic change from a product development point of view. Automotive industry products are extremely complex—"computers on four wheels"—and involve thousands of engineers and product developers in the process. Expecting to completely avoid “teething problems” in the form of functional deviations during the debut of design platforms and industrialization concepts, is unrealistic. In today's article, we look at the background of Volkswagen's focus on and problems in this regard.

It’s clear that VW is at the forefront of development regarding the world's vehicle fleets becoming electrified or "hybridized." The company is constantly fighting for global top performance when it comes to which car brand sells the most vehicles per year—see the fierce battle with Toyota in particular, but also the fight against the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi combination. Each of these automotive players sells just over 10 million cars a year. This means there is a great deal of value at stake when transforming the world's car fleet to become electricity-based.

Dramatic Changes to the Development and Manufacturing Process

Electric power combined with online connected vehicles not only means a change in energy consumption from fossil to electric, but also introduces dramatically changed product development and manufacturing processes.

These changes move towards a position where the mechanical content decreases, while electronics and software content increase. This will also be reflected in a new need for expertise with the digital toolbox alongside changing product development methodologies where PLM/cPDm, simulation, software and manufacturing integration such as Operational Technology (OT) are growing in importance and use. It all becomes extremely complex.

In today's article, I will discuss the MEB platform, Volkswagen's PLM basics and the new "Industrial Cloud" which was launched last year.

So, how does it look? Generally, Siemens Teamcenter is the main solution on the PLM/cPDm side, with Dassault's CATIA as the CAD program. In the “Industrial Cloud” setup Amazon Web Services is a central component, while Siemens IoT platform MindSphere is another.

VW’S ELECTRICAL PLATFORM MAP. An illustration showing the Volkswagen Group's various vehicle platforms.
VW’S ELECTRICAL PLATFORM MAP. An illustration showing the Volkswagen Group's various vehicle platforms.

Volkswagen's MEB Platform in Focus

An interesting aspect of modern automotive product development is "platformization" as a basis for the design work within one or more model programs. Previously, engineering.com has covered Geely's product development company CEVT, which delivers platforms to Volvo Cars, for example. Geely is not alone in this; several vehicle companies operate in the same manner, and Volkswagen is one of them.

Volkswagen Group has developed four modular platforms to support electric cars throughout its portfolio of brands. Some of these platforms will be opened up to competitors or other manufacturers to use in order to spread the costs of introducing electrification. One of these, the MEB platform for small and medium-sized mainstream cars, debuted in late 2019 in the form of the Volkswagen ID.3, and will be shared with Ford through a deal announced in July of that year.

VW's other EV platforms, shown in the image above, are designed primarily for premium cars and can also be shared with competing car manufacturers—especially the PPE platform developed by Audi and Porsche for medium and large cars. The PPE platform will debut in 2021, most likely in Porsche's next-generation Macan, which has been confirmed to be an EV.

Optimizing Individual Components and the System as a Whole

Development of VW’s MEB platform started in 2015 with the goal of becoming a rational foundation for the development of electric vehicles. The MEB platform is a modular system (MEB stands for "Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten" in German; "Modular Electric Propulsion Platform" in English) which is designed to optimize the electric vehicle design and streamline the manufacturing process. The MEB’s functionality includes such things as torque, power and speed for main-wheel drive and for optional front-wheel drive, which is used in versions of four-wheel drive.

Among requirements such as axle, drive, weight and wheelbase conditions, the design and placement of the high-voltage drive battery plays an important role in the overall MEB concept. While MEB helps to optimize individual components and the system as a whole, balancing these requirements takes careful consideration of the designer's efforts, especially when working on new technologies such as digitization, autonomous driving and electrical devices.

According to VW, the architecture aims to "consolidate electronic controls and reduce the number of microprocessors, advance the application of new driver-assistance technology and somewhat alter the way cars are built" by the VW Group.

In parallel to this, the idea is to be able to configure the ID. models using different sizes of battery. The battery’s modular layout allows scalable ranges from about 330 up to more than 550 kilometers, according to the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP).

To control the huge range of features on board the ID. models, Volkswagen has designed a completely new end-to-end electronics architecture called E3, as well as a new operating system called vw.OS. The ID. models will be the first to make full use of “E3” and “vw.OS.”

The new E3 end-to-end electronics architecture consolidates the control units known across the industry today to create a much more powerful and centralised processor unit. The performance and technological desirability of the models is not just guaranteed when the vehicles are new; Volkswagen will work to ensure enduring appeal across the vehicle’s entire life cycle by making the systems compatible for updates and upgrades accessed via the Cloud.

In total, the Volkswagen Group plans to invest almost EUR 44 billion in electrification, digitization, mobility services and autonomous driving until 2023, of which EUR 30 billion is earmarked for e-mobility alone.

By 2025, electric vehicles are expected to account for about a quarter of VW’s model portfolio. The MEB platform plays a key role in this investment.

FOUR-WHEEL PROPULSION ON THE MEB PLATFORM. Schematic illustration of power transmission on the MEB platform, with optional four-wheel drive (left, front of vehicle) and main drive (right, behind vehicle).
FOUR-WHEEL PROPULSION ON THE MEB PLATFORM. Schematic illustration of power transmission on the MEB platform, with optional four-wheel drive (left, front of vehicle) and main drive (right, behind vehicle).

Massive Software Problems with the New ID.3

The fact that Volkswagen is investing in electric vehicles is not fresh news. VW’s business plan titled "Together - Strategy 2025" included 30 new electric motor-driven car models until 2025. With the MEB platform as a basis, there will be a number of variants on electric car models, including the I.D. Concept, I.D. Buzz, I.D. Crozz and I.D. Vizzion. As mentioned above, ID.3 was the first to be released on the MEB platform in November last year. Additionally, the first ID.3 model was produced in VW's plant in Zwickau.

However, all new complex solutions have their “teething problems.” According to news reports in Germany, the platform's first batch of ID.3 cars has been experiencing massive software problems. In relation to the production of the first batch in late 2019, Manager Magazine reported that Volkswagen had these problems on the software side. According to the report, the ID.3, "will be built in months with an incomplete software architecture, which can affect up to 20,000 electric cars. These devices, intended for sale in Europe and not the United States, will require a manual software update."

Other reports again point at thousands of ID.3 cars having been parked in dedicated leased spaces until an attempt was made to correct the problems early this spring.

These plans involved a new software architecture to be installed manually in the first 10,000 ID.3 vehicles. In total, more than 20,000 ID.3s need rework in the software architecture. The goal regarding the remaining 10,000 cars includes being able to update the software via the “air”–a wireless network—something that Tesla, for example, is presently doing.

At the end of February, sources from Volkswagen told us that the software problems were caused by the software's basic architecture being developed "too fast," which resulted in many parts of the system not working together effectively, which in turn led to malfunctions.

“Dropouts and Other Difficulties”

According to online magazine Clean Technica, “Many of the system's elements do not understand each other, leading to dropouts and other difficulties.”. Quoting a magazine report, Clean Technica added, “Hundreds of test drivers of the car are reporting up to 300 errors a day. More than 10,000 technicians are trying to solve the problems, which could delay the ID.3's launch by up to a year.”

Today, however, Volkswagen’s eMobility spokesperson Andreas Hoffbauer denies this when I discussed the matter with him.

“The timeline for the ID.3 that we have been communicating for months has not changed. The production started as planned in November 2019, and the ID.3 will be launched this summer 2020,” he asserted. ”The digital experience will be a key element in the ID.3 success story. This will be Volkswagen’s first MEB-based EV with update capability.  Our aim is to deliver 30,000 ID.3 First Edition to customers in our pre-booking markets in Europe.”

In total, VW has needed to perform program fixes on 20,000 ID.3 vehicles before the second wave of production, scheduled to start in May. At that time, additional software updates could be distributed over wireless network, but it is currently unclear how the coronavirus pandemic has affected these schedules.

First Car on the MEB Architecture

Production of the ID.3 started late in 2019, and as mentioned above, it is the first EV to use Volkswagen's modular MEB architecture.

Generally speaking, two or more principles of electrical platforms are discussed in the automotive industry:

  • A low "skateboard" for traditional cars
  • A high "skateboard" for SUVs

The word "skateboard" is used here as a metaphor to illustrate the appearance of a vehicle platform such as the ones discussed above. In short, the vehicle platforms look like giant skateboards, which the later development programs "dress up" in different appearances, in the form of varying bodies, interiors and instrument panels, for example.

THE VW CHIEF FACES THE PROBLEMS HEAD ON. VW’s chief, Herbert Diess (right) got Ford on the “MEB journey” towards electrified vehicles. The American car manufacturer will produce electric cars using the German car manufacturer’s platform. Cooperation between car giants Volkswagen and Ford includes common platforms and also common technology for self-driving cars. Although the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down several major car projects around the world, Volkswagen and Ford have announced that the first steps in their joint project are already being taken this summer. There is also more to this collaboration: Volkswagen and Ford started the talks with a collaboration on the development of transport cars and pickups, but this has been extended to the MEB platform for electric cars. Ford plans to sell about 600,000 new electric cars in six years if they have access to VW's technology. The picture shows Volkswagen chief Herbert Diess and Ford's CEO Jim Hacket.
THE VW CHIEF FACES THE PROBLEMS HEAD ON. VW’s chief, Herbert Diess (right) got Ford on the “MEB journey” towards electrified vehicles. The American car manufacturer will produce electric cars using the German car manufacturer’s platform. Cooperation between car giants Volkswagen and Ford includes common platforms and also common technology for self-driving cars. Although the coronavirus pandemic has slowed down several major car projects around the world, Volkswagen and Ford have announced that the first steps in their joint project are already being taken this summer. There is also more to this collaboration: Volkswagen and Ford started the talks with a collaboration on the development of transport cars and pickups, but this has been extended to the MEB platform for electric cars. Ford plans to sell about 600,000 new electric cars in six years if they have access to VW's technology. The picture shows Volkswagen chief Herbert Diess and Ford's CEO Jim Hacket.

When designing these “skateboards,” the goal is to have them packed with batteries as efficiently as possible to provide as much energy as possible.

Furthermore, since November 2018 Volkswagen has planned the MEB platform to have just two variants: one for passenger cars and one for commercial vehicles and heavier cargo vehicles, the latter of which would have a larger battery.

As mentioned, the platform is also available for procurement by other competing manufacturers. Currently, Ford is a good example of a strategic partnership with Volkswagen to use the MEB platform to take advantage of economies of scale and plans to build MEB cars in 2023.

WHAT DOES THE INDUSTRIAL CLOUD MEAN FOR FACTORIES OF THE FUTURE? Volkswagen Group uses this solution to realize the Industry 4.0 concept. The cloud-based platform, with its streamlined data exchange, is a crucial prerequisite for quickly being able to make innovations available in all locations. Examples include intelligent robotics and data analysis that can evaluate and compare processes on a
WHAT DOES THE INDUSTRIAL CLOUD MEAN FOR FACTORIES OF THE FUTURE? Volkswagen Group uses this solution to realize the Industry 4.0 concept. The cloud-based platform, with its streamlined data exchange, is a crucial prerequisite for quickly being able to make innovations available in all locations. Examples include intelligent robotics and data analysis that can evaluate and compare processes on a "plant-to-plant basis." The cloud-based platform makes it possible to scale up new applications directly to everyone.

Siemens Teamcenter is VW's Digital Backbone

When it comes to PLM solutions, Volkswagen works with Siemens Teamcenter as a product data backbone, and with Dassault Systèmes’ CATIA on the CAD side.

Today VW aims to link its 122 manufacturing facilities around the world with what is called the "Industrial Cloud." In September of last year, it was also clear that the German car manufacturer intends to consolidate all information to this cloud-based system.

VW’s primary partner in the Industrial Cloud is Amazon Web Services (AWS), which arranges the connections to the Siemens Teamcenter platform and above this creates the virtual system that will handle VW's production data worldwide. This arrangement will make it possible to consolidate all production and inventory planning under one system. Today, there are several IT systems used at various VW factories around the world.

The project will eventually link the car manufacturer's entire global supply chain, which includes 1,500 suppliers and partners in over 30,000 locations.

TO INTERPRET AND UNDERSTAND PRODUCT DATA. Siemens Digital Industries’ PLM Platform Teamcenter is VW's product data backbone, but more solutions from Siemens have important roles in the VW’s design, including the IoT operating system MindSphere. Every machine and system in a business generates lots of valuable data. MindSphere creates the opportunity to understand this data, and enables users to connect machines and infrastructure to the digital world, and providing industrial applications and services that can make the entire business more productive and efficient. In short, the solution can be described as a scalable Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) designed to develop new applications.
TO INTERPRET AND UNDERSTAND PRODUCT DATA. Siemens Digital Industries’ PLM Platform Teamcenter is VW's product data backbone, but more solutions from Siemens have important roles in the VW’s design, including the IoT operating system MindSphere. Every machine and system in a business generates lots of valuable data. MindSphere creates the opportunity to understand this data, and enables users to connect machines and infrastructure to the digital world, and providing industrial applications and services that can make the entire business more productive and efficient. In short, the solution can be described as a scalable Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) designed to develop new applications.

MindSphere Connects 122 Factories via AWS and Volkswagen's New Industrial Cloud

An important part of the Industrial Cloud is Siemens’ IoT operating system MindSphere.

VW uses MindSphere to connect and control machines and equipment on the shop floor at the 122 factories. This is one of the points with MindSphere: to connect physical machines to the AWS cloud within the framework of IIoT and technology for industrial automation. There are several advantages, but the one commonly mentioned is that with the help of the MindSphere technology you can work with predictive analysis. For example, users can proactively predict when machines will need maintenance and schedule operation and service accordingly to optimize production.

Volkswagen's industrial cloud is about sharpening production efficiency and flexibility. The combination of and access to data from all plants provides new opportunities for process optimization, including more efficient control of material flow, early detection and elimination of delivery bottlenecks, process disruptions and optimized operation of machines and equipment.

The cloud-based platform, with its simplified data exchange, is required for Volkswagen to provide new technology and innovations, such as those around electric power, quickly and in different locations. This includes things such as smart robotics and data analysis functions to analyze and control processes on the workshop floor, from plant to plant. With the cloud-based platform, new applications can be scaled up directly to anywhere in the world.

VARIANT OF THE MEB PLATFORM. The solution has good prospects of being successful.
VARIANT OF THE MEB PLATFORM. The solution has good prospects of being successful.

My Take – A Temporary Setback on the Road to Success

Every change in traditional development processes has its price, and few areas are as complex as vehicle development when it comes to change—among other things, due to the thousands of participants involved in the development work. It is particularly tough if the change is profound, such as in the case of electric car development, and involves new tools, demands for new skills and new development methodology. The MEB platform and VW's new Industrial Cloud are no exceptions.

Purely in principle, it’s not remarkable that the software problems with the ID.3 model may at first need to be resolved manually in order to be able to rectify the error, and in future update via wireless network.

Current software is extremely complex compared to how software used to be. Electrification and new designs don’t make it easier, specifically not if you as a developer are subject to a timeline that must be kept, as in VW’s case. Each function is literally connected to everything in the car and the cloud connections don’t bring more simplicity to the development job.

Furthermore, in the case of Volkswagen they have had eight different electronic architectures. In terms of software there is really no reason for having eight architectures. If you can reduce that, while at the same time keeping up the functionality and flexibility to change and update, then a lot is gained in effectiveness and product development speed, provided that things are working the way they are planned.

Updating software via the web is a natural part of the dynamic development flow around modern products. For example, Tesla does this and no one claims in this that Tesla is an "unfinished product."

Rather, you could consider the possibility of upgrading a product via the "air" with wireless networks as a pretty fantastic opportunity to sharpen it. Of course, functional failure is not acceptable, but in principle, functional upgrading of software via the Internet is an excellent opportunity.

Bottom line: Volkswagen is definitely on the right track in its MEB platform arrangement. The same goes for its arsenal of PLM tools linked to Industrial Cloud to bring together a sharper and optimized product development chain. “Teething problems” are part of the development dynamic. The final grade—if you can talk about one in a dynamic process—depends on how and whether you solve any related problems. A reasonable conclusion is that Volkswagen's software team solves the problems and that with possible marginal delays, the plan for ID.3 will be cleared.

Looking at PLM and the future for VW’s product realization, with Siemens and AWS as partners, the prospects for sharp platform solutions are good. My conclusion with regard to tools for a truly integrated, complete product realization process is that Siemens with PLM, IT and OT—as well as later IoT solutions that connect end users with vehicle developers—have come the furthest of all.

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