A framework to foster traceability of E/E artifacts during automotive development in consideration of model-based systems engineering within distributed engineering collaboration by means of the blockchain
Dominik Heber is a PhD student in the department Design Engineering. Supervisors are prof.dr. M.W. Groll and prof.dr.ir. J. Henseler from the faculty of Engineering Technology.
The research work at hand assesses challenges that are arising during the automotive development process in distributed engineering collaborations. Particularly, traceability of E/E information artifacts in early development within a company and among multiple engineering partners is in scope. The state of science and technology so far has not established sufficient concepts to address these issues in detail.
This work constitutes the creation of a new solution framework by composition and assembly of existing approaches, similar to the Blockchain technology itself, and new solution elements applied in a complex and heterogeneous context with multiple stakeholders, different IT standards, and emerging technologies. Such a problem space in engineering can be denominated as a wicked problem and the research thereof as science of the artificial. The envisioned solution framework composing and assembling different solutions even could yield a surplus benefit, such as traceability reduces error proneness, increases quality, reduces efforts, etc., which is called emergence. Therefore, this work follows a design research approach.
The objectives of this work are to foster internal as well as external traceability by means of a solution framework consisting of a data model, process model, and technology as enablers. The objective to foster internal traceability is further refined by the connection of the early systems development (MBSE) with product documentation (PDM). External traceability is subdivided further into: cultivating the reduction of reconciliation among engineering partners, to encourage transparent and safe product changes, and to foster alleviated connection of engineering partners. Given the conceptualization of the enablers, the solution framework offers a sufficient satisfaction of the requirements to foster traceability of E/E information artifacts in engineering collaborations and addresses all previously defined objectives. During the implementation of the solution framework, not all aspects of the objectives and requirements are addressed by the enablers due to the underlying complexity of the connection of the solution framework with legacy IT systems.
The presented metadata model incorporates aspects of E/E, MBSE, and PDM in automotive development. System modeling aspects shape the hierarchy of the data model, which is strongly aligned with existing industry standards, and extending the data model further to include crucial missing aspects of E/E and PDM. For E/E in particular, the E/E systems all the way down to an ECU’s pin as well as a NCD are modeled. Configurations, variants, and versions are included to reflect the PDM aspects of a product lifecycle and for the collaborative exchange of data with engineering partners.
For the purposes of availability of data among engineering partners, association of data is achieved by including UUIDs and links into the metadata. Data integration is accomplished by RDF namespaces which comprise the joint metadata models of each domain and can be included into each engineering partner’s own IT systems using the defined links and UUIDs.
The definition of a metadata model, stored in standard form, its integration in the engineering collaboration, and the linkage to each partner’s legacy IT systems provide the fundament for traceability.
In alignment with the chosen systems development approach and the selected technology underneath, the elaborated process model defines at which point in time which information artifact is created in which IT system of which engineering partner. It has been considered that the systems development is aligned with the PDM.
Moreover, the process model includes, by the technology provided, instantaneous change propagation and the underlying consensus mechanism regarding these changes. Additionally, the exchange of data for the purpose of synchronization of all involved IT systems is modeled in the process models. Both aspects are transferred to engineering collaborations.
Combining the systems development with PDM aspects, as well as the reduction of reconciliation combined with transparent product changes, fosters traceability during the early automotive development phase with multiple engineering partners.
As for the integrational technology for collaborative data exchange, a decentral peer-to-peer data base is chosen, namely the Blockchain technology and specifically the Hyperledger fabric framework. By the use of the Hyperledger fabric framework, some objectives of this work are addressed inherently. The Blockchain technology fosters traceability through the immutable documentation of transactions among many peers, offers a consensus mechanism which can be applied to enterprise necessities, spreads changes in form of new transactions instantaneously, and many more. This work applies the Blockchain technology to the realm of engineering IT. Data and process models from engineering are adapted to fit the solution framework. The application of this solution framework in the early systems development in the automotive industry is a novelty. Moreover, ad hoc participation of engineering partners for the contribution of engineering content is alleviated by means of the standardized Blockchain technology.
As the Blockchain technology in the financial domain is classically not connected to further, extensive data bases, except those storing information of the transactions, users, or their assets, the connection to legacy IT tools and systems is tremendously challenging. Implementing standard APIs, joint data model namespaces, and the alignment of information artifacts across IT systems, enable this connection.
The Blockchain technology is a very powerful solution which helps fostering traceability in the systems development within an engineering collaboration, as it is shown in this elaboration. Yet, further research must be conducted to enable a standardized industrial application of it.