Back in 2009, an IEEE Spectrum article noted that the avionics system of the U.S. F-22 Raptor jet fighter launched in 1995 consists of about 1.7 million lines of software code. Today, premium cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-class depend on millions of lines of code running up to 100 networked electronic control units (ECU) throughout the body of the car, controlling and monitoring everything from the powertrain to the airbag system. As vehicles grow in complexity, coordination between carmakers, suppliers and other partners faces increasing challenges.
Safety recalls for automobiles sold in the U.S. are soaring. Part of the reason is the growing use of common parts across multiple model lines, and even by multiple automakers. Automakers have to connect with international suppliers, joint ventures and automaker partners operating different systems. One defective part may now affect multiple brands.
Siegmar Haasis, CIO for Research and Development at Mercedes-Benz Cars, believes that standards can help manage the increasing complexity inside the company as well as outside the company. One way to manage the increasing automotive design complexity is the use of ReqIF (Requirements Interchange Format) to facilitate the exchange of specifications for parts and systems between partners. Daimler is also testing systems engineering standards like OSLC (Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration), FMI (Functional Mock-up Interface) , XMI (XML Metadata Interchange) and SysML (Systems Modeling Language).
The wide use of standards can be transformative. A good example is the ISO shipping container, now accounting for 60% of ocean-going freight. Standard containers have enabled intermodal transportation, resulting in the development of modern supply chains and global trade. Standards make complexity more manageable, enable parallel work and accommodate uncertainty about the future.
But standards have drawbacks too. Standard adoption can damage competition and innovation. A standard is partly designed to limit or “stop” innovation (or dis-order) for a while in order to rationalize systems design, production, or operation. Ideally, standards should enable the inclusion of new knowledge over time, but that, by definition, is hard to do. Standards and their adoption affect company strategy and market share over time. Like most things connected today, the impact of standards on systems engineering can be… complex!