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What You Need to Know About the Automotive Product Development Process

Author: Anish Prabhu | July 1, 2021

The key to the successful development of any product is a smooth product development cycle—particularly in the automotive industry, where safety is paramount. The planning and control of your automotive product development process can make or break its ultimate success. It can mean the difference between a long, costly process that requires redesigns and reworks and one that flows smoothly for a quicker time-to-market.

Ultimately, it comes down to knowing which steps to take—and in what order—and having the right resources in place to carry them out.

Steps in the automotive product development process:

The obvious first step in your product development cycle is to define the scope. But beyond that, what comes next? Here are the six steps required for a successful automotive product development process:

Close up of odometer
  1. Hazard and Risk Assessment: With the scope defined, your first critical step in the automotive product development cycle is a hazard and risk assessment that evaluates potential scenarios of hazards and dangers for a particular component. This step is so crucial that I would even go so far as to call it step zero; before you take on any other aspect of your design, do this.

    While most automotive manufacturers are aware that the hazard and risk assessment is an important part of their automotive product development process, some fail to prioritize this step first; they do it in parallel to development to save time and money. Not only does this siloed approach fail to accomplish said objective, but it may even lead to costly delays that impact the entire project. When you identify a hazard or risk after production, you’ll be forced to stop production and revisit the design. One slight change in design can have a tremendous ripple effect across the entire product development lifecycle. By identifying the problem at the outset, you can easily revisit and tweak the design with minimal impact on production.

  2. Define safety goals: As you perform your hazard and risk assessment, you will also need to define your safety goals and assign an ASIL (Automotive Safety Integrity Level) rating to each component. Based on severity, exposure and controllability, ratings run on a scale from an A (representing the lowest degree of automotive hazard, such as heating and cooling) to a D (representing the highest, such as airbags). A stepping-stone to production, the ASIL rating is a critical step in the development of a reliable, functional and safe automobile.

  3. Create functional safety requirements: Your ASIL ratings and safety goals will give birth to your functional requirements, which are designed with the sole objective of mitigating the risk of human injury or harm. These requirements become the bread and butter of your automotive product development process and will drive the entire design of your product.

  4. Product development: Here, you’ll break down your functional safety requirements to the system level—followed by the hardware level, then software. A segue into the production phase of your automotive product development process, this step is where you’ll start defining and designing each component of your product. It’s worth noting that while product development at the system, hardware and software levels are technically three separate phases, they tend to occur simultaneously.

  5. Testing: Next, you’ll test the system—your hardware and software—which can take on three forms: formal testing, ad-hoc testing and regression testing. In essence, the automotive testing process is designed to effectively abuse a vehicle prototype to find its life limits.

  6. Safety analysis: The final step of your automotive product development process is your safety analysis, where you’ll analyze the test data to ensure the system that you created complies with your safety goals and ASIL ratings. If gaps are identified, you’ll need to go back to the safety goal, analyze it and either redesign the functional safety requirement or create a new one. If your analysis shows compliance with the safety goals, you’re clear to push your product into mass production and distribution.

While the automotive product development process as a whole seems daunting and wrought with complexity, there are steps you can take to ensure a smooth process—and Sterling can help. With our automotive PLM solutions, we’ll help you comply with the ISO 26262 product development standard, drive productivity and deliver superior quality—with none of the headaches. If it’s remote project management you’re struggling with during these challenging times, we can help you with that, too.

For more information about how we can support your automotive product development process, contact us here.

About Sterling PLM

Sterling PLM is a NJ-based product development consulting firm that helps engineering companies implement proven processes that govern the design and development of their engineered products. Using Polarion ALM, Sterling offers a regulatory-compliant approach to engineering management that supports collaboration, innovation and visibility across the entire product development lifecycle.

Sterling’s engineering experts have intimate knowledge of project management and product development in highly regulated industries, including automotive, medical devices and embedded systems. Sterling PLM is a Siemens Digital Industries Software Smart Expert Partner.

For more information, visit, Twitter @SterlingPLM or LinkedIn.


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