Electronic Products & Technology

Scorecard for embedded software integration in mechatronic systems


Electronics CEL

The integration of embedded software into the overall product lifecycle for Mechatronic systems will transform product development for today's complex offerings.

To understand the challenges and strategies for success, Collaborative Product Development Associates (CPDA) has completed an industry scorecard assessing the relative positions of leading users and the maturity of their embedded software integration practices. The scorecard identifies issues and priorities for integrating embedded software into Mechatronic systems.

This effort represents the first of several scorecards targeted by the new Mechatronics Council with upcoming efforts addressing the integration of electrical and electronic systems, mechanical systems, and digital manufacturing into overall Mechatronic offerings.

The scorecard captures input from over a half-dozen industry leaders and ranks these companies across five broad categories ranging from the definition of the engineering problem through product release and ongoing support. Scorecard participants included representatives from the automotive, industrial machinery, consumer goods, and aerospace and defense industries.

Twenty-four criteria were assessed during detailed discussions with the end users. These discussions required approximately two and a half hours with each company to ensure a solid understanding of their capabilities and solutions for working within the embedded space.
Companies received a 1 through 5 rating depending on their maturity for each of the criteria.


The low end represents little capability in the area and the high end captures the best possible rating – a condition not always attained by even the most sophisticated users. Comprehensive discussions with each participant provided accuracy in the ranking assessments.

The survey shows a keen awareness across multiple industries of the need to integrate embedded software practices with the mechanical and electrical domains. This ensures consistency across the engineering design and development activities for products with increasing Mechatronic content. The scope of integration must also include connections throughout the lifecycle, regardless of the artifact type. Only with full traceability between requirements, designs, models, simulation, and testing will companies have comprehensive knowledge to analyze the impact of any proposed changes or to assess possible design re-use.

The scorecard content covers the following five categories:

• The Definition of the Embedded Software Design/Engineering Problem addresses the mechanisms and processes for establishing valid requirements through requirements engineering and systems modeling approaches.

• Collaboration and Integration between People and Processes investigates data, process, and people collaboration, and the need for consistency within these collaborative activities. It also assesses the level of formal ownership for collaboration, such as systems engineering groups or lead domains.

• Embedded Software Design/Engineering Solution reviews the functional, logical, and physical design representations along with the methods and tools for simulating Mechatronic systems.

• Embedded Software Deliverables and Release covers testing, configuration/change management, re-use, release packages, and release processes.

• Supporting Technology/Tools looks at applications leveraged for requirements management, product lifecycle management, product data management, simulation, and testing activities. In addition, the needs driving tool customizations are reviewed.

Above represents the averages of the minimum, maximum, and mean of data cross all criteria within each category.

The integration of embedded software requirements into the overall lifecycle continues to be a challenge. Companies leverage document-centric approaches rather than object-centric alternatives, making it difficult to comprehend the context and scope of product requirements. CPDA strongly recommends the leverage of a single strategic tool as well as a formal and robust requirements engineering process. These approaches simplify the introduction of product families, supporting the need for product variants and broader offerings.

Technology and process challenges inhibit the ability for effective data collaboration. Embedded software data collaboration is particularly difficult due to lack of integration between embedded software modeling tools and PLM tools serving mainstream product development. By leveraging solutions such as Open Services for Lifecycle Collaboration (OSLC) definitions or Jazz offerings, companies can move toward a fully integrated and collaborative model.

Release activities, while generally mature, do not include the support needs of embedded software artifacts within the corporate release system. This makes the tracking of software code and alignment with physical controllers difficult. By integrating code and related artifacts within the corporate BOM system, automatic alignment is achieved within the release process.

Process collaboration continues to leverage manual and time-consuming design reviews, rather than true collaborative techniques. Iterative approaches, such as agile or scrum, provide the opportunity to transform process collaboration by exposing real-time status updates. The team-ownership mindset, typically found with iterative approaches, brings energy and efficiency to the software development activities.

While testing activities are extremely rigorous, the linkage of test results back to the original product requirements is not. Integration of test results for both evidence of compliance to requirements and for consumption by other domains or suppliers is purely manual. By introducing a robust approach to requirements integration, test results and corresponding designs can be re-used by future product programs.

Overall, this scorecard successful lly captures the current maturity levels for embedded software integration in Mechatronic systems across multiple companies and industries. Given the wide variances across nearly all detailed criteria, improvement opportunities abound for low-performing companies. By implementing the best practices documented in this report, companies can transform their business by offering greater product variety at lower cost.

Many best practices have been identified throughout this paper with three recommendations providing transformation opportunities for many companies. First, the integration and dependencies tracking of embedded software requirements to associated artifacts minimizes the risk of gaps between product offerings and customer expectations.

Second, the use of high-level system views, modeled by SysML, ensures tight coupling between the hardware and supporting software in the end product. Finally, a focus on product families minimizes effort necessary to develop diverse solutions containing many variants but sharing significant base functionality. For a listing of all best practices documented across all criteria, the report appendix details both typical characteristics and best practices for each of the five broad categories of the scorecard.

With highly complex development tools, processes, and end-products, companies face increasingly difficult challenges in meeting market demands and remaining competitive. Embedded systems have become enablers to address these complexities. In order to succeed, companies must embrace and prioritize embedded software and integrate the supporting data, technology, and tools within their overall strategic product development methodology.
(Published June 22, 2010;  full report is 28 pages – CLICK HERE)

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