Automotive B2B Developments at Odette25

Last week I attended the Odette Conference in Munich Germany. The conference is targeted at all B2B, ICT, Supply Chain and Logistics professionals across the automotive industry. This is the fourth time that I have attended this conference since I have been at GXS and although the conference has downsized since my first conference in 2006, the quality of the presentations and discussions at the event were superb. GXS had a stand in the exhibition area at the conference which allowed delegates to understand how GXS supports the global automotive industry.

The presentations given at the conference were varied and topical in nature, ranging from BMW discussing their global supply chain and logistics network, Continental discussing the role of the electronics industry in today’s cars, VW’s use of RFID solutions and Hella discussing OFTP2.  From a B2B perspective the most interesting presentations for me were on the afternoon of the second day.

These sessions were an ideal way to get an update on the work conducted by the various automotive industry associations around the world and to get a first hand view of how companies are implementing new standards developed by these industry associations. For example the Strategic Automotive product data Standards Industry Group (SASIG) develops global recommendations and promotes the implementation of automotive engineering standards.  SASIG works across  AIAG in North America, Odette, Galia and VDA in Europe and JAMA in Japan in developing standards to cover Product Data Quality, Product Data Management, Digital Engineering Visualization and Long Term Archiving and Retrieval, to name but a few.  SASIG has been heavily involved with developing standards to help the global automotive industry improve their design and engineering processes.

One of the common challenges facing automotive companies is exchanging engineering information with trading partners and ensuring that the information is available for the lifetime of the product concerned.  B2B has an important part to play in ensuring that this engineering information can be exchanged securely with trading partners. Up until recently nearly all engineering data (especially design related information) was exchanged across the European Network Exchange (ENX), but times are changing and it is now possible to exchange the same information securely across the internet.  I will discuss this in more detail in a few moments.

One of the new projects started by SASIG is Long Term Archiving and Retrieval (LTAR).  With nearly all engineering design and specification information being created electronically today it means that new processes have had to be devised to manage this information for the lifetime of the product concerned.  It is not unusual for design information to have to be archived for more than twenty years, so how will design information created today be retrieved in twenty years time? The work being conducted by SASIG now will help to develop such archiving and retrieval standards.  To illustrate why such standards will become so important in the future, there have been a number of safety and product recall related issues recently which have accelerated the need for such an archiving and retrieval standard.

For example the faulty throttle pedal assembly found in Toyota vehicles recently would have been designed in a Computer Aided Design System.  By storing this information electronically in an archive allows the designer or supplier of the faulty parts to be tracked down.  The engineering specs would also contain information such as the material it was made from and even where the raw material was sourced from.  It is of course government regulations that will partly drive the implementation of these new archiving systems.  Microsoft, Google and Amazon are spending millions of dollars establishing secure cloud based storage environments and I am sure these cloud storage facilities will only be too pleased to hold automotive related engineering information.  Managed File Transfer solutions will certainly play their part in transferring gigabytes of design data to these cloud based storage providers.

Another key area of interest during the conference was OFTP2.  Now I have been hearing about the benefits of OFTP2 at the previous two Odette conferences, but finally automotive companies are moving from running OFTP2 pilot projects through to actually running it across live production projects.  Just a brief recap as I have discussed OFTP2 in previous blog entries, OFTP2 is the successor to OFTP which was originally launched in the 1980s.  OFTP has become the automotive industry standard for EDI related communications. OFTP2 differs from OFTP in that you can transmit information across the internet and this can be achieved securely by encryption and through the exchange of digital certificates.  The other main difference to OFTP is that OFTP2 includes a restart mechanism which means that it is ideal for exchanging very large files such as engineering CADCAM models.   OFTP2 is starting to gain traction amongst the car manufacturers and large suppliers and a couple of companies provided an over of how they were progressing with the roll out of OFTP2.

Hella, a provider of lighting solutions to the automotive OEMs and the aftermarket sector, offered a good insight into their current B2B infrastructure and why they were deploying OFTP2. They currently support a number of networks including ENX and ANX (they are also a customer of GXS) and they support OFTP, AS2, FTP, SFTP and X.400.  They are currently implementing OFTP2 across their business. Hella was faced with a number of challenges including a need to run a lean administration of their B2B network, working across a heterogeneous communication landscape, exchanging data with global trading partners and of course to manage infrastructure related costs effectively. In addition Hella terminated their X.25 lines in 2006, ISDN lines are being closed down in several countries at the moment and bandwidth of ISDN lines is not sufficient to support Hella’s global business environment.  Hella thought that transmission across the internet was risky as it was perceived as being not very secure and as for AS2, well Hella had some bad experiences here with trading partner setup being both difficult and time consuming.

So in terms of planning for the future, Hella decided that any new communication protocol implemented across the business would have to be relatively low cost, secure, accepted by the global automotive industry, easy to implement, reliable, high bandwidth, backward compatible to OFTP1 and provide full traceability.  OFTP2 can address all of these afore mentioned issues.  Hella also highlighted that OFTP2 will not replace ENX for example because of the way in which each automotive company in Europe uses ENX.  In addition to exchanging normal B2B documents, ENX provides a platform that offers high speed video conferencing, collaborative development and use of secure portal applications.  Each company is different, due to the previous insecure nature of the public internet, ENX was entrusted with data exchange and indeed many companies may decide to continue using ENX in this way. Other OEMs will continue to use OFTP2 across the public internet.  As for Hella, their view is that non IP-based networks will run out during the next 5 to 10 years.  For this reason Hella is being proactive by moving to OFTP2 via the internet wherever possible.  Hella will also offer connections with OFTP2 via ENX and OFTP via ENX.  Hella’s suppliers will move step by step from OFTP via ISDN to OFTP2 via the internet.

Skoda and PSA also presented their reasons for adopting OFTP2 and these companies are amongst a growing trend for OEMs to start rolling out support for OFTP2.  PSA started the mass migration of their suppliers in May 2010 and PSA will end support for OFTP over ISDN by the end of this year. Other companies rolling out OFTP2 services include Volvo, VW Group and Daimler to name but a few.

The automotive industry is truly global in nature and the introduction of OFTP2 and cloud storage based services for example will certainly help companies working across the industry to exchange engineering related B2B information any time, any place, anywhere around the world.

For further information about the work carried out by SASIG, please click here and if you are a company working in the automotive industry and you would like to find out more information about OFTP2 or other projects being worked on by the European Odette organisation then please click here.  I will provide an update on GXS’s plans for supporting OFTP2 in a future blog entry.

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