Martin O’Brien

Martin O’Brien

Mentor Graphics is a major supplier of software tools that help engineers design electronic systems and components.  Headquartered in Oregon, US, Mentor generates annual revenues of some US$1bn.  Its tools are involved in the design of almost every electronic gadget you can think of. To find out about its automotive business, Matthew Beecham spoke to Martin O'Brien, General Manager, Integrated Electrical Systems Division Mentor Graphics.

Could you explain a little more about Mentor Graphics, specifically its role in the automotive industry?

Mentor realised very early that automotive electronics would undergo dramatic growth, and indeed become a major source of innovation.  It's said that a car can now be thought of as the most complex consumer electronics product available.  We also realized that the segment would experience particular challenges such as the need to compress development cycle times, or to design with high levels of safety.  So Mentor started investing in the automotive market ten or even fifteen years ago through a combination of internal product initiatives and technology acquisitions.

The range of Mentor solutions now delivering results to automotive customers is significant.  Our products include tools for electrical distribution system/wire harness design, ECU design, systems modeling, network implementation, instrument cluster/in-vehicle infotainment development, and fluid/thermal/multiphysics simulation.  We also supply embedded software and software development tools.  Beyond product design, in some areas our tools reach into manufacturing operations, and even into vehicle troubleshooting.  To complement the tools Mentor offers technical training and services to integrate our products into customers' IT environments.

You will find Mentor present at automotive industry events worldwide, and contributing to standards initiatives such as AUTOSAR, GENIVI and VEC.

Who are your customers and for what automotive applications?

Mentor's customers include most of the world's major passenger car, truck and off-road vehicle OEMs, and their suppliers of electrical & electronic systems.  We have substantial presence in Europe, Japan, Korea and the US, and in fast growing geographies such as China and India.  With such a broad range of solutions the applications are quite diverse, ranging from thermal simulation of LED lighting to the creation of hardware reference platforms.  It would be confusing just to give a list of customer names, but as a leading vendor of electronics design tools I can say that our products are used by major ECU vendors such as Bosch and Denso, as you would expect.

It is interesting to look at the electrical systems/wire harness domain.  Here a particularly close design data integration is needed between the OEMs and their suppliers.  So customers for our Capital tools include OEMs such as Ford and Peugeot-Citroën together with their harness suppliers such as Lear and Leoni.  This pattern also applies in the truck and off-road vehicle segments. We count leaders such as Daimler and Fiat Industrial and their suppliers such as PKC among our valued customers.

Could you give an example of how, say, Leoni makes use of your tools?

Mentor's Capital tools give Leoni a complete engineering environment to manage communication with their OEM customers, from early stage cost estimation through to implementation of design changes during series production. The complexity of a modern automotive harness, which is typically available in multiple configurations and whose design changes at a remarkably high rate, creates a unique challenge for suppliers.  Capital is a real enabler helping Leoni to review incoming data and implement new product requirements faster than ever.  Data detailing the definition of harness families can be exchanged with OEMs in a variety of formats, and significant automation such as rules based component selection avoids manual errors and compresses turnaround time.  Indeed an unbroken data flow ("digital continuity") and advanced automation are the cornerstones of the Capital philosophy.  In a recent statement a Leoni spokesman described Capital as "the natural choice as Leoni's standard environment".  

In what other ways can your technology boost the position of companies supplying wire harnesses to the automotive industry?

Let me give two answers: cost and quality.  These are both important subjects in the automotive industry, of course.

In terms of cost, our tools capture electronic descriptions of both harness designs and manufacturing facilities.  From these the software can automatically create bills of process and derive detailed production costs.  Fast, accurate cost calculation allows suppliers to quote for new business aggressively but with confidence: harness manufacturing is often a low margin business so mistakes can be expensive.  Equally important, the data helps suppliers reduce their manufacturing costs via design improvements or process improvements or both.  They can decide what to build and how to build it on the basis of robust data.

Second, without doubt a major concern within the automotive industry is the cost and reputational damage caused by safety driven product recalls.  This puts a sharp focus on both design quality and process control, for example to ensure that circuit designs avoid unplanned behaviours and that correctly specified components are used.  Given the complexity of modern vehicle systems, especially when multiple configurations are taken into account, this can only be accomplished by computer.  Software tools such as Mentor's deliver numerous design simulation and verification capabilities together with a high level of automation and process control.  Whether used by OEMs or suppliers, these help enhance end product quality: the benefits appear in both business and human terms.

Electric vehicles present challenges with respect to their electrical system. What software tools do you have that can address these challenges and control the configuration complexity problems common to all automakers?

The remainder of this interview is available on just-auto's QUBE Global light vehicle wiring market- forecasts to 2030