Car manufacturers and their suppliers are increasingly
exchanging information such as purchase orders and invoices using electronic data
interchange (EDI). Product engineering and design data is also transferred electronically
in the form of CAD/CAM files, and like every industry today, electronic communication is
accelerating rapidly.

The communications networks to perform these types of
transaction are currently complex and costly which prevents all but the car manufacturers
and their large Tier-one suppliers from taking advantage of the benefits. Smaller
companies further down the supply chain are left out because they simply do not have the
same resources available. Yet, massive savings can be obtained by adopting electronic
commerce (EC) technologies throughout the supply chain, as was shown in the early
Manufacturing Assembly Pilot (MAP).

The ANX (Automotive Network eXchange) project aims to
simplify the communications technology available to companies in the automotive supply
chain and render them more cost-effective. Once it is fully implemented, the ANX will
enable any company to communicate with any other through just one connection, as long as
both are ANX subscribers.

The development of the ANX is being carried out in North
America under the auspices of the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), a
not-for-profit organization whose 1,300 member companies represent car and truck
manufacturers as well as their suppliers.

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Car manufacturers started using EDI to improve the
efficiency of their communications with their Tier-one suppliers some 15 years ago. The
aim was to enable information to be communicated electronically without having to be
reentered manually thereby eliminating tasks which are both time-consuming and susceptible
to error. Today, the technology is used, for example, to send purchase orders directly
from a car manufacturer’s computer system to that of the supplier. In recent years, the
benefits of EDI have proved themselves so great that car manufacturers started to impose
its adoption on their suppliers.

As the use of EDI became more and more widespread, the
communication systems supporting it became more and more tangled. A typical Tier-one
supplier is currently likely to be operating multiple connections. The company needs at
least one connection for each car manufacturer it supplies. It also requires additional
connections for different applications, i.e., one for EDI another for CAD/CAM data
exchange and another for electronic mail. The support of these connections becomes
complex, requiring significant resources. For a small supplier low down in the supply
chain, it can present a major problem, not least of all because of cost.

However, the benefits to be gained by spreading EC
technologies throughout the multi-level supply chain are significant. The AIAG’s earlier
project, MAP, proved that by improving communications throughout the supply chain, the
automotive industry could achieve savings of at least $1 billion a year.

The ANX aims to reduce the number of connections any
supplier needs to communicate with others in the supply chain to just one.

TCP/IP – the first move towards the ANX

Any form of electronic communications requires standards.
In 1995, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors endorsed Transmission Control Protocol/Internet
Protocol (TCP/IP) as the standard protocol suite for automotive industry trading partner
communications. It is a protocol suite which supports file transfer, electronic mail,
messaging, terminal access and client-server environments addressing legacy and emerging
applications on high performance networks.

A number of applications that the automotive industry uses
today already support TCP/IP communications. This is especially true of file transfer,
electronic mail, and client-server applications that run on computer platforms offering
open communications standards. In the future, many legacy applications including EDI will
also support TCP/IP. This means TCP/IP will reduce network costs by eliminating the
redundant links now required to support application-specific communications protocols. The
ANX will further reduce network costs by consolidating the multiple individual connections
from each company to each of its trading partners into a single logical TCP/IP link. Fewer
connections reduces the costs of associated hardware and support personnel.

The concept of the ANX provides the technical and
organizational architecture that implements the TCP/IP standard protocol suite. Its key
characteristic is that it has been designed from the beginning to meet automotive industry
standards. Many trading partners have successfully developed internal TCP/IP networks but
have met with limited success in extending these networks to include external trading
partners. The existing ways of extending the networks all have their drawbacks and are
unable to satisfy automotive industry requirements.

Automotive industry trading partners have very demanding
standards for inter-company communications. This is partly because the data they are
transmitting is often of a highly confidential data, relating to product engineering and
business strategy. It is also because time is of the utmost importance. Companies operate
lean organizations on the tightest of schedules. They need to reduce the cost of
administration and eliminate the cost of sending paperwork. They cannot afford any
unpredictability or time loss in their communications.

To satisfy the needs of the automotive industry, a
communications network must comply with certain criteria. It must, first and foremost,
protect confidential data, block unauthorized access and prevent malicious service
disruptions. It must also provide a consistent end-to-end delivery service and high

In addition, the performance of the network must satisfy
the throughput and response times of all the applications running over the network. The
administrative burden must be minimized. Troubleshooting procedures must be made very

A portion of the internet meeting auto industry

The ANX is being described as that portion of the internet
that meets the automotive industry’s mission requirements of performance, reliability,
security and manageability. It does not replace the internet. The internet is a collection
of cooperating interconnected TCP/IP networks and the ANX is one of those cooperating
networks. It combines the good points of the public internet with the features that are
essential for all automotive companies.

Today, the internet falls short of the automotive
industry’s operational criteria as regards performance, reliability, security and
administration and management. One of the reasons is that many Internet Service Providers
(ISPs) over-subscribe their facilities, making for unpredictable throughput. Transmission
delays are often caused by sub-optimal routing, and end-to-end traffic delivery is subject
to each intervening provider’s best-effort approach.

The reliability of ISPs is also extremely variable. In
addition, the network architecture is susceptible to rapid changes beyond the control of
the automotive industry. With respect to security, traffic traversing the internet is
highly vulnerable and subject to all kinds of attack.

Finally, the internet has no central authority to develop
and enforce consistent service level agreements with the result that troubleshooting and
administration are complex and time-consuming.

The organization of the ANX aims to overcome all the
shortfalls of the internet.

The architecture requires no new large-scale

The ANX does not require the creation of new large-scale
infrastructures. Instead, it leverages the existing value of selected ISPs who have sought
to be certified as ANX service providers. Certified Service Providers (CSPs) will provide
the majority of the ANX infrastructure. The policies governing the CSPs will, to a great
extent, determine the quality and success of the ANX.

CSPs connect to an exchange point and peer there with at
least one other CSP. These exchange points house appropriate high speed electronics and
software allowing CSP’s ANX connections to interoperate or ‘peer’. Peering includes
the exchange of routing information between CSPs. Those ISPs that do not connect directly
to the ANX exchange point need to arrange transit to it via a CSP that is directly
connected to the ANX exchange.

ANX exchange points supply much of the necessary diversity
in providing the connection facility for CSPs. To optimize performance and provide a model
for exchange point operation, the ANX will facilitate the creation of an exchange point in
Southeast Michigan. Initially, most of the automotive industry data traffic will route
through this exchange. Capacity planning for the exchange points and for the CSP and ANX
subscriber connections is critical.

Trading partners subscribing to the ANX may elect to have a
single desktop device or their entire network connected to the ANX. A trading partner can
also use the ANX to create a virtual private network interconnecting its own individual
corporate sites.

A clearly-defined organization ensures a Quality Of
Service (QOS)

The AIAG has clearly defined the roles of each actor in the
organization of the ANX. The Telecommunications Project Team (TPT) and ANX business
manager are responsible for planning and designing the network. The CSPs and EPOs
(Exchange Point Operators) provide the physical fabric of the ANX. The ANX Overseer
implements the ANX’s planned capabilities and has operational responsibility for it.

The ANX Overseer’s role is to operate a certification
program of ISPs and EPOs to meet the service quality requirements in the areas of: network
services, interoperability, performance, reliability, business continuity and disaster
recovery, security, customer care and trouble handling. They will compile, maintain and
distribute information about CSPs and collect fees from CSPs to fund the ongoing
operation. The overseer will also verify on a continuing basis that CSP networks are
meeting the criteria.

Companies using ANX will be able to choose from a selection
of CSPs, who will have been certified as meeting security, quality of service and
availability requirements. Each trading partner will select a CSP based on
price-performance information maintained by the ANX Overseer, and any option features that
may be of particular interest to him. The internal network structure of each CSP will vary
according to their business model.

CSPs will be obligated to offer a basic pack including the
following features: a range of switched analog and dedicated access methods, customer
premise equipment for leased line customers, proactive 24-hour monitoring of connectivity
and customer premise equipment with guarantees of response and repair time, proactive
monitoring of access circuit utilization, customer notification of potential capacity
problems and connectivity to all other CSPs.

Optional services CSPs must offer include internet access,
security products and consulting. They may also choose to provide LAN installation
services, EDI translation and mailbox services and other features.

The task of reporting ANX project status to the AIAG Board
of Directors is being undertaken by the organization’s TPT. It also selects and
supervises the ANX Business Manager and ANX Overseer, as appropriate, and develops and
delivers ANX awareness training to trading partners.

As the implementation of the ANX matures, the TPT will
migrate into the ANX Advisory Board with roles including architectural oversight,
standards process oversight and appeal, and publications and external liaison.

The ANX Business Manager acts as liaison between the TPT,
the ANX Overseer and other AIAG groups. He represents the interests of the automotive
industry to service providers and the technical community. He also participates in
telecommunications and application standards development.

ANX subscribers also have an important role in the
success of the ANX. In general subscribers must act as responsible network citizens, and
avoid being lulled into complacency by an exaggerated reliance on the ANX service
guarantees. These guarantees do not extend into the subscriber’s internal network.

To maintain a quality of service with high performance,
subscribers should avoid internal network congestion by providing adequate throughput and
minimal latency. They should also be aware that congestion on a subscriber’s network that
is heavily accessed by other ANX subscribers can have a negative cascading effect on
overall ANX performance.

For applications requiring 100 per cent connection
availability, it is incumbent on the subscriber to obtain a high-reliability service
package, either in the form of a standard offering by a single CSP, or through customized
redundant connections to one or more CSPs.