Pavan and Kavya restore their confidence by learning to brainswarm

Pavan and Kavya made it a practise to meet Prof. Murugan whenever they run out of ideas and hit a wall. Though they had done a very good analysis of the various challenges their users talked about, while they were conducting the user research, they were not satisfied with the quality of their ideas . They applied the ‘multi-why’ analysis technique and defined an important challenge statement which when solved, should answer most of the top problems that the customer was facing.

Prof. Murugan appreciated their work on problem analysis and asked them to start identifying solutions. Pavan and Kavya expressed their frustration with the poor quality of their ideas. Prof. Murugan asked Pavan to follow a systematic ideation methodology to create effective solutions. He explained that an effective ideation methodology requires two different ideation techniques - the divergent mode and the convergent mode.

In the divergent mode, a team should focus on the quantity of ideas than the quality. This technique is judgement free which means that no one should cut down any idea in this mode even if an idea seems not very feasible. An ideation team should build upon each other’s idea during this process. When Murugan mentioned Brainstorming, a very common divergent ideation technique, Pavan retorted that very few actionable ideas came out of it. Murugan introduced a more powerful divergent thinking technique - brainswarming. As the name suggests, it is a process of swarming ideas from multiple brains. It starts with writing the main problem in simple words at the top of a chart paper, while the resources available are written down at the bottom of the same chart paper. The ideation team then connect resources to their own ideas and trace them back to the original problem. This process is done in almost silence. So, one member can build upon another's idea without even discussing. The result of brainswarming in most cases is highly successful. Kavya listened to the explanation of this technique. [1]

Divergent Thinking - Brainswarming
Divergent Thinking - Brainswarming

Kavya was thrilled to hear about brainswarming and she asked Prof. Murugan, if she can invite a few more friends to join their brainswarming process. Prof. Murugan encouraged Kavya to do so and remarked that it is in fact beneficial to have fresh perspectives of the same problem from people who are not involved in the project. Pavan by then was growing impatient to know the second part of the ideation process, which is the convergent mode. Prof. Murugan explained that, the convergent mode helps in rating of the various ideas generated during the divergent mode. The result of a well-executed convergent mode is a solution which is highly desirable to the customer, technically feasible to create, economically viable for the business and is environmentally sustainable in the long run as well. [2]

Convergent Thinking - Criteria for selecting ideas
Convergent Thinking - Criteria for selecting ideas

To conduct the convergent mode, an ideation team should rate all the ideas on these four parameters. Once the rating is done, the team should create a strategy to decide which idea to proceed with. Normally an ideation Team should favour an idea which is high on user desirability since the key criteria of innovation is to create value for the user. But it is the sole decision of the ideation team to choose an idea based on the overall strategy of the business. Pavan and Kavya felt very excited and confident after their meeting with Prof. Murugan. They set up another zoom call to discuss the invitee list for the ideation session of their project.

Pavan and Kavya discussing
Pavan and Kavya discussing

Bharath resorts to Open innovation to accelerate the EV project

Bharath was in a great hurry to solve the various engineering problems on way to the design of an electric vehicle. He started getting restless as his team was small and there were many problems to be solved in a short time. He approached Dr Sharma and sought his guidance. Dr Sharma suggested that he should not be limited to ideas available from within his team. He asked Bharath to reach out to experts across the globe to solve his technical problems. Bharath was zapped as he did not know many experts in the EV domain and he was not comfortable discussing these technical problems with people outside the company. But Dr Sharma strongly recommended collaborative ideation and used a new name for it “Open Innovation” – Bharath heard this term for the very first time. Dr Sharma explained how companies like GE, P&G have successfully adapted Open Innovation.

Innovation has traditionally been a closely guarded function in organizations. It continues to be a key lever for competitive advantage. ‘Open innovation’ promotes collaboration between team members with diverse backgrounds to get together, exchange ideas and come up with feasible solutions. Anyone inside or outside the organization is free to understand challenges and opportunities an organization is facing and offer ideas. New technologies like electric vehicles (EV) need a network effect or multiple stake holders to come together to solve technical problems and accelerate user adoption.

One such implementation of open innovation is crowdsourcing. “Ideas” is Lego’s open innovation platform setup in 2008. It invites the public to submit new ideas for making Lego toys. It runs contests on specific themes. Winners are selected by voting for the most popular designs. Winners receive 1% of the revenue from their design as royalty. “Solve” is NASA’s platform for open innovation. In addition to asking for technical ideas for its space crafts and the associated areas, NASA also seeks information around asteroids, interstellar dust etc., Samsung decentralized innovation using crowdsourcing. [3]. Proctor & Gamble (P&G) was an early adaptor of open innovation and reached a stage where more than 50% of their new product ideas came from outside the company.

General Electric’s (GE) crowdsourcing platform is called Fuse. [4] GE felt that its R&D employees has to focus on their deliverables which were critical for their businesses. Crowdsourcing became important for out-of-the box thinking. One popular example is the GE Aviation bracket example. Brackets are small parts that support an aircraft engine and its components. It had to be strong enough to hold the heavy engine. At the same time, the weight of the brackets reduces the fuel efficiency of the flight. When GE, along with GrabCAD, announced this as a competition to make the bracket 30% lighter without losing its structural integrity, it received 700 entries. The jet engine bracket designed by M Arie Kurniawan, an engineer from Indonesia, came in the first place. Kurniawan received $7,000 in prize money. From nearly 700 bracket designs submitted by designers from 56 countries, Kurniawan’s bracket had the best combination of stiffness and lightweight. The original bracket weighed 2,033 grams (4.48 pounds), but Kurniawan was able to slash its weight by nearly 84 percent to just 327 grams (0.72 pounds). After hearing all these success stories, Bharath felt confident that he can use open innovation to solve his EV technical problems and accelerate the building of the EV prototype.

GE Bracket lightweighting – Open Innovation
GE Bracket lightweighting – Open Innovation
Image Source - GE News - https://www.ge.com/news/reports/jet-engine-bracket-from-indonesia-wins-3d-printing

EV lightweighting – start with the Veins and the Nerves of the EV

Bharath, inspired by the GE bracket lightweighting story, started looking at how he can reduce the weight of the electric vehicle that his team is building. By reducing the weight, he will be able to increase the range of the EV. When he had met potential customers to learn about their expectations and concerns about EVs, many of them expressed their “range anxiety”. He was surprised to see the weight contributed by the omnipresent wiring harness. These wires function as the veins and the nerves of the vehicle and he wondered how he can ever reduce their weight.

Weight of wiring harness is steadily increasing - The weight of copper wire harness in a typical ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle is about 30 kg. The weight of a wiring harness is increasing year by year because of newly added functions. In recent years, there are growing customer demands for environmentally friendly products, such as high-voltage wiring harness systems, for hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs) and weight-saving wiring harnesses systems designed to improve fuel efficiency.

Copper is ideal material for wiring harness - Copper is used to build the veins and the nerves of the electric vehicle. Copper conductor has been the mainstream material for automotive wiring harness. Among the electrically conducting materials, gold costs 85 times that of silver and silver costs 75 times that of copper, making copper by far the cheapest option for electrical wire. Copper is nearly as conductive as silver – the most conductive metal – but comes at a fraction of the cost. Copper can easily be shaped into wire, which is important for most electrical applications. It’s also important to note that temperature does not affect copper’s conductivity, which makes the metal ideal for automobiles in all climates. Copper is high on sustainability as it is easy to recycle and reuse. [5]

EV wiring harness – a typical representation
EV wiring harness – a typical representation
Image Source: Electric Vehicle Wiring Harness market to witness rapid growth during the period 2027

As Automotive OEMs integrate more technology content into their vehicles, the weight, cost and packaging space required for wiring harnesses will increase significantly and will soon pose a problem. [6]

ICE Vs EV - A teardown of the Chevy Bolt (EV) versus the VW Golf (ICE) indicates that the EV uses 80% more copper than the ICE and most of this copper is used in the electric motor. The copper coil helps to convert the electrical energy into mechanical energy. Pure EV motors can contain more than a mile length of copper wiring in their stator windings. Copper wire is also used to connect the electronic components and the battery pack. [5]

Electric Vehicles - Automotive OEMs are keen to improve the range of the EV and meet the demands of their customers. Minimizing the weight of EV is crucial to improving the range. EVs, in comparison with ICE vehicles, require additional electrical wiring and other electronic components, increasing the weight of the vehicle. The introduction of the electric powertrain alone adds about 30% more weight as compared to ICE powertrain. [7]

Autonomous Vehicles - Autonomous driving requires the addition of a multitude of hardware redundancies and protective mechanisms to prevent single points of failure. System redundancies are critical because unexpected failures may cause the vehicle to crash if the driver isn’t paying attention or actively involved in the driving and steering process. However, these safety redundancies can add significant weight and cost to the wiring harness by duplicating networks, powerlines, and some electronic control units (ECUs). [7]

Connected Vehicles - The connected vehicle is fast growing into a hub for entertainment, communications, and productivity. The various components of the smart and connected technology have to be connected together, driving OEMs to incorporate more networks, such as CAN, and leading to wiring harnesses that are heavier, larger, costlier, and more complex. Some modern vehicles contain close to 40 different harnesses, comprised of roughly 700 connectors and over 3000 wires. If taken apart and put into a continuous line, these wires would exceed a length of 4km and weigh approximately 60kg. In addition, OEMs will need to integrate high baud rate networks with specialty cabling to support the increased features and functionality of new vehicles. Modern vehicles can contain more than 70 specialty cables, such as coax, high speed data, and USB cables. In older cars, this number was closer to 10. [7]

Potential Solutions - One solution is to develop technologies that reduce harness weight. Ultra -small diameter wiring is one good example. Finding alternatives to specialty cables will further reduce the weight, cost and bundle diameters of harnesses. The number of cameras and displays will only increase in the future, hence developing ways to transmit video and camera signals via standardized wiring will be crucial. Alternatively, finding ways to multiplex these signals onto one shared specialty cable and having multiple devices tap into these cables, will have the same effect: reducing harness weight, cost and bundle diameter. Another approach is using advanced software solutions that support trade-off studies to optimize module locations and identify any modules that can be combined to save weight, cost, and reduce bundle sizes. [7]. In the future, lightweight wires and harnesses of aluminium alloy or copper-cladded aluminium (CA) conductor will be the mainstream material to respond to demands for reducing weight for better fuel efficiency and to a run-up in copper prices.

Yamar Electronics, an Israel-based SME, specializes in technology for communication over noisy DC power lines. It is targeted towards reduction of wires, thereby resulting in reduced cost and weight. Yamar introduced “Automotive Power Line Communication” using the DC- BUS technology, merging data over the power lines using existing CAN and LIN protocols, thus eliminating extra harness. This proposed solution may reduce the length of total harness from 2km to 200 meters. Yazaki Corporation, whose core product is automotive wire harness assembly, is working on wirelessly transmitting control signals from the vehicle’s electronic control unit (ECU) to the electronic devices in the extension system. [8]

Bharath decided to use the open innovation platforms to solve his technical problems. He was inspired by the success stories that his CTO Dr Sharma had shared recently. He listed down the various lightweighting opportunities for the EV that he was building. Some of the critical sub-systems like batteries, wiring harness, electric motor etc are areas where his team did not have expertise. He decided to run a crowdsourcing campaign to source ideas from experts outside his company. He estimated the time required to run the open innovation campaign, select the good design ideas and 3D print the parts for his EV prototype and was glad that it fitted his project timeline.

Mobility Engineer 2030 - To be continued...

Bharath in front of his computer – launching an open innovation campaign
Bharath in front of his computer – launching an open innovation campaign

Note: All opinions and points-of-view expressed above are those of the authors and do not represent that of any other individual or organization.

References

1 - Brainswarming Because Brainstorming Doesn't Work, Tony McCaffrey, April 2014, Harvard Business Review

2 - Desirability, Feasibility, Viability: The Sweet Spot for Innovation, Kristann Orton, March 29, 2017

3 - Four Examples of Corporate Open Innovation: How Lego, NASA, Samsung, and General Electric Reached New Heights

4 - Open innovation at GE: the power of the global crowd, Epi Ludvik

5 – How much copper is in an Electric Vehicle? Nicholas LePan, November 13, 2018

6 - Wiring harness development in today’s automotive world, Dan Scott, July 28, 2020, Siemens Blog

7 - Automotive trends create new challenges for wiring harness development

8 – Challenges in automotive wire harness assembly

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Dr Shankar Venugopal | Ramachandran S | Sayantan Mukherjee

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