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E-mobility only works in a complete system

An interview with Oliver Riedel

After more than 13 years at Audi, most recently as Head of Production IT, Dr. Oliver Riedel has now taken his leave of the automotive industry and found himself a new challenge. For several months he has been head of the Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units (ISW) at the University of Stuttgart and is also director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO). In this interview he draws some (preliminary) conclusions.

: Dr. Riedel, why did you leave Audi?

Riedel: My departure was for very private reasons. I have always been very close to the world of research and teaching and in recent years I had had a number of teaching posts and addressed various research topics. That is why I could not turn down such an attractive offer as a professorship at Stuttgart University. Once I had been awarded the professorship, I was also able to enter into negotiations with the Fraunhofer IAO.

Question: What makes this dual role so interesting?

Riedel: The fact that the two areas of production and development, whose integration we have been discussing for so long, are now united from a research perspective. The ISW is over 50 years old and has a very good reputation in the field of control and automation technology. The Fraunhofer IAO is home to the Center for Virtual Engineering (ZVE), which has outstanding research teams and is superbly equipped. We want to bring the two closer together because the topics can no longer be kept separate. One example: There is no question that additive manufacturing is an important production-related field. However, we will never be able to exploit it fully unless engineering also plays a role.

Question: So the question of digital manufacturing still has its hold on you?

Riedel: More than that, it now has me completely ensnared.

Question: And is the emphasis more on research or on teaching?

Riedel: First of all, on teaching. My professorship at the university includes heading an institute at which we have created a new chair that will be devoted to production IT. Therefore, my first task will be to develop courses relating to IT in the production world while at the same time submitting proposals for research projects.

Question: You don't seem to be missing your job at Audi?

Riedel: The only thing I will miss – and this is not meant completely seriously – is having a new car every couple of months.

Question: The media sometimes accuse the German automotive industry of having the wrong priorities and of missing out on topical trends such as autonomous driving and e-mobility?

Riedel: I would separate the two. Autonomous driving is a technology that still primarily focuses on the car itself and is only now being expanded to include the environment in which the vehicle operates. In this field, the German automotive industry has already come a very long way although it is very conservative with regard to safety. When it comes to e-mobility, we are talking about a complete system of which the car is simply one part. Here it is still necessary to resolve some fundamental issues, such as how we can make sufficient charging current available in the right places. You can work out just how much electricity we would need if suddenly 50 percent of the cars on the road were electric. Then you immediately have a political dilemma because there is no way you can generate that amount of electricity without reconnecting all the nuclear power stations to the grid. If the German carmakers have been late to respond here then it is because only now can we see approximately how such a complete system for e-mobility might work.

Question: They are relying on others to solve the problems such as the charging infrastructure, the storage capacity, etc.?

: I see this as a holistic system that can only work in combination with a public charging infrastructure and other mobility-related offerings. We shall continue to see a hybrid form consisting of vehicles with combustion engines and electric drives for a very long time. Of course, it would be desirable if manufacturers always had one or two electric vehicles in order to gather experience. Indeed, there is not yet a single electric vehicle that has an entire generation cycle behind it.

Question: How great is the danger of a company from outside of the industry overtaking the traditional manufacturers and becoming the leading producer of electric vehicles?

Riedel: The threat is not that an Apple or a Google is going to start making cars. A different question is what might happen if such companies start offering mobility services in which one's personally owned car is no longer the focus but which instead combine individual and public mobility. One good example is Car2Go. In cities where the infrastructure is present, the system now works exceptionally well. Some clever person has even solved the problem of charging by introducing the idea of free driving minutes when you take a car to the charging point. Since then, students in large cities have been deliberately looking for “empty” electric vehicles. You can see that this is a self-creating complete system.

Question: If these combined systems take off then sales figures will fall. How are carmakers going to earn their revenue in the future?

Riedel: It may be that sales figures for physical products will fall but you can still keep revenue at a high level by working on just this type of system solution. In fact, in practice most carmakers are already doing this. Just think about the takeover of Here by Audi, BMW and Daimler. They did not do that because it would be nice to have a map service but because they wanted to acquire the information and infrastructure that can support this type of complete system.

Question: Do you think carmakers are well prepared for development and production in the future?

Riedel: At the technical level, yes. However, the question of software is more problematic. For a very long time, we tried to produce the software using our tried-and-tested production processes and that was not necessarily a success. The question now is how to cope with the change resulting from the fact that cars are being increasingly defined by software and that this makes extremely robust software development processes necessary. And here I don't just mean the software in the car but also the software that is needed for development and production.

Question: What contribution can PLM make to integrating new topics such as model-based systems engineering into the core processes? Do we need a different type of PLM system or perhaps none at all?

Riedel: I believe that PLM systems will have a key role as a structuring element provided that they are accepted by users and that they are open, because it will never be possible to perform all the structuring tasks with just one single system. The systems must work together and this is something they struggle or fail to do today. In fact, we need to model cars as a system, using MBSE methods and by adopting both a development and a production perspective. In other words, we need information from both areas and that often goes wrong at the boundaries between the systems.

Question: Your demand for openness is aimed primarily at the PLM vendors?

Riedel: At the large PLM vendors because the small ones have always been open. They have all signed the Code of PLM Openness but now it is time for them to breathe life into it. That is why, as the next step, we (at the ProSTEP iViP Association, editor's note) are going to introduce certificates and make openness verifiable.

Question: Discussions about the future of PLM constantly stress the fact that monolithic PLM systems have had their day and that we need modular architectures with intelligently linked information?

Riedel: I can only lend my support. In my previous role, I thought several times about what it would be like if automobile manufacturers worked together to define an open source standard for PLM in order to get away from the monolithic systems.

Question: I recently read an interesting article on the difficulties facing the iPLM project at Jaguar Land Rover. Is it still at all possible to migrate PLM systems?

Riedel: It is not up to me to judge the project. However, I think that one general problem is that PLM vendors promise a lot that is not yet present in the product but which is due to arrive with the next release or the one after that. They never have a release level that contains everything you want. Migration projects of this type depend totally on whether your internal organization is robust enough to be able to cope with setbacks. And you need extremely stable project management. Migrations are feasible but you need to adopt a very realistic approach and not raise expectations too high.

Question: Of course, the problem is that PLM migration projects don't happen every day and there is therefore little experience?

Riedel: You are quite right. There have now been a few good PLM introduction projects but precious few successfully completed migration projects. At least not in large companies. And on the open market, there are far too few resources that you can buy to help you do this sort of thing. If you want to make a lot of money in the future, open a PLM consultancy.

Dr. Riedel, thank you very much for this interview. We wish you every success in your new roles. (The interview was conducted by Michael Wendenburg)


About the interviewee

Professor Oliver Riedel (born 1965) has been head of the Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units (ISW) at the University of Stuttgart since November 2016 and is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO). Before taking up these positions, he was responsible for control of planning processes and the coordination of product-related IT at Audi AG. Professor Riedel studied Cybernetic Technology at Stuttgart Technical University, where he did his doctorate at the Faculty of Engineering Design and Production Engineering. For more than 20 years, he has been working on the principles and practical application of virtual validation in product development and production. Professor Riedel is married with one grown-up son.