Clarity in complex workflows: Building a digital management tool for automotive production

All the way from design to manufacture, a project management tool purpose-built by Data Respons subsidiary, EPOS CAT, secures transparency, collaboration, and reliability across an entire workflow.

  • Published: 31. January 2024
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For a large international automotive OEM with numerous brands under its umbrella, an EPOS team led by Stephan Hentschel and Manuel Zhou is developing a tailor-made tool for bringing clarity to complex workflows and facilitating collaboration in engineering.

The tool was originally developed by collaboration Factory together with EPOS developers. But about 2 years ago, EPOS took over the sole responsibility for the ongoing development from collaboration Factory.

Smart tool needed

It is a complex endeavor to bring automotive components from the drawing board to production. They go through numerous stages of meticulous development, testing, and redesign, before they are finally declared ready for volume production. Needless to say, a great many people are involved, and adding to this complexity is the fact that regulators require extensive documentation of the complete process, to secure component quality and reliability.

All this calls for a strong project management tool to guide everybody involved and to guarantee overall compliance. collaboration Factory and EPOS have created such a tool.

  • The tool was built to mirror the specialized process of building an on-board control unit, which is a complex and valuable component to control vital car functions, says project manager Stephan Hentschel.
  • The people involved in taking such a control unit from the first design all the way to manufacture use our tool for the management of schedules and necessary tests that must be completed as well as for the documentation of results.

According to Stephan Hentschel, the tool defines a fixed workflow, that takes the component through various stages of maturity. At each milestone several tests and other procedures must be completed, before the tool gives the component a green light to move to the next phase. The tool is based on a permission concept, regulating what each person involved is allowed to do, depending on his or her role.

Several benefits

Software engineer Manuel Zhou elaborates:

  • The tool gives its users several significant benefits. For one thing, it facilitates collaboration, not only between the people involved in one specific control unit, but also across the different brands of the automotive OEM.
  • Moreover, it secures a transparent representation of deadlines, tests, and development stages, as well as provides a means for documenting obstacles and how they are being addressed.
  • Another very important aspect is that the control units must match certain standards set up by the authorities. The tool stores the data required to document that the device lives up to these standards.

Knotty name

It uses an acronym that bundles all the application’s functionality into a single word.

And it has proven to be a success. Initially developed for only one of the brands under the OEM’s umbrella, and only for one specific control unit, it has grown popular indeed. It is now used by development teams across almost all the OEM’s brands, and for other types of control units as well.

There are several reasons for it becoming so widely used, Stephan Hentschel explains:

  • It gives people a common platform to work on. It provides its users with a fixed stage model to go from prototype to finished product. People do their job inside the application, and when they need to reach a certain state, they just request to go to the next workflow stage.
  • Also, it digitalizes a lot of paperwork and thus makes documentation much easier. People don’t have to take care of the versioning of documentation. The application does it for them.
  • Moreover, it offers standard templates for reporting. If you require a status report, you can download a pdf document providing a complete overview of the status of a project.

Extensible by users

Software engineer Manuel Zhou highlights another important feature contributing to the popularity of the tool: Users can customize it easily to their specific requirements, without necessarily having to involve a software developer. As mentioned above, the tool is built on the cplace platform, and utilizes cplace’s option to customize it with no-code or low-code features.

  • Basically, you can build your own data model without writing a single line of code. For instance, you can define the parameters of a car in the user interface, and you can add various workflows and states, like a car that is standing still or moving, and you can transfer workflows between different states. You can build these transitions without coding anything.
  • On a more sophisticated level, you can extend it even further by using special Javascript code. If you have just a small knowledge of scripting – and the required permissions (security) –, you can do it yourself without assistance from a software developer, just programming that functionality by using the API provided by cplace. You don’t need a development environment or source code.

Java and Angular

Even though the tool gives its users access to low-code and no-code building blocks, the application itself is pro-code. It is developed in Java backend code in an IntelliJ development environment. The frontend framework was upgraded recently from Angular 1 to Angular 14, with typescript as the used script language. The development team works in an Nx environment, using Storybook for visualization of the components being developed within the frontend. For unit and e2e testing Jest and Cypress are used.

Never done

When you ask Manuel Zhou and Stephan Hentschel when they’ll finish working on the tool, their answer is short and clear: Probably never. There will always be new requirements from regulators or from users, which must be integrated into the project management tool.

Currently, they are in the middle of refactoring a core feature of the tool, to make it more flexible and less complicated. Back when it was first developed, too many functionalities were put into one component. Now the team is working on splitting it up, removing hard-coded parameters and thus enabling users to work more flexible with it.

  • There is always something to change and to improve. That’s the fun of it, Manuel Zhou and Stephan Hentschel agree.

I have shortened this part slightly, to avoid the long quote from the place website

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Andreas Münch

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