Openness and modularity in vehicle architecture

Openness and modularity are increasingly important design principles of modern Electronic Architectures (EA) that can increase flexibility by allowing a system to be more readily adapted to meet prevailing requirements at greater speed and less cost compared to traditional closed monolithic approaches. Other benefits may include lower operating costs through reduced cost of modifications and commonality between platform fleets leading to reduced support requirements.

However, the design and implementation of an open and modular architecture is a complex process. Simply specifying electronic architecture to be open or modular does not necessarily guarantee any degree of future flexibility or capability. This work examines intentional and unintentional mechanisms that can readily defeat the generally accepted advantages of the open architecture approach.

Project aims

The primary aim of this work is to examine the role of modularity and openness in the relationships between the specialist vehicle owners and their subcontractors, through the lifecycle of a vehicle platform, with a particular focus on the cost of platform modifications such as upgrades and technology insertions.

Experience and intuition from both technical and business experts suggest openness and modularity of architecture should lower overall cost of ownership by realising lower costs for platform modifications and the provision of all products and services procured throughout a vehicle lifecycle.

The mechanisms for predicted saving are as follows:

  • Through lowering of intrinsic costs of manufacture, upgrades and modifications through cost savings associated with open and modular architecture
  • Through increased competition in the marketplace, stimulated by lower barriers to competition
  • Through increased flexibility allowing the architecture to be adapted more readily and with less lead-time

This study examines these propositions and attempts to provide supporting evidence and indicative models where possible.

Project findings and impact

The work highlights the significance of openness and modularity in the through life cost of specialist vehicle ownership, particularly through direct lower costs and increased market competition for post purchase products and services, the intrinsic value of increased flexibility.