Engineers are known for having a vision and an eye on the future. However, when it comes to the sourcing and supply of production ECUs, some are short-sighted. Much of your focus when selecting an ECU (and rightfully so) is on the ruggedization, performance, software compatibility and price. This is our reminder to engineering teams (and favor to their supply chain managers) to think about the long haul. The ECU supplier you choose also impacts your ability to quickly source the parts you need when you need them, now and in the future.
The Challenges Of Vehicle Manufacturing
One of the challenges of vehicle manufacturing is its long design and manufacturing cycles. While the design cycle for a cell phone might be eighteen months, a car takes nearly 2-5 years just to design. Once designed, a single vehicle could be comprised of more than 30,000 individual parts.
Then there’s sourcing, testing and validating of all those parts.
And unlike the cell phone, a vehicle has to last for 7-10 years, or more. In order to keep those cars running, those original 30,000 parts need to remain high-quality and readily available to the OEM for nearly a decade.
Finally, that particular vehicle will likely be manufactured for years and years — getting only a slight model refresh here and there. This is an extremely long cycle of design, sourcing, testing, and manufacturing that requires the support of hundreds of dedicated parts suppliers up and down the tiers.
This poses a unique challenge to automotive suppliers: keep those parts on the shelf (or at the ready) for a decade at a time. For some, it’s just the way it’s done. There are German car companies that are still able to supply original spare parts for historic cars that are well over 30 years old. That’s like IBM keeping parts on the shelf for the first personal computer they ever built.
A thirty-year-old ECU probably belongs in a museum. But your ECU supplier should be able to promise a longevity of parts for at least as long as your vehicle is on the road.
Types Of Production ECU Buyers
In our experience, there are typically three scenarios for engineering teams sourcing automotive-grade, production-ready ECUs:
- Those who just need an off-the-shelf ECU
- Those who have their own ECU but need additional software to run it
- Those who need a custom-built solution
For Groups 1 & 3, this is a make vs. buy decision. Making a custom ECU might only make sense in the case of very high volume production –likely by an OEM, or in the case of a military organization that is able to accept a higher price point to satisfy their highly-specific project requirements.
With Group 2 it’s likely that the ECU they have could’ve been custom-built for them and now they want the ability to program it. Or, it might be an off-the-shelf ECU they have sourced already and they want to program it.
All three groups should be aiming for an ECU supplier with extremely high-quality parts, manufactured by a Tier 1 supplier. Quality and safety cannot and should not be compromised.
But what about a small-to-medium manufacturer trying to bring their own systems to market – can they afford the caliber of ECU that the big guys use?
The answer is yes…
What Does A World-Class ECU Production Supplier Provide?
At New Eagle, we have a strong supply chain and long-standing relationships with Tier 1 manufacturers such as BOSCH and Continental – specialists in producing high-quality, high-volume ECUs.
Our established relationships with these manufacturers allow us to bring ISO 26262-capable units to startups and OEMs alike. The real advantage for the former, being that they now have access to rigorously-tested and validated ECUs, backed by robust supply chains that were once only available to the OEMs. Imagine skipping the design and validation phase and being able to buy a ruggedized, high- quality ECU right off the shelf. Even something as simple as handling warranty parts should be easy with the right supplier. Imagine the peace of mind in knowing that tens of thousands of replacement parts will be there.
As a matter of fact, New Eagle has been focused on the accessibility of world-class ECUs to small-to-medium sized manufacturers for many years. We’ve supplied some production customers with the same parts for the past 10+ years. This is part of our mission to help customers Take Control.
Questions To Ask ECU Suppliers
Not everyone selling ECUs is thinking about the future. Some are short-sighted and fail to deliver later on the promises they made. Some have long lead times, smaller lots, and unfortunately, product defects. And some have gone out of business altogether.
If you’re comparing ECU suppliers, ask them these questions:
- Is this quote based on prototype pricing or production pricing?
- Where do you source your units from? Which manufacturers do you use?
- What are your lead times?
- How long will the part(s) be available?
- Who can help me with reordering parts?
After All: It’s More Than A Piece Of Hardware
As we’ve said before, an ECU is more than just a piece of hardware. It’s the brain that controls your vehicle and impacts your timeline, budget –even your choice of software. To keep it running, you’ll need an ECU supplier who can deliver on quality, availability of parts, and accessibility in case you need engineering support. Look for suppliers who are focused on continuous improvement and offer software maintenance, training and superior customer response times. A trusted ECU supplier keeps your project on track and allows you to scale in the future. Choose wisely.