Special Coverage

Convergence

Convergence used to just be about merging electronics with the mechanical automotive world. In fact, it began as a forum to do just that. But Convergence 2008 looks to be about assimilating several other disparate worlds as well, including that of the everyday consumer and the finance department.

Auto makers became interested in electronics in the early 1970s as a means of helping them meet stricter federal regulations for vehicle safety, fuel economy and emissions.

But when mechanical and electronics engineers began working together, disciplines and cultures collided. The accelerated speed of change that typified the computer-based electronics industry clashed immediately with the auto industry’s long product cycles of five years or more.

To begin building a shared framework from which to work, General Motors Corp. engineer Trevor O. Jones and a handful of others launched the first Convergence conference in 1974 in Troy, MI.

That first Convergence began a dialogue focused on the challenges facing the automotive industry and how electronics could provide solutions.

Since then, the conference has proved successful in creating shared opportunities between mechanical and electronic engineers, presenting views, discussing needs and capabilities, addressing communication issues and predicting future technology developments and market trends.

This year, Convergence 2008 General Chairman Andreas Schell will suggest merging automotive and electronics with yet another dissimilar realm: the business world.

Schell, who was appointed vice president-Electrical/Electronics Engineering Core at Chrysler LLC in August, says the days are over when engineers can develop something without taking into account the business aspects and other downstream impacts.

“The engineer of the future will have to have some profit and loss responsibility,” Schell tells Ward’s in an interview.

His idea tracks with the overall Convergence theme this year of focusing on “real customer needs.” It’s a subject that no doubt was brought to a head by consumer complaints about overly complex vehicle electronics that are difficult to use and program.

Schell, a former DaimlerBenz AG engineer who moved to Chrysler in 2002, admits engineers in the past may have made the mistake of thinking that adding features to vehicle electronics automatically added value.

The number one thing now, he says, must be defining the value proposition for consumers. That includes balancing the number of features with what the consumer believes is their real contribution. It also means making sure the features are easy and intuitive to use, Schell adds.

This emphasis on simplicity will require a more thoughtfully designed human/machine interface than previously imagined, but the user-friendliness of the HMI – not the number of functions or features – is where the real competitive advantage lies, Schell says.

Those talking points no doubt will resonate with Jones, whose name has become almost synonymous with Convergence and who has been combining engineering with business for most of his storied career.

After founding Convergence, Jones moved on to top positions at suppliers such as TRW Inc., Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. and Echlin Inc. He now is CEO of ElectroSonics Medical Inc., a biomedical device company, which he co-founded in 2007.

The Trevor O. Jones Outstanding Paper Award is a much-anticipated aspect of Convergence, where the best paper prepared and presented at the conference is recognized. The award consists of a medal, a certificate and – not insignificantly – $10,000 in cash. The award will be presented at the Convergence Conference Banquet on Oct. 22.

Convergence is owned and operated by the Convergence Transportation Electronics Association (CTEA). Proceeds from the event fund the Convergence Education Foundation, which is dedicated to developing programs and funding to assist teachers and educators in providing learning opportunities for students in mathematics, science and engineering. SAE International provides the technical program and development of the conference.

Details and registration information are available at ctea.org

dwinter@wardsauto.com