In the past, throughout the trading industry, data has been exchanged using media such as floppy disks or tapes, which were especially useful for larger quantities. Although the Compact Disk or short CD (also DVD) has been established as the universal media for electronic data storage, the preferred way to exchange information is by electronic methods such as email or ftp file transfer. It is not only the transfer speed over vast distances which has made us dependent on this technology; it is also the way we can manage, sort and filter incoming and outgoing messages.
Today, everyone is familiar with the Internet. Sending emails, downloading data and accessing information from web pages are just a few of its features which we use daily. But how does data exchange within the automotive supply chain work?
Generally speaking, the same technology is used but in a more private and secure way. Most of the automotive manufacturers and, of course, their supply chains are using an Odette/ENGDAT based system to exchange engineering data. For the front-end user, this means nothing more than using a PC application, similar to their email system, with which they can send and receive data electronically. In practice, the Odette program uses an ISDN telephone line to dial directly into the customer's or supplier's exchange software. This point to point transfer is more secure and, in most cases, faster than a connection using the general Internet.
Odette/ENGDAT is a standard which prescribes how the application is programmed and developed, so that different products are able to communicate with each other. Apart from the advantage that different, competing software can be used on each end, the standard also specifies some data management features in order to refine the handling of incoming and outgoing messages. For example, in front of each data file, the application automatically adds a standard header file with information about sender, receiver and contents. The receiver can then easily identify the appropriate data by viewing this header file.
ENX, the European Network Exchange, is the latest project, with involvement from leading European vehicle manufacturers. Similar to the ANX (American Network eXchange), its North American counterpart, ENX is an Internet-like, but private network, which aims to connect all European Automotive OEM and suppliers in the near future. To access this network, registration is required and a fixed IP address will then be assigned to each registered organisation. Instead of dialling up to an ISP (Internet service provider) to access the Internet, you dial up to an ENX service provider to access the ENX network. Once connected, you can use either an Odette/ENGDAT type software to exchange data or, depending on the OEM, an FTP type transfer. The establishment of the ENX might open the way for other types of data exchange methods and products, which have not yet been explored.