January 18, 2018
Designing today’s cars is an enormously complex business. What makes them complex? Some cars have more computing power than jet aircraft, with as many as 100 programmable Electronic Control Units (ECUs) and up to 100 million lines of code helping to run everything from the engine and power train to infotainment, communications, and safety and driver-assistance systems. And the complexity is only increasing as car technology rapidly advances toward more sophisticated driver-assistance systems and self-driving cars.
So it’s not surprising that the automotive sector has overtaken
computers and communications as the fastest-growing market for electronics
systems, according to
IC Insights, which forecasts that demand for automotive integrated
circuits will expand at a particularly brisk clip, experiencing 16 percent
growth in 2018.
As in-vehicle electronics grow more complex and control more of a car’s functions, several design factors become even more critical:
To ensure components don’t fail once they’re embedded in electronics systems, the automotive industry has developed strict quality standards for component manufacturing and testing. Only parts that meet these standards can be qualified for automotive use.
For a component to be automotive qualified, manufacturers have to meet specific industry standards throughout the manufacturing and testing process. Three key standards are IATF 16949, AEC-Q100 and AEC-Q200:
Some of these tests are unique to the automotive industry and aren’t conducted at all on parts intended for commercial use. Examples are the test for early life failure rate (ELFR), which subjects multiple samples of 800 components to temperatures of at least 125°C, and the power temperature cycling (PTC) test, which repeatedly cycles between extremely high (125°C) and extremely low (‑40°C or even lower) temperatures.
Other tests are conducted under harsher conditions — such as higher temperatures — than when testing commercial parts, or using larger lot sizes to provide greater statistical confidence in the reliability of production components.
Also, because cars last much longer than other electronic devices,
manufacturers typically must ensure a supply of each automotive component will
be available for 10 years.
In addition to the standard tests applied to commercial parts, automotive components undergo further testing at each major stage in the production process, from wafer level to finished part:
As cars evolve into four-wheeled computing devices, the quality of electronic components becomes even more critical to vehicle reliability and safety. Although an RF filter or PA qualified for automotive use may appear to have similar specifications to a component designed for general commercial use, don’t be fooled. A great deal of work goes into making sure that automotive components that adhere to the quality standards can stand up to the rigors of real-world conditions during the years that a car will be on the road.
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