Testing Circuitry for Today’s Automotive Designs

Smart technology and autonomous driving have created new technology paradigms in the automotive industry. For example, vehicle systems are now connected with electronics, significantly increasing the number of engine compartment systems, HMI, radars and cameras that require printed circuits. Molex engineers leverage their expertise with automotive to collaborate with customers to deliver effective and reliable printed circuit solutions.

Ensuring that engineering designs meet expected performance and quality standards has never been more important. With autonomous cars on the horizon, safety and reliability are becoming even more critical and more complicated. Many suppliers of electronic circuitry may not have reliable in-house testing capabilities, or they may outsource validation testing, calling into question the quality of that testing and increasing the time it takes to complete projects. On the other hand, Molex delivers thoroughly tested and reliable automotive circuitry through its global in-house testing capabilities and, when necessary, certified testing houses and engineering expertise. The result is well-designed circuits that meet rigorous automotive testing requirements and exceeds performance expectations.

High Standards for Automotive Circuitry

Though products and components in a wide range of industries undergo validation to ensure performance and safety, the automotive industry’s testing requirements are some of the most stringent. Vehicles are tested for things like fuel economy and emissions, of course, but cars and their subsystems are also tested for safety, functionality, reliability and durability.

Circuitry plays a crucial role in a vehicle’s function and safety, both under the hood and in the cabin. Because of the size of vehicles and the speeds at which they’re driven, safety standards for circuits are much tougher than in other industries, which affects testing requirements. The danger of a circuit failure during an airbag deployment is obvious. But reliability in capabilities like infotainment also can affect a driver’s attention. Furthermore, circuit failures lead to the need for repairs and, if the problem is widespread, recalls — both of which inconvenience car owners and damage brand reputation.

Therefore, the testing of circuits within a car, whether in a safety application or infotainment feature, ensures assemblies perform as designed, and this, ultimately, enhances the driver’s experience, avoids customer inconvenience and prevents costly recalls.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Raising the Bar Even Higher

As cars become more networked, both within the car itself and to the external internet of things, systems become more complex. As a result, the possibility of devices malfunctioning increases. In fact, the growth in annual recall numbers has coincided with the development of connected technology in vehicles.

Worldwide automotive recalls peaked in 2016, affecting 50.5 million cars and costing auto manufacturers $22 billion, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Auto recalls then fell in 2017 and 2018, affecting 30.6 million and 29.3 million cars respectively. But even after this decrease, recalls are historically high, costing auto manufacturers billions and negatively impacting their reputations.

 Autonomous vehicle technology is increasing this complexity even further. Of course, on-road testing of autonomous vehicles is vital. But so is in-laboratory testing of the components and assemblies that give a vehicle is autonomous capabilities. Electrical safety, interoperability of wireless systems, functionality, durability — these are just a few of the issues that OEMs and component designers will need to ensure through testing.

Determining Specific Testing Protocols

Validation and testing requirements for circuits and their final assemblies vary, partly because of a plethora of standards. Below are some of the factors determining final testing requirements:

Governmental bodies

The region in which vehicles will be sold determine some testing requirements, depending on the jurisdiction of the governmental body. For instance, cars sold in the U.S. have to meet NHTSA standards while cars sold in Germany would meet standards set by the German Institute for Standardization (DIN).

Industry groups

Groups such as the ASTM and SAE set global standards that have an impact circuit designs. One example is SAE’s J1455. It’s a well-known industry standard for recommended environmental practices, and it outlines many test environments that automotive circuits must endure.  Molex’s test labs can evaluate circuits against those environments for testing these standards. Additionally, the IATF 16949 specification is the automotive version of ISO 9001, and it raises the bar for quality standards as well.

Auto Manufacturers

Auto OEMs themselves have developed their own internal standards, in addition to governmental and industry standards, based on their commercial and safety goals. In turn, these validation test requirements will drive the designer to include circuitry that enables a design to be immune to specific electromagnetic interference (EMI) or to be capable of surviving the zap of a very specific electrostatic discharge (ESD) event. Therefore, the specific details of these required tests must be understood during the design phase. Functional requirements may drive perhaps 85% of the total component selection and validation test requirements drive the remaining 15%. Engineers must know what a design must withstand. There are a lot of very rigorous tests in the automotive world. Molex engineering has access to a very capable internal Reliability Testing Lab for these purposes.

Type of manufacturer

Tier 1 or 2 suppliers may have testing requirements that differ from auto OEMs. Because of the Tier 1 supplier’s experience in a specific product space, their testing might go above and beyond the auto manufacturer’s detailed requirements.

The application itself

Testing requirements also vary depending on the application. For instance, a human safety feature will have different standards compared to an HVAC function. Where the application is physically located in the vehicle is another determinant. For example, the environment that electronics must endure within the engine compartment differs from in-vehicle conditions.

The Trials and Tribulations of Automotive Engineers

Having to face such strict standards and testing requirements naturally creates challenges for automotive design engineers. And these challenges are intensified when strict requirements meet head on with cost expectations — often robust assemblies are not price competitive. Exceeding testing requirements while developing a car that’s affordable is difficult, to say the least.

In addition to quality requirements, engineers also must work within ambitious time-to-market goals. Quality typically takes time, but getting the product to market quickly enough to beat competitors and satisfy consumer demands means a clock is constantly ticking as engineers work on their designs.

The Molex Advantage

Whether a system’s application is in the dashboard or the engine compartment, Molex engineers collaborate with their automotive counterparts to fully understand the application and its performance expectations. We have a wide spectrum of capabilities – Printed Circuit Board Assemblies, Copper Flex Circuits, Silver Flexible Circuit Solutions – which enables us to not only determine the right materials and technology that will meet our customers’ requirements, but to design, test and implement that technology to deliver superior performance and reliability.

Because there are so many possible determinants in testing parameters, Molex works with automotive customers to develop design verification plans (DVPs) in which we lay out what tests will be performed by our engineers and Molex’s internal reliability and qualification test lab.

Molex offers thorough in-house testing of its circuit designs, constructions and assemblies, with testing facilities in the U.S. and China. As a result, we offer quick and efficient turnaround of high-quality, fully tested circuits from design to full production. Our customers can potentially launch their products faster, and we offer our testing capabilities globally. And because our engineers typically work in physical proximity to our reliability labs, they can react to issues that might come to light during testing, quickly finding and implementing solutions.

Molex engineering and testing capability ensures our automotive customers can rely on the quality of our circuitry, which meet even the most challenging requirements.