Automotive Systems Design: a Support Engineer’s Perspective


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Assume you need to design a multipart complex product requiring several PCBs to be fitted into a tight housing. Assume also that you have to bring product iterations to market as fast as possible, be it at regular intervals or on demand. Finally, assume that you will have to do this not only faster, but also at an increasingly lower cost. This is a trend that becomes the norm for products in many industries, not least in automotive electronics.

Specifically, automotive electronics require connecting an increasingly higher number of signals, fitting a multitude of PCBs into a single housing, checking a large number of electric and mechanical parameters and being able to simulate their interaction in the system functionality context.

With product complexity growing, space availability at a premium and a market that becomes more demanding in terms of quality and reliability, you would surely appreciate a suite of tools that gives you the ability to take care of all these interrelated demands. Not surprisingly, automotive electronics system designers are definitely among those who badly need the means, tools and support to cope with all these developments and many more.

In this new fast-changing environment, at a minimum, you would like to be able to design, test and simulate, so that:

  • All functions perform to expectation
  • All signals are connected throughout the system
  • The signal integrity is guaranteed over the entire frequency range
  • The supply power and grounding comply with all specific component requirements
  • The electromagnetic interference is kept under control
  • All boards, when assembled, fit into the case, so that
  • The entire system ends up fit for purpose

This method has been dubbed a system design approach. Although this entails more steps than traditional approaches, it allows for streamlining the design, as well as for testing and verifying each operation separately and in concert. Overall, it gives designers the ability to be and to stay in control when designing complex systems with a multitude of requirements that appear contradictory.

Moreover, the system design approach allows for

  • Checking functionality on system level, which improves reliability
  • Simulating product test cases, which augments quality, and 
  • Optimizing redundancy, which reduces system costs

In a nutshell, the promise of the system design approach is to allow for hitting the “sweet spot” in terms of functionality, quality and reliability, in the shortest possible design time and with the lowest possible resource investments. In an industry that has a very long time to market (on average around 1,000 days), steadily increasing quality demands and an ever intensifying pressure to lower costs, all these promises become most attractive and compelling.

Getting Started

You obviously must begin working with the new tools taking the first step first, which means identifying which suite of tools offered by the market best fits the company needs. Once the needs have been defined, determine where to purchase these tools. If you are a newcomer to this situation, research the market for the most appropriate suite of tools and make a decision based on the cost-benefit analysis results. Among others, factor in the cost of testing the offers versus the risk of not making the best choice. For this aspect of the decision-making process, it is important to rely on the information the supplier provides, which, as matter of experience, can be deficient or incomplete. It is obvious that this first step becomes a challenge by any measure. 

To read this entire article, which appeared in the September 2015 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.

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