Physics of Failure Durability Simulations for Automotive Electronics


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Automotive electronics systems are becoming increasing complex and essential for the proper, safe operation of cars and trucks. Vehicle controls for basic operation and safety functions are increasingly being implemented by electronic modules. The ability of these electronic systems to function reliably is becoming a greater aspect of vehicle safety as was dramatically demonstrated by the 2009–2011 recall of over 9 million Toyota vehicles for unintended acceleration issues.  

After the Toyota incident, the U.S. National Academy of Science issued “Special Report #038: The Safety Challenge and Promise of Automotive Electronics—Insights from Unintended Acceleration” in January 2012. The report cited that federal safety regulators in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) lack the expertise to monitor vehicles with increasingly sophisticated electronics, as was demonstrated by the need for NHSTA to call in NASA electronic personnel to assist in the investigation.

But 2014 was an even worse year for the auto industry, plagued with a record 700 recalls of over 60 million vehicles that has cost billions of dollars, involved numerous NHTSA safety investigations, record federal fines, damning publicity, unsettled legal liabilities, and congressional investigations. Severe new vehicle safety legislation is now under consideration. With many of these reliability issues, the vehicles’ systems functioned for years before failures with safety consequences occurred. Others involved situations where product teams, executives and regulators did not recognize the safety consequences of product and system quality, reliability and durability (QRD) capabilities, especially when new technology is involved. The industry now searches for ways to ensure that this never occurs again.

While electronic reliability issues were widely suspected, but eventually ruled out as a root cause, the crisis revealed the challenges of evaluating, validating and investigating the reliability and safety assurance aspect of modern, distributed and interactive vehicle controls systems that are equally taxing on OEMs, electronic system suppliers and regulators.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the new standard ISO 26262, "Road Vehicles—Functional Safety," defines an automotive-specific approach for determining risk classes and requirements for validation and confirmation measures to ensure a sufficient and acceptable level of safety and reliability is being achieved.

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

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