The role of testing in automotive electronics
The increasing use of electronics in the automotive industry has led to the requirement for more testing. Learn more about the new testing equipment available today…
The infamous Toyota global car recall that happened between 2009 and 2011 is still fresh in the memory of those in the automotive industry. In this widely reported case, drivers felt the car suddenly accelerating even when the pedal was not in use. Archan Mudwel, technical marketing engineer, National Instruments, says, “Toyota initially recalled the cars claiming it to be a problem with the floor mat design. Subsequently, the car giant claimed that the problem was due to the mechanical sticking of the accelerator pedal. It finally had to recall cars back for the third time for problems traced to the anti-lock braking software.” Many of the electronic systems used in cars today are critical, with the passenger’s safety at stake. This underlines the importance of using good testing equipment in the automotive industry.
The automotive industry has become very competitive in the past few years. The competition is not just with respect to new technologies but also about overall performance, cost and safety. If we set aside cost for a while, both performance and safety demand thorough testing of the different aspects of an automobile, like safety and driver aids (emergency call system during accidents in heavy traffic), in-vehicle networks (CAN, optical fibre and RF connectors/cables), intelligent transport systems or ITS (vehicle-to-vehicle/V2V or machineto-machine/M2M communication networks, etc), electromagnetic interference (EMI/EMC, interface hunting, etc) and wireless connectivity (in compliance with standards like LTE, 2G, 3G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AM, FM, DAB, RDS, etc).
Mudwel says, “Testing is required at the end of the production line for various automotive components, which range from injectors and fuel pumps to infotainment systems, often including remote keyless entry. There is a need to also test and validate the various control systems in the vehicle like engine control, body control, active suspension, anti-lock braking system, etc.”
Challenges to be faced
The industry faces challenges at different levels, starting from the supply chain to the design of the test equipment. The first and foremost challenge is the limited awareness about the suppliers of different test equipment in the country. This means that automotive manufacturers contact only few testing equipment suppliers, generally big brands, for any such requirement. Vijay Kumar, general manager, sales and marketing, Qmax Test Technologies Pvt Ltd, says, “Qmax is known as the IC testing and PCB testing company, although it also provides solutions for electronic control unit (ECU) testing. Manufacturers may not know about this and hence not reach out to us for the different ECU tests, functional testers and wire harness test solutions.” The other challenge is that lead times or delivery schedules in the industry are quite short.
There are challenges with respect to the design of the T&M equipment too. The integration of new technologies in vehicles gives rise to the challenge of designing new test equipment for the new test environments. The challenge is to identify the test scenarios. Rahul Gautam, electromagnetic compatibility group, Rohde & Schwarz, explains, “The upcoming automobile technologies like autonomous vehicles, automatic health monitoring, remote shut down, comprehensive car tracking, night vision driving, etc, will require rigorous EMC testing.” He adds, “A vehicle moves in a harsh, ever changing electromagnetic environment with a lot of internal wireless communications. EMC modelling, testing and further qualification as per standards is a critical quality parameter to ensure reliable performance under these stringent conditions. Automobile components and vehicle manufacturers understand the importance of this testing and investing in in-house EMC facilities.”
“The major challenges here are the ever changing requirements and scalability. Conventionally, in automotive test systems, the industry has been focused on signals coming from analogue and digital sensors, but with Vehicle-To-Vehicle (V2V) communication systems, there are RF standards being introduced and, hence, test systems need to scale up,” says Mudwel.
Implementing the optical transport network (OTN) and Ethernet for in-vehicle communication is making automobiles more sophisticated, leading to the requirement of new testing technologies. Then there are a lot of RF components and wireless standards getting integrated into automobiles. The T&M industry is trying hard to build test systems that can thoroughly test all these advanced systems that are being introduced in the auto industry.
Signal transceivers with mmWave frequency: Automated driver assistance system (ADAS) radars operating at high frequencies, typically in the mmWave range, are used to identify the presence of any stationary infrastructure, pedestrian or moving vehicle. Such radars need to be tested for their performance using high-frequency RF transceivers of high bandwidths.
Battery simulators: These are used to test battery management systems, which manage the charge stored in the battery and regulate it during regenerative braking and charging.
Hardware-in-the-loop testing: This means that software in the electronic control units (ECU) is tested without the physical system being controlled, but with only the help of a simulator. The use of a test simulator eliminates the need for multiple testing hardware, minimises the test time and reduces the overall cost.
Pneumatic testing beds: Earlier used by European companies in the aerospace domain, pneumatic test
benches are now being used in the automotive manufacturing industry where they not only test performance but also check how parts are fitted, whether or not components attached to an automotive device are sealed and also test its electrical parameters.
“Machines such as the ringout board/inspection system are used during the production stage. All the products to be tested are placed on the test bed, where the tester checks the system’s harness and the missing components, identifies the errors and displays it along with its position. Every component has a label, which does not appear if it has not been tested.”
Other new technologies include the introduction of the USB 3.0 connection in testing devices, as well as advanced triggers to capture intermittent faults. Then there are voltage drop tests with nongrounded measurement of floating inputs and the high voltage range measurements at up to 200V that can be done without the need for any attenuators.
The future of testing in the automotive sector
Going forward, vehicles will integrate more and more electronics, eventually increasing the need for better testing equipment and standards. Gautam says, “Just like any other electrical device, a vehicle and its components are required to meet Indian EMC standards laid out by ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India).”
However, testing has two important phases—standalone testing and life cycle testing. Life cycle tests, endurance tests and other such tests are quite expensive and are of no use if not utilised properly. Usually, companies have centralised labs to carry out these tests but if they do not have such a provision in-house, then they will have to spend a lot to get this done by a third party. In order to avoid this, such tests should be centralised and integrated, while standalone testing should be reduced.