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…

Electronics Bazaar - - Contents - By Sneha Am­bastha

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.

Tech trends

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.

Test­ing the Tesla at Ar­gonne Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory, Illi­nois, USA

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