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Developing quality electronic systems for cars

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 10:20am
Anthony Le, Windbond Electronics, www.winbond.com

Different systems in the car have varying quality requirements. The engine, safety and mission critical systems have the highest and most stringent specification. However, this doesn’t mean the infotainment system and connectivity systems skimp on quality. The environment in a car is harsh — road conditions and simple wear-and-tear use take their toll — so the goal is to develop electronic systems that will last for the life of the vehicle.

Automotive quality

Few industries have higher quality requirements than automobiles; medical, military and aerospace systems come to mind.  Drivers today are demanding more electronics to be added to their car for various reasons – for example, entertainment, communications and, most importantly, safety. This poses a huge dilemma to carmakers as to how they meet both driver demands and automotive quality requirements. There are several automotive-quality councils and consortiums that define and mandate automobile-electronics standards, such as the Automotive Electronics Council (AEC) and International Standards Organization (ISO). Those who sell into the automotive electronics industry have to assure that their factories are ISO-certified, while each component needs to follow stringent qualification processes according to AEC guidelines. These are the bare minimum.

High barrier for entry

Typically, companies take three to five years’ preparation to enter the automotive-electronics industry, because the barriers for entry are very high, due to stringent quality requirements. Preparing the manufacturing facility for audits and ensuring that quality processes meet ISO and AEC is a painstakingly long process.

Suppliers to the automobile-electronics industry such as Winbond understand these barriers and invest heavily to make sure everything is in place before entering the market. As stated earlier, the AEC and ISO, with their AEC-Q and ISO/TS16949 safety standards, respectively, are bare minimum requirements. To achieve zero defects in the field, substantial cooperation must exist between those suppliers and tier-one automotive electronics makers to understand their usage models and requirements. This partnership takes time but the end result is a highly reliable product in which drivers can feel safe to use for the lifetime of their cars.

No skimping on quality

However, given the nature of consumer electronics and drivers’ desire to integrate them into the car, some consumer electronics companies are trying to jump into the automotive market with lower-cost infotainment solutions that can be churned out quickly. The end results are unhappy customers who have their cars in the shop more frequently than the typical maintenance periods. The end cost is higher for the carmakers because they have to pay for repairs and, ultimately, unhappy customers will go elsewhere. Worse, however, is that major recalls that might affect the overall safety of the car, since features such as rear cameras are integrated into infotainment (or Center Stack) systems. In the past five years, JD Powers and Consumer Reports published quality reports on all car makers with some scathing remarks about recent infotainment systems.

All this points to how important it is for automobile makers ensure that their electronic vendors follow strict automotive processes.

Anthony Le is marketing director at Winbond Electronics Corp. (www.winbond.com), responsible for the company’s automotive-electronics initiatives.  He can be reached at ale@winbond.com.

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