Do you remember the “dynamic duo” days they used to do back in school? My friend and I always dressed up as the classic Batman and Robin. I was Batman, of course. Albeit a Batman with no Batmobile and a 90’s homemade utility belt - no wonder I couldn’t convince any girls to be Catwoman. For engineers, the Batmobile represents a different dynamic duo that is becoming more prevalent as technology advances: PCBs and cars. Luxury in a car used to mean heated seats, now it means PCBs driving for you and a 17” LED display in the dashboard. Sadly no one has integrated jet engines into their cars yet. With automotive PCBs gaining market share, the modern designer should start thinking about how their designs can enable essential and luxury features in connected cars. They should also get ready to learn cutting edge design techniques such as rigid-flex and HDI in order to meet automotive requirements.
I think this will be my next ride. Editorial credit: Rubens Alarcon / Shutterstock.com
Accelerating Market Share
Gadzooks Batman, that market is growing so quickly, it’s going to explode! The connected car market is on the rise, and the automotive PCB market is expanding with it. That means you’ll soon be designing as many PCBs for cars as for IoT devices.
Futuristic cars used to be reserved for millionaires and comic book superheroes, or millionaire comic book heroes. Now everyone wants one. It’s estimated that by 2020 75% of cars will be connected. That translates into approximately 250,000,000 connected cars on the roads. With many modern cars using upwards of 70 microprocessors, a lot of PCBs will need to be designed.
Not only do modern cars need lots of PCBs, they’re also willing to pay for them. In 2015 more than 50% of a car’s cost could be made up of electronics. That number is now pushing 70% in 2017. The money in cars is quickly shifting from metal to microcontrollers. You could be there to cash in.
Connected Car Features
Throughout the ages, the Batmobile has sported a variety of gadgets, from smokescreens to rockets. Today’s car also has a wide variety of special features designed to entice customers and appease regulators rather than defeat villains. The features you can expect to design fall into five general categories: engine, powertrain, body, infotainment, and power.
Engine and Powertrain: These are the kinds of processes you don’t see that keep your car going. Pistons, spark plugs, differentials, transmission, all things I know about without knowing exactly how they work. The electronics governing these systems will have rigorous safety requirements, so prepare for headaches. Engine and powertrain PCBs will be pushing a combined market share of $4 billion by 2020. I think I could delve into certification requirements for that kind of money.
Body: Body electronics are things like Tesla’s neat automatic door handles. They could also be things like sound canceling systems and, Mr. Freeze’s nemesis, seat warmers. These electronics are estimated to be worth close to $3 billion by 2020.
Infotainment: Back in my day we rigged up a tiny CRT TV with included VCR to watch movies in the car. Now kids each get their own seatback screens. If you design PCBs for these kinds of systems you could enable children everywhere to watch Batman and Robin. Infotainment PCBs will be worth a whopping $1 billion in 2020.
Power: Last but not least the category that’s a game changer for the automotive industry, power electronics. While no one is quite sure how fast the market for electric vehicles (EVs) is growing, they know it is indeed growing. As battery costs fall and energy densities rise, we can expect to see more and more cars using electric motors. That means they’ll need designers like you to make battery management systems, charging boards, etc. for this $800 million market.
Futuristic Design Techniques
Sadly futuristic cars need futuristic PCBs, which will require you to learn next generation design techniques. What with all the PCBs and wires going into cars now, manufacturers are running out of space inside cars. What is the solution? Small PCBs that can fit anywhere, A.K.A. high density interconnect (HDI) and rigid flex. Strict EMI requirements in cars will also require you to master EMI design.
Even though you might hate mastering the techniques needed to shrink PCBs, car manufacturers will love how small you can make HDI boards. In order to truly master HDI, you’ll need to become familiar with a variety of vias and efficient fanout strategies.
If you want to jam a PCB into some hidden space in a car, chances are it will need to be flexible. You may not be ramping your car into the Batcave, but potholes and speedbumps will still cause dynamic forces to act on your PCBs. A flexible PCB won’t snap apart if any Jokers try to ram your car.
This wouldn’t be a good PCB article if I didn’t touch on my favorite topics, EMI and smart forks. Lucky for you, this time we are only going to discuss EMI. Cars are semi-closed systems, and as such have strict EMI requirements. That means you’ll need to think about things like routing differential pairs, good grounding, and separating AC/DC signals.
Where to go From Here
The electronics in cars nowadays may make you feel like a millionaire vigilante. Just one that conquers boring commutes instead of crime. If you want to capitalize on the rapid growth of the automotive PCB industry, you’ll need to know thine enemy. Look at all the different systems and features, and focus on which kind you want to design. You might want to then brush up on your advanced design techniques in order to meet the industry’s strict requirements.
If you’re going to do all this in a reasonable amount of time, you’ll need some good software to help you. CircuitStudio is on the cutting edge of design and already has documentation to help you learn its more advanced features.
Have more questions about how to build the Batmobile? Call an expert at Altium.