circuit board design basics

5 Circuit Board Design Basics for Automotive Applications

Innovator and automaker Henry Ford reportedly once quipped that a customer could have their Model T painted any color they like—as long as it’s black. As the inventor of the assembly line for mass production of his automobiles, Ford valued the efficient reproduction of a good, basic design over all else. And while a look across any parking lot today shows that customers’ varied tastes ultimately prevailed over Ford’s paramount desire for efficiency when it came to automotive paint jobs, Ford’s breakthrough approach to design reproducibility is foundational to almost all industrial production performed today—including automobiles.

Today, automobiles are highly complex systems that include over 30,000 individual parts. Many of these are electronic components, boards and devices. Additionally, many of the mechanical elements are driven or controlled by electronics and PCBAs. Not surprisingly, many regulations and standards for PCB design and manufacture exist to ensure automotive systems are as safe as possible. To meet this mandate, circuit board design basics should guide all boards developed for automotive applications, including EVs and AVs.

Circuit Board Design Basics for Developing Automotive PCBAs

When driving the streets and highways of the U.S., you’ll encounter automotive systems of varied sizes, shapes and colors. You will also notice an increasing number of EVs—including hybrid EVs (HEVs), plug-in HEVs (PHEVs) and battery-powered EVs (BEVs)—and AVs. While special considerations must be incorporated when designing electronics for EVs and advanced featured AVs, all automotive applications share certain circuit board design basics, as described below.

Essential Circuit Board Design Basics

  1. Adherence to Industry Regulations

PCBA development for critical industries, such as the aerospace and medical device industries, is highly regulated, as board failures could result in significant injury or fatality. The same is true for vehicular systems where regulations and established standards, such as IPC-6012DA which specifies cleanliness QC requirements under section 3.9, are fundamental requirements for basic automotive PCBA design.

  1. Use of Auto Grade Components

In addition to process requirements, there are also restrictions on automotive system components. In order to be considered automotive-grade, components must satisfy criteria and testing based on board type, performance class and automation. Today, this is even more difficult to satisfy due to the ongoing semiconductor shortage slowing or even stalling production for some automakers.

  1. Balancing Quality and Cost

Another essential consideration is cost—and not only in terms of dollars and cents. A cost breakdown analysis allows manufacturers to weigh turnaround time, process and board quality to assign a value to the development process.

  1. Environmental Considerations

Perhaps the most important basic design consideration for PCBA design and manufacturing is where in the automotive system the board will be located. For board design and manufacturing, automobile systems can be considered hazardous environments because they may need to endure constant motion, vibrations, extreme temperatures and potential exposure to corrosion catalysts.

  1. Production Scale

Circuit boards are not all built the same. Production scale—low volume or high volume—can significantly impact the process, as the primary manufacturing process objectives will differ depending on scale.

The design basics listed above provide a strong foundation for PCBA design, regardless of the type of automotive application. However, good design is not enough. That design must also be accurately reflected in the built board.

PCBA Manufacturing for Extreme Environments - Part 1

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Ensuring Your Boards Reflect the Basics

The stages of the PCBA development process—design, manufacturing and testing—are each important, and they are interrelated. For the best board development, design intent should be maintained throughout the process. This can be accomplished by adhering to the following guidelines.

Guidelines for Maintaining Design Intent for Automotive PCBA Development

  • Choose a CM with automotive standard certifications 
  • Use a CM-recommended design package format 
  • Ensure your CM’s process adheres to the industry’s high-quality standards
  • Follow your CM’s DFM and DFA rules
  • Perform necessary testing
Tempo's Custom AV & EV Automotive PCBA Manufacturing Service
  • ISO-9001, IPC-600, and IPC-610 commitment to quality certifications.
  • Accurate quote in less than a day.
  • DFX support, including DFM, DFA, and DFT from Day 1 of design.
  • Entire turnkey PCB manufacturing in as fast as 4 days.
  • Agile manufacturing process to quickly adapt to fast-evolving EV and AV industry.
  • Extreme temperature environment targeted manufacturing.
  • Board cleaning and protection techniques to avoid contamination and premature failure.
  • Use reliable supplier component sourcing for quality, reliability, and traceability.
  • Performs multiple automated inspections during PCB assembly to ensure quality for prototyping and low volume production.

To build PCBAs that meet the standards established by the automotive industry, you need to work with a CM that is certified, experienced and prioritizes quality. Tempo Automation, the industry leader in fast, high-quality PCBA prototyping and low-volume manufacturing, is committed to helping you build boards that meet or exceed automotive industry standards.

And to help you get started on the best path, we furnish information for your DFM checks and enable you to easily view and download DRC files. If you’re an Altium Designer or Cadence Allegro user, you can simply add these files to your PCB design software. For Mentor Pads or other design packages, we furnish DRC information in other CAD formats and Excel.

If you are ready to have your design manufactured, try our quote tool to upload your CAD and BOM files. If you would like more information on the essential circuit board design basics that should guide automotive PCBA development, contact us.

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