The Challenges of Being Competitive in Automotive Electronics Manufacturing


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Tight money and severe liability requirements make competition tough for OEMs, as well as EMS providers and ODM counterparts in the market for automotive electronics. Manufacturers with the technological infrastructure to create low-cost, integrated traceability solutions and Lean process controls will most likely succeed in the forthcoming industrial climate, while those with heavy overhead burdens and sluggish enterprise resources are likely to retreat or fail.

In the highly competitive automotive industry, prices for electronic products across a vast range of applications have generally reduced to the point where meeting all the aspects of quality, reliability, and safety has become a serious challenge, far more so than in other sectors of critical electronics manufacturing such as aerospace, medical, and military, where price pressure has been far less significant. Automotive is unique in this respect, having to provide the most critical of products in the most cost-competitive way. Regardless of the price point of the vehicle, the purchaser always expects perfect quality supporting a “perfect” safety expectation. This is not a new situation per se, but dealing with this challenge in today’s evolving automotive environment in terms of increased adoption of technology, is now a critical factor for the success of automotive manufacturers and their suppliers.

The Evolving Significance of Automotive Electronics

Simple electronics were gradually introduced into automobiles from the earliest times. At first, these were just simple electro-mechanical devices to make cars work without manual effort, such as to start the engine and keep windshields clear. A little later, electronics evolved for convenience and entertainment, for example, radios and heaters. It is relatively recently that we see the introduction of more sophisticated systems for safety and performance, appearing relatively recently in the life of automotive as an industry. As an initially insignificant component in terms of manufacturing cost and therefore, electronics sub-assemblies have had to follow the same management requirements, directives and rules governing other parts of the automotive manufacturing process. But in this past decade, we have seen the effects of the gradual growth of issues with electronics systems, with recalls caused by safety issues that cost automotive manufacturers millions of dollars. Electronics within an automotive environment today requires a new approach to ensure a higher level of quality perfection.

Traditionally, traceability in the automobile industry was invented to identify, in the case of a market problem occurring, the precise scope of cars that were potentially affected by the issue, to reduce the exposure and cost if a recall had to be made, limiting the damage and erosion of brand confidence in the market. As more safety-critical applications with the potential of new problems are becoming ubiquitous in today’s vehicles, such as air-bags, breaking and stability systems, and more recently radar control, millions of cars and their drivers can be affected by issues related to electronics.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the September 2015 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.

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