Staying cool in the race

Tom Gregory, product manager at 6SigmaET discusses top automotive thermal trends and how they are changing the face of electronics design


ith the emergence of new technologies, evolving customer

preferences and sustainable policies, the automotive industry is witnessing some truly dramatic changes. The push for more sustainable modes of transport has led to an explosion in the number of electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads. With such a vast amount of electronics

to incorporate into today’s vehicles, engineers now have a lot more to consider when it comes to automotive design and ensuring that their vehicles are safe and reliable. To better understand these

considerations, 6SigmaET brought together a panel of experts from leading automotive and electronics brands to discuss the trends and challenges that unite thermal engineers working in the automotive industry. The panel identified the following as the top thermal trends changing the face of automotive design in 2020: For electronics engineers however, the

switch to electric doesn’t come without its challenges. For example, most EV’s use lithium-ion batteries that are a lot more sensitive to temperature changes then fuels used in non EV’s. Furthermore, power electronics components that are traditionally used to transmit power from batteries to the motor are very thermally sensitive. With elevated temperatures, there’s more of a risk of ‘thermal runaway’. Additionally, because automotive

electronics are often produced with unconventional designs and shapes (in order to fit into spaces like dashboards and steering wheels), more complex and


thermally challenging design solutions are needed. To achieve this, engineers require thermal simulation tools that can import and solve complex CAD geometry — something which many legacy tools can’t support.

ELECTRONICS ARE BECOMING MORE COMPACT One of the main challenges facing the automotive industry today is the need to consolidate an ever-increasing amount of electronics onto a single circuit board of microcontroller unit (MCU). Where once, vehicles were simply a

means of getting from A to B, today they are also equipped with integrated features that incorporate safety, security, luxury, connectivity and entertainment. As all of this tech gets built into the

relevant microcontrollers, the designs grow more complex and less spacious — inevitably resulting in greater heat output and the potential for unexpected thermal complications. As a result, engineers must rethink things like layouts, airflow designs and cooling mechanisms in order to keep up with the latest automotive designs. The final trend shaping the electronic

design of automotive vehicles identified by the 6SigmaET panel was the impending introduction of autonomous vehicles. To function safely and effectively, self-

driving cars will need to incorporate a whole host of new electronics including perception sensors, high-performance processors and decision-making AI hardware. All of these new components will have a significant impact on thermal

Figure 1: Liquid cooling

management, with newer, more powerful chipsets expected to have a much higher thermal output. Furthermore, redundant components will also add a further layer of complexity to autonomous vehicle designs. With ever more electronics being

added, engineers are being forced to rely on newer cooling mechanisms specially designed for a tightly packed environment. Increasingly, this will mean the incorporation of liquid cooling techniques as well as thermal solutions that are highly integrated within the mechanical packaging design. With the automotive industry

accelerating at such a fast pace, now is the time for engineers to take into consideration how consolidated electronics, greener vehicles and increasingly powerful AI software will impact the thermal output of designs. To keep up with these evolving

automotive trends, design engineers should look for advanced thermal simulation tools that can reliably and safely deliver accurate results on these new complicated design models. For automotive engineers, this means tools that can import and solve complex CAD geometry and highly detailed ECAD, allowing them to recreate the complex form factors used in automotive design. It also means relying on thermal simulation tools that can solve at an extremely granular level, identifying potential thermal issues amongst increasingly advanced and densely- packed electronics designs. / ELECTRONICS

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