Cable harness: The unseen challenge

August 28, 2019 //By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Cable harness: The unseen challenge
With the automation of driving, electronics in cars are becoming increasingly complex, and OEMs are mulling new architectures that meet the demand of the future. However, the modernization so far has spared one central component of vehicle electronics: The wiring harness. Doug Burcicki, Automotive Director, Integrated Electrical Systems at EDA software provider Mentor, explains what is needed.

Over the past decade, car designers added tons of new electronic features and functions to new vehicle models. In lockstep with the number of functions increased the number of Electronic Control Units (ECUs): “Since the traditional ECUs were – and are – single-function devices, the developers had to add a new ECU for more or less every new feature,” Burcicki said. The result is known: A jungle of ECUs grew under the engine bonnets.

Now, as vehicle electronics is setting off for highspeed data communications, fueled by the trend towards compute-heavy autonomous vehicles, the situation is more complex than ever. And the upcoming electrification of the drivetrain will not exactly contribute to a relief, Burcicki noted: With today’s technology, connectivity, driving automation and electrification will more than quadruple the harness, he said. It is easy to see that without a careful, future-oriented redesign not only of the wiring systems, the road to more complexity leads to a dead end.

The rising significance of software is adding to the complexity. In today’s cars it is not unusual that the embedded software amounts to millions of lines of code (LoC). The software modules distributed across dozens of ECUs need to communicate among each other, and they trigger more communications processes between sensors and ECUs, among the various ECUs and between the car and the backend infrastructure. And all these communications processes require wires for the transport of data. What’s more, the evolution of the in-car networks is going to accelerate because future vehicle generations will increasingly add new functions even after they have left the production line – through over-the-air (OTA) updates.

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