Electrical Automotive Engineering

General Overview

One of the main sub fields of electrical and electronic engineering is applied to the automotive industry. Modern technology has consumed vehicles with countless electronics systems. Since the 1950’s the relative cost of a vehicle bill of material relating to electrical systems has changed from 1% to over 30% depending on vehicle architecture. This industry is only going to grow and its complexity in terms of design, management, construction and maintenance will only increase.

 

The first vehicle electronic systems began developing around the time of the second world war when radios and electronic very basic ignition systems were incorporated. From there, electrical and electronics developments really fed well into vehicle integration. The main systems were engine control systems to allow for fuel injection and more advanced ignition was controlled electronically and helped with fuel economy and lowering emissions. Additional advances throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s incorporated safety systems, vehicle security, infotainment and many other systems that we now take for granted in modern vehicles. The progressions within the industry and electronics capabilities got so advanced that it ultimately lead to having an impact on the diesel emissions scandals involving many automakers, namely Volkswagen. Recent times have also seen electrification of vehicles become an important aspect of electrical automotive design and although not currently readily available, autonomous driving systems will eventually drive this industry forward and make up a large section of the automotive market.

 

Electronic control units are control systems that can be applied to many different component areas of a car. The main functional groups that consume electronic systems are engine, transmission, chassis, interiors (including lighting), infotainment, exterior lighting, security systems driver assistance and safety systems. The engine has typically been the most reliant on electrical systems with many components such as emission control, performance (air to fuel ratios), cooling systems, throttle control, lubrication and many others utilsing electronics systems. Driver assistance and safety systems have continuously been developing in the past years allowing additional safety controls such as blind spot detection, automatic braking, parking and motorway lane assistance.  

 

 

 

An example of the wiring harnesses used in a modern vehicle. Source: www.linkedin.com

Responsibilities of electronics engineers within the automotive field include the design of harnesses which requires detailed knowledge of the systems as well as good level of project management to allow for change and integrate with many other function groups, supplier management and manufacturing, testing both individual and full vehicle systems and maintenance including continuous development in line with the industry standards. As more electronic systems continue to be incorporated into the vehicle, the need for automotive electrical engineers is only going to increase. It is important in this industry to stay with the market leaders. Electrification WILL happen and eventually flood the market. This adds an additional level of complexity to the automobile as it means more harnesses and more integration with the body structures, interiors and chassis teams. This also defines vehicle architecture and with the capabilities of batteries and electronic systems developing so rapidly, it means that vehicle architecture programs are going to rapidly shorten in their time scaling and will mean automotive companies will need to be more dynamic in their programmes. As well as this, artificial intelligence will soon be incorporated into many vehicles allowing for autonomous driving which may seem scary but ultimately will lead to increased safety and decreased driver stresses which may lead to driver errors. This also allows for many different roles and expert specialities to be incorporated into large automaker companies such as a large increase in hiring software engineers and experience electronic system designers.

Required Knowledge

Skills and Expertise

  • Electrical engineering understanding

  • Comprehensive understanding of full vehicle architecture and interfacing components. 

  • Good understanding of vehicle packaging

  • Strong knowledge of automotive and electrical safety procedures and regulations.

  • Project Management

  • Problem solving

  • Fundamental understanding of first principles mathematics and physics

  • Practical understanding of how electrical and electronic circuitry is constructed.

 

Software Understanding

  • MATLAB

  • CAD Packages (E.g. CATIA, Siemens NX, Solidworks, Autocad, Inventor, PTC Creo)

  • Word processing, spreadsheets and presentations (E.g. MS Word, MS Excel, MS Powerpoint; Google Docs, Sheets and Slides)

  • Circuit Analysis and Design Software (E.g. MultiSim)

Example Jobs
  • Automotive Electrical Harness Design and Packaging Engineer

  • Automotive Project Engineer

  • Automotive Electrical Fitter / Technician

  • Automotive Electrical Test Engineer

Institutions

UK: Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Institution of Engineering Designers (IED),

USA: Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

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