To keep up with consumer demand, automakers are continually adding advanced capabilities to their vehicles. While the capabilities are often enabled by software, the software requires sensors to take in data from the outside world and actuators to perform software-defined actions. All of the devices and peripherals throughout the vehicle require data communications connections and electrical power lines.
Of course, the software also requires compute hardware. Traditionally, OEMs have added an electronic control unit (ECU) every time a new capability has been introduced, but that approach has become unsustainable with the sheer volume of capabilities being added and the resulting complex network of ECUs and devices.
The industry has responded with two key shifts to simplify the vehicle architecture: zonal architectures and centralized compute, both of which are key tenets of Aptiv’s Smart Vehicle Architecture™ approach. A vehicle’s device connections are terminated at several zone controllers, which consolidate data communications onto backbones that lead to centralized compute modules. The centralized compute uses sophisticated software to up-integrate the functions that had been handled by individual ECUs. These changes simplify the electrical/electronic architecture and segment the wiring harnesses into smaller, more manageable zones.
However, to fulfill the promise of zonal architectures and centralized compute, zone controllers need to be designed to accommodate a lot of connections in a limited space. Furthermore, the smaller wiring harnesses associated with vehicle zones present an opportunity for increased automation, but connectors traditionally have not been designed with automation in mind. In the coming years, labor costs are expected to continue to rise, and labor availability is expected to continue to shrink, so automation will become an important factor in production. In addition, the automotive industry is looking for ways to leverage automation to better manage supply chain risks by moving harness production closer to vehicle assembly.
The missing piece of the puzzle is a new style of connector that can enable automation, achieve the connector density required and meet all of the requirements of today’s architectures while giving OEMs the flexibility they need for their individual architecture designs. That is where modular connectors come in.