Smart Electrical Centers Are a No-Brainer

Ajay Bhargava
Global Product Management
Director, Electrical Centers
Steve Spadoni
Global Engineering
Director, Electrical

As consumers demand increasingly advanced functionality from their vehicles, the automotive industry is undertaking the biggest transformation in electrical and electronic architecture in its history. Aptiv’s Smart Vehicle Architecture™ shows us where that journey is headed, and every journey begins with a single step. For some OEMs, that first step may be smart electrical centers. 

Smart electrical centers are power distribution devices in a vehicle that replace traditional melting fuses with smart fusing and electromechanical relays with solid state switches. Taking this step can help OEMs optimize cable sizes; reduce system cost, weight and packaging size; and enable intelligent power management features and diagnostics. Solid state switching also is quieter and consumes less energy than electromechanical relays, and remains robust for millions of duty cycles. 

Smart fusing is accomplished with electronic circuit design, software and semiconductors to switch off electric power to components when needed to prevent circuits from being overloaded. Unlike melting fuses, smart fusing is self-resetting, which means it does not have to be replaced whenever it is triggered, and its location does not have to be easily accessible for service. In addition, smart electrical centers are much smaller and lighter than traditional electrical centers. 

They also allow for savings in cabling. In the past, wires had to be designed to be larger in diameter than physically needed — typically large enough to comfortably carry 30 percent more current than needed, which would allow enough tolerance for the fuse element at peak load. Smart fusing enables engineers to specify cabling to the physical limit of the load over a specified period of time, which often results in a reduction in the cable size to save cost, weight and space.

Just as importantly, smart electrical centers lead to a much more complete diagnostic picture. A smart electrical center can detect when the wires attached to it are close to failing. It can isolate fault conditions; detect open and short circuits, circuit overloads and underloads; and report all of that diagnostic information back to a central controller — which can in turn communicate that data to the consumer or a dealer for service.

The technology in smart electrical centers is key to ensuring that vehicles meet functional safety requirements. Typically, a smart electrical center is rated ASIL-B as a component, and it can be utilized in conjunction with another Automotive Safety Integrity Level B (ASIL-B)-rated component to form an ASIL-D-rated system. The ASIL-B component rating is accomplished by the improved robustness of solid state components, diagnostics and software implementations.

Built for the future

A smart electrical center allows for future enhancements, even using over-the-air updates to the software in its microcontroller to improve power management features after the vehicle has left the factory, without a trip to a dealer. Of course, cybersecurity has to be incorporated into the solution, as part of a comprehensive security stance

Smart fuses are also a key component of zone controllers, but zone controllers have the capability of going beyond power management to aggregate data from multiple sensors within a section of a vehicle and even up-integrate multiple functions. By contrast, smart electrical centers allow OEMs to get the same power-management benefits without yet committing to a full zonal architecture.

The benefits of smart electrical centers make the decision an easy one, and the technology is in production today. When the OEM is ready to take the next step in evolving its electrical architecture toward the promise of SVA™, having smart electrical centers in place will ensure an easier transition.