Adapting Automotive Design for Connected, Autonomous and Electric Vehicles

With an ever-increasing amount of electronic components in vehicles, brought on by improved connectivity, advances toward autonomy and the electrification of fleets, vehicle manufacturers must consider how these components impact automotive design and material selection.

You may be asking ‘what does material selection have to do with autonomous vehicle or electric vehicle design?’ A lot, actually.

Designing for autonomous and electric vehicles brings a new set of challenges. These vehicles leverage intricate and delicate technologies, which need to be protected to ensure accuracy and safety. The technologies may have competing requirements, making it difficult for engineers to best address these challenges while remaining cost effective.

As the leading chemical supplier to the automotive industry, BASF is developing highly engineered materials to help OEMs and tiers navigate the challenges of designing the next wave of vehicles.

Here are four things to consider when designing plastic parts for autonomous and electric vehicles:

Harsh Environment Protection

Electronic components such as cameras and sensors on vehicle exteriors risk exposure to extreme conditions. Environmental influences like humidity and road salt, coupled with fluids and coolants, can deteriorate plastic housings, and hydrolysis resistant materials can mitigate this. Any physical and chemical degradation can compromise how the signals and sensors help autonomous vehicles navigate surrounding environments.

Temperatures in engine compartments increasingly can reach up to 180°C. Materials used for these parts need to be heat resistant to withstand elevated temperatures under the hood.

High Voltage Compatibility

Nearly every automaker has announced plans to electrify their fleets and more companies, like Dyson, are creating their own electric vehicles. Product designers and engineers must consider whether the materials used inside these vehicles have high voltage compatibility.

Batteries used to power electric and hybrid vehicles release high voltage. To maintain a high level of safety, materials must be flame retardant, have a high Comparative Tracking Index (CTI) and meet stringent regulatory standards for emissions.

Electromagnetic Shielding

Vehicle functions increasingly are becoming more electronic and less mechanical. With more sensors, circuit boards and other electronic devices in a vehicle, there is a greater chance for signals to cross. For optimal signal clarity and reliability, automotive plastics must shield against electromagnetic interference.

Connected vehicles rely on signals to operate properly and keep occupants safe. Radar systems and electronics increasingly use higher frequencies, and materials for these components will need to be tuned to help transmit data at levels greater than 70 GHz. Parts also need to be compatible with 5G networks to support an influx of signals from connected vehicles on the road.

Electric Component Integrity

High performing materials are needed to protect the applications that power autonomous and electric vehicles. To protect the integrity of sensitive electronics and overall vehicle performance, automotive plastics need high dimensional stability and should maintain mechanical behavior even in extreme climates.

Thermal changes like freezing and thawing can cause plastic to warp and shift position, which may affect the calibration of sensitive equipment like cameras and sensors. Materials should have a consistent coefficient of linear thermal expansion (CLTE), ensuring that temperature fluctuations can be properly compensated for in the design. Autonomous vehicles especially rely on sensors and cameras to operate, and any issues with calibration or focus could impact vehicle safety.

In addition, materials for critical electronic components need to maintain prolonged resistance to moisture uptake. Any moisture that is absorbed into plastic housings can affect electronic and circuit performance.

"BASF continues to focus on multi-functional material solutions that help engineers create components that meet the design challenges posed by connected, autonomous and electric vehicles," said Dalia Naamani-Goldman, market segment manager, transportation at BASF North America. “We are engineering high performance plastics that will allow OEMs and tiers to be successful no matter how complex future design needs become.”

To learn more about solutions in BASF’s electric and electronic portfolio, contact BASFAutomotiveSolutions@basf.com.