Handbook for Robustness Validation of Automotive Electrical/Electronic Modules

  • 2012-11-19
  • SAE International

This document addresses robustness of electrical/electronic modules for use in automotive applications. Where practical, methods of extrinsic reliability detection and prevention will also be addressed. This document primarily deals with electrical/electronic modules (EEMs), but can easily be adapted for use on mechatronics, sensors, actuators and switches. EEM qualification is the main scope of this document. Other procedures addressing random failures are specifically addressed in the CPI (Component Process Interaction) section 10. This document is to be used within the context of the Zero Defect concept for component manufacturing and product use. It is recommended that the robustness of semiconductor devices and other components used in the EEM be assured using SAE J1879 OCT2007, Handbook for Robustness Validation of Semiconductor Devices in Automotive Applications. The emphasis of this document is on hardware and manufacturing failure mechanisms, however, other contemporary issues as shown in Figure 1 need to be addressed for a thorough Robustness Validation. A Pareto of contemporary issues is shown in Figure 1. Although this document addresses many of the issues shown, however some are outside the scope of this document and will need to be addressed for a thorough RV process application. Examples of issues outside the scope of this document are system interactions, interfaces, functionality, HMI (Human-Machine Interface) and software. At the time of publication of this handbook, a system level Robustness Validation handbook, which addresses these issues, had been initiated.


In late 2006 Members of the SAE International Automotive Electronic Systems Reliability Standards Committee and ZVEI (German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers` Association) formed a joint task force to update SAE Recommended Practice J1211 NOV1978 "Recommended Environmental Practices for Electronic Equipment Design." The 1978 of version of SAE J1211* was written in an era when electronics were first being introduced to the automobile. There was a high level of concern that the harsh environmental conditions experienced in locations in the vehicle could have a serious negative affect on the reliability of electronic components and systems. Some early engine control modules (ECMs) had failure rates in the 350 failures per million hours (f/106 hrs) range, or expressed in the customer’s terms, a 25% probability of failure in the first 12 months of vehicle ownership. At that time, warranty data was presented in R/100 (repairs per 100 vehicles) units, for example, 25 R/100 at 12 months.

In these early years, when the automotive electronics industry was in it’s infancy, a large percentage of these were "hard" catastrophic and intermittent failures exacerbated by exposure to environmental extremes of temperature (-40ºC to +85ºC); high mechanical loads from rough road vibration and rail shipment; mechanical shocks of up to 100g from handling and crash impact; severe electrical transients, electrostatic discharge and electromagnetic interference; large swings in electrical supply voltage; reverse electrical supply voltage; and exposure to highly corrosive chemicals (e.g., road salt and battery acid). The focus of the 1978 version of J1211 was on characterizing these harsh vehicle environment for areas of the vehicle (engine compartment, instrument panel, passenger compartment, truck, under body, etc.) and suggesting lab test methods which design engineers could use to evaluate the performance of their components and systems at or near the worst-case conditions expected in the area of the vehicle where their electrical/electronic components would be mounted. By testing their prototypes at the worst case conditions (i.e., at the product’s specification limits) described in the 1978 version of J1211 designers were able to detect and design out weaknesses and thereby reduce the likelihood of failure due to environmental factors.

By the mid-1980s, it became common practice to specify "test-to-pass" (zero failures allowed) environmental conditions-based reliability demonstration life tests with acceptance levels in the 90% to 95% reliability range (with confidence levels of 70% to 90%). This translates to approximately 5 to 20 f/106 hrs. The sample size for these tests was determined using binomial distribution statistical tables and this would result in a requirement to test 6 to 24 test units without experiencing a failure. If a failure occurred, the sample size would have to be increased and the testing continued without another failure till the “bogie” was reached. The environmental conditions during the test were typically defined such that the units under test were operated at specification limits based on J1211 recommended practices (e.g., -40ºC and +85ºC) for at least some portion of the total test time. The "goal" of passing such a demonstration test was often very challenging and the "test-analyze-fix" programs that resulted, although very time-consuming and expensive, produced much-needed reliability growth. Reliability improved significantly in the late 1980s and early 1990s and vehicle manufactures and their suppliers began expressing warranty data in R/1000 units instead of R/100 units.

By the turn of the century automobile warranty periods had increased from 12 months to 3, 4, 5 (and even 10 years for some systems) and most manufacturers had started specifying life expectancies for vehicle components of 10, 15 and sometimes 20 years. And by this time several vehicle manufacturers and their best electrical/electronic component suppliers had improved reliability to the point where warranty data was being expressed in parts-per-million (ppm) in the triple, double and even single-digit range. This translates to failure rates in the 0.05 f/106 hrs range and better! The achievement of such high reliability is not the result of test-to-pass reliability demonstration testing based on binomial distribution statistical tables. With this method, reliability demonstration in the 99.99% to 99.9999% range would require thousands of test units! On the contrary, the methods and techniques used by engineering teams achieving such reliability excellence did not require increasingly large sample sizes, more expensive and lengthy testing, or more engineers. It is about working smarter, not harder; and about systems-level robust design and robustness validation thinking rather than component-level “test-to-pass” thinking.

The task force leaders and members were of the strong opinion that the 2008 version of SAE J1211 should document the state-of-the-art methods and techniques being used by leading companies and engineering teams to achieve ultra-high reliability while at the same time reducing overall cost life-cycle and shortening time-to-market. The SAE International Automotive Electronic Systems Reliability Standards Committee and ZVEI (German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers` Association) are hopeful that this Handbook for Robustness Validation of Automotive Electrical/Electronic Modules will help many companies and engineering teams make the transition from the 1980s "cookbook" reliability demonstration approach to a more effective, economically feasible knowledge-based Robustness Validation approach.

* Relevant information and data from SAE J1211 NOV1978 is preserved in SAE J2837 "Environmental Conditions and Design Practices for Automotive Electronic Equipment: Reference Data from SAE J1211 NOV1978"

Standard Published Revision Status
J1211_201211 2012-11-19 Latest Revised
2009-04-07 Historical Revised
1978-11-01 Historical Revised
1978-06-01 Historical Issued
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