Electric vehicle technology and the role of PCBs

Published Monday 25th March, 2019

PCBs aren't a new thing when it comes to the development and manufacture of vehicles, but as a new breed of cars gradually takes over the marketplace, they have an even greater role to play when it comes to the advancement of electric vehicle (EV) technology.

From the moment computers started to be utilised to make driving a more comfortable, functional and convenient experience, PCBs have become a core part of the automotive manufacturing process. Nowadays, unless you have a vintage motor, your car will be running on a series of sophisticated electronic systems – used for general functionality, safety, dashboard alerts, transmission, engine and heating controls, GPS navigation, entertainment and so much more.

So what's new with electric vehicle technology, and how do existing and emerging PCB technologies help this market to keep on developing?

How PCBs are advancing electric vehicle technology

With so many more - and complex - PCBs required to power an electric vehicle compared to traditional cars, there’s been a lot of developments in the electronics industry over recent years. As user demand for additional energy savings and better performance increases, so too does the need for more sophisticated PCB solutions.

On top of the usual vehicle management roles that PCBs play, in electric vehicles they also play a key role in power conditioning, battery performance and voltage conversion too.

We looked recently at the latest electric vehicle trends, and mentioned a new technology to help convert energy wasted during braking and coasting into driving power. As Audi harness PCBs to develop this tech, we'll soon see other adopters pick up this feature to improve their renewable credentials.

When it comes to electric vehicle batteries, PCBs are playing a significant role in the development of reliable charging stations too – assisting in the manufacture of 'pay to charge' units that allow the public to charge their vehicles and use an inbuilt payment facility so that the whole service is automated.

EV PCB manufacturing challenges

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to this increasing dependence on PCBs to power and improve electric vehicles is the conditions they need to perform under. When used in other types of products and equipment, heat sinks, fans and spreaders can be used to cope with the large heat output of the working machinery – but these can’t be adopted in EVs. Instead, PCB designers and manufacturers have had to find substrates that offer a higher level of thermal performance.

Where standard resin boards can’t deal with the heat, the use of ceramic and reinforced glass PTFE offer the stability required for the thermal conditions – and further hybrid substrates are also being developed to offer more choice within the industry.

The Leeds Clean Air Zone

Improvements in electric vehicle technology may not inspire you if you don't drive an EV or work in the industry, but with continuing global pressure to reduce our carbon footprint - individually and collectively - it might not be long until you're in the driving seat.

By 2020, it's predicted that 33% of cars rolling off the forecourts will be electric, and the UK Government is offering grants and incentives to adopters in an attempt to create a positive environmental impact.

In our own small part of the world in Leeds, January 2020 will see the implementation of the city's first Clean Air Charging Zone. This will give the council the jurisdiction to charge lorry, coach, taxi and private hire drivers to enter parts of Leeds if their vehicles fall below pollution requirements – and as more local authorities take this stance, you could soon find that electric vehicle technology becomes much more relevant to you!

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