The challenge of electric and autonomous vehicle service and maintenance

By Dan Scott and Steve Trythall |  No Comments  |  Posted: December 20, 2019
Topics/Categories: Electrical Design  |  Tags: , ,  | Organizations:

Electrical vehicle pose a whole new set of training challenges from the body shop to the dealership. How can you make sure they get the right documentation?

Automotive service and maintenance departments, along with the rest of the industry, are evolving in response to the growth and development of electric and autonomous vehicles. Internal combustion engines will be replaced by electric motors that are relatively less complex and require much less maintenance (Figure 1). Vehicle complexity, however, will continue to increase as the electrical and electronic systems within vehicles become larger, more sophisticated, and more critical to vehicle functionality. Assisted and automated driving systems, for instance, will use a dense network of sensors and processing units to perceive the driving environment and distribute instructions to vehicle sub-systems.

Figure 1: Electric vehicles will come to dominate the market.

Figure 1: Electric vehicles will come to dominate the market.

Electric and autonomous vehicles bring unique and intricate challenges to the service environment that require special training or bespoke processes to manage. Service technicians need new techniques and expertise to diagnose and repair electric and autonomous vehicles effectively and, most of all, safely.

EV service challenges

Electric powertrains require extremely high-voltage wiring to carry power from the batteries to the electric motors and other critical systems. As a result, EVs require additional safety precautions to protect the service technicians performing maintenance. Vehicle design and workshop procedures must both adapt to meet these heightened safety needs.

EV manufacturers have adopted a ‘safety by design’ approach by integrating safety mechanisms into the design of the high-voltage wiring and systems. This is achieved in several ways, including a high-voltage interlock loop, and short circuit and isolation monitoring.

Workshop organization and procedures are also needed to mitigate the potential dangers in servicing high-voltage systems. As vehicles come into the workshop, high-voltage vehicles need to be separated into dedicated bays for diagnosis and service due to the potential dangers associated with the high-voltage electrical distribution system or damaged batteries. Technicians will also need special personal protective equipment (PPE) to insulate themselves from electrical currents or protect them from harmful battery chemicals.

Ensuring that technicians have appropriate training is equally as important. Training for high-voltage systems in electric vehicles is crucial due to the unique requirements and precautions of these systems in a service environment. A service environment encompasses many different people with different roles that work in and around vehicles under service. Therefore, different levels of training are appropriate for different employees (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Various levels of training are necessary for the wide range of employees in a service environment. This figure shows indicative durations.

Figure 2. Various levels of training are necessary for the wide range of employees in a service environment. This figure shows indicative durations (Mentor – click to enlarge).

The first level of training focuses on awareness for everybody in the dealership or service shop that will be around electric vehicles. This training covers basic safety procedures such as warning signs on EVs under service. This only takes a few hours to complete.

The next level is high-voltage technician training. High-voltage technician training teaches the shutdown and startup procedures for high-voltage vehicles. Technicians must properly shut down high-voltage vehicles before work can begin safely, and start them back up before returning the vehicle to the customer.

Finally, some technicians need to undergo advanced training to act as the high-voltage expert in a service location, build facility or dealership. This expert is responsible for battery diagnosis, classification, recycling, replacement, and, eventually, battery repair.

Autonomous vehicle maintenance

The accurate service and repair of autonomous vehicles will be central to their continued safe and reliable operation. For technicians, it will be imperative to identify faults accurately and prescribe the correct solutions. Service documentation and training will be indispensable methods of establishing traceability and guaranteeing the quality of these repairs and maintenance (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Successfully tracing service, repair, and maintenance information will only become more important as autonomous vehicles become a reality (Mentor – click to enlarge).

Figure 3. Successfully tracing service, repair, and maintenance information will only become more important as autonomous vehicles become a reality (Mentor – click to enlarge).

The complexity of autonomous systems creates a training skills gap between autonomous and human-driven vehicles. Transitioning service technicians from mechanical to electrical services, or to high-voltage, is just the first step in training the vehicle service workforce. To move to autonomous vehicle service requires a non-linear increase in technician skill. This is because autonomous service technicians will need to inspect and service the network connectivity inside the vehicle. These new network and E/E architectures will evolve and introduce entirely new technologies, requiring new approaches. Imagining the service department of the future, Greg Potter from the Equipment and Tool Institute in Michigan says, “The dealership service department will resemble the Genius Bar of an Apple store. Network engineers will work alongside lower-skilled techs who do oil changes and rotate tires.”

Extending the digital thread to EV service and maintenance

A class of new design tools is focused on reducing the time and resources required to create technical documentation. Advanced examples, such as Capital Publisher, are able to reuse data directly from upstream engineering processes. Engineers no longer need to take data from a spreadsheet and manually redraw wiring diagrams. All the necessary data can be imported and automatically laid out into accurate wiring diagrams.

Previously, the technical publications department would have manually pulled the needed data together, laid out the schematics, and checked that the wiring data matches the engineering data. Now, engineers can configure the automated generation of electrical documentation. The configurable engine consumes design data, 3-D models, location views, diagnostic codes, repair procedures, and corporate assets like symbol libraries and graphical styles. Then engineers can mine and link adjacent data, re-partition diagrams, re-style documentation, and even export to multiple formats such as PDF, HTML, and S1000D.

The ability of modern design tools to automate the creation of technical documentation has clear benefits for the technical authoring team such as shorter publication cycle times, lower publication creation costs, and fewer publication errors. However, the documentation can also be used in house for design reviews and for monitoring changes between harness designs and the service and maintenance technician environment. For design reviews and supplier communications, tools such as Capital Publisher provide richer content that improves comprehension and change identification. Using the documentation, service and maintenance technicians can diagnose faults, repair the vehicle, and return it to the customer faster. As a result, the technicians can improve brand image and value, customer retention, and customer satisfaction by eliminating repeat repairs.

Smart and interactive service documentation helps to resolve the issues raised by electric and autonomous vehicles in the service environment. By directly using the EV harness design data, engineers can be sure that the information in the service documentation is completely accurate. This is critical with the complexity of autonomous vehicle systems and the routing constraints of high-voltage wiring. Inaccurate wiring diagrams may lead to safety concerns in the service environment if high-voltage components are not identified properly.

The after-sales service and maintenance of vehicles will only become more critical as vehicles become increasingly electrified and autonomous. These vehicle technologies create new challenges and concerns for service technicians as they repair and maintain customers’ vehicles. With advanced electrical systems engineering solutions, automotive companies can equip service technicians with the tools they need to overcome the challenges of maintaining such vehicles. This will ensure that vehicles continue to operate safely and efficiently as they move people and goods throughout the world.

To learn more, download the whitepaper The Impact of Electric and Autonomous Vehicles on Aftersales Service and Maintenance.

About the authors

Dan Scott is marketing director for Integrated Electrical Systems at Mentor, a Siemens Business. Steve Trythall is product line director for Integrated Electrical Systems at Mentor.

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