Functional Safety Certification for Automotive

Jan. 24, 2011
UL has a long tradition of certifying systems for functional safety in the automotive industry. Major automakers worldwide have turned to UL for elements such as battery management systems and charging systems. With the advent of Draft ISO/DIS 26262, scheduled to be published this year, the likelihood of that relationship deepening and extending are high.

The number of electronic systems in automobiles has risen dramatically in our lifetime. The increasing development and use of electric vehicles will only further that trend, in particular the trend of using electronics and software for safety-critical functions in the automobile. For example, if you have a powertrain that no longer has any combustion motor, an electric motor drive is much more prepositioned and prepared to accommodate software-based safety functions.

Consider the starting of a motor: for this an electronic switch may be very likely to be involved. If that switch fails, a situation may arise where a car moves when it should not. But such failure of safety relevant components is only a tiny part of the challenges the industry is facing. The real safety issues are those related to the complexity of on-board automotive programmable electronics and software controlling such components. While these challenges already exist today¹, they will become even more frequent and important as the national fleet becomes increasingly electrical.

Driving Forward

“You could say almost all automotive systems, will have some safety-related aspect to a greater or lesser extent,” says Thomas Maier, principal engineer, functional safety, at UL. “As soon as something moves you have risk, whether it is the car itself by the main powertrain or the driver’s seat that moves back and forth.”

All these systems will need to be evaluated in accordance with ISO/DIS 26262. ISO/DIS 26262 is an adaptation of the well-known mother functional safety standard IEC 61508. What IEC 62061 is for machinery, ISO/DIS 26262 is for the automotive industry. Where IEC 61508 refers to Safety Integrity Levels (SIL), ISO/DIS 26262 uses Automotive Safety Integrity Levels (ASIL) that employ an alphabetical hierarchy, rather than numerical as the SILs.

Safety-critical functions are usually distributed throughout an automobile by electronic control units (ECUs). As ISO/DIS 26262 becomes more prominent, manufacturers of ECUs supplying automakers would be well served by securing the UL Functional Safety Recognized Mark.

In recent years, safety has taken center stage in the industry due to a number of rather dramatic recalls. What the industry terms “mechatronics”—the combination of mechanical, electronic, and software—is where the industry has seen a plethora of issues in terms of failures and recalls. Adherence to functional safety standards is one logical means of addressing these problems.

Regardless of the automotive component or system involved, UL can provide the appropriate functional safety evaluation to ensure compliance with ISO/DIS 26262 and whatever functional safety certificate, certification, or mark the manufacturer seeks. “We have been a trusted partner for those suppliers serving the automotive market for years,” notes Kevin Connelly, business development manager, power and controls, at UL. “As electronics become an ever-more-important part of automotive design and production, we expect to be even more involved with the industry.”

Connelly adds, “Our historical involvement in the industry perhaps hasn’t been well known; but things are changing. For anyone believing Functional Safety certification can serve their business, a conversation with UL just makes sense.”

For more information on UL’s Functional Safety Services, and specifically how UL can help those automotive suppliers and manufacturing seeking IEC 61508 and ISO/DIS 26262 compliance, please contact:

Kevin Connelly
[email protected]

Or go to the web:

¹ Modern cars can have many dozens of electronic control units (ECU’s), interconnected by serial communication bus systems, and millions of lines of embedded software code, incorporating safety-critical functions.

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