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TE Connectivity’s Circuit Protection Devices Help Protect Automotive Electronics

Figure 1: Example of an automotive infotainment system.

The electronic content in modern cars has increased tremendously in the last few years thanks to demand for in-car entertainment (“infotainment”) systems and features, such as docking for smartphones, USB ports and satellite radios. The latest cars also are expected to boast GPS navigation systems with mapping capabilities, interior and exterior LED lighting, and other sophisticated features.

Government requirements for safety features are adding impetus to the proliferation of in-vehicle electronics as well. For example, backup cameras will be mandatory in new cars in 2018. Meanwhile, state laws requiring hands-free calling while driving mean that in-vehicle cell phone interfaces will become standard features.

With the increase in car electronics designed for consumer entertainment and peace of mind comes the increasing potential for electronic failures, which, ironically, can result in the opposite effect: warranty repairs, safety issues and overall customer dissatisfaction.

TE Connectivity’s (TE) business unit, TE Circuit Protection, offers PolySwitch®, PolyZen, and ESD protection devices for automotive applications. These devices go well beyond traditional fuses to help increase reliability, performance and safety in automotive electronics.

USB Applications

USB 3.0 ports are now common in cars. In addition to overcurrent and overvoltage protection, sensitive electronics that use high-speed USB protocols (and also HDMI and other high-speed interfaces) require protection against damage from ESD (electrostatic discharge). TE Circuit Protection offers two different types of circuit protection devices that can help in these situations.

A PolySwitch PPTC (polymeric positive temperature coefficient) device can be used for resettable protection in USB applications. Placing the PPTC device on the VBUS port of a USB power source limits the current in the event of a short circuit. It also helps prevent overcurrent damage caused by a sudden short circuit downstream and helps achieve UL60950 compliance. These devices include the AGRF, AHRF, AHEF, AHS, ASMD, nanoASMDC, microASMD, miniASMDC, and BD parts. For overvoltage protection in USB 3.0 applications, the PolyZen device uses a hybrid approach. It integrates a Zener diode and PPTC device, which are thermally bonded. PolyZen devices can be used inside USB ports to help prevent high voltage generated by an upstream regulator failure from getting through and damaging any components that are plugged into the USB port. 

12 VDC Systems

Power that feeds video monitors on the backs of seats, powered antennas, and other accessories needs short-circuit protection. It is very easy to short-out power to the vehicle ground when installing equipment. Docking ports also have power outputs that need short-circuit protection.

Traditionally, fuses have protected power inputs and outputs in 12 VDC systems. PolySwitch PPTCs offer a cost-effective, resettable alternative to fuses by helping to protect driver outputs from damage from inadvertent short circuits or other load anomalies.

Video outputs

Video outputs in car infotainment and other systems also need ESD protection. HDMI and other high-frequency outputs need low capacitance ESD protection. When designing HDMI systems, using TE’s Polymer ESD (PESD) protection devices, which can operate at 3.4 GHz without affecting the signal integrity, minimizes design headaches. These devices help increase system margin and facilitate next-generation designs by helping to eliminate the need for a full redesign of the ESD protection scheme down the road.  These devices include the PESD0402, PESD0603, and PESD1206Q parts.

RF Outputs

RF outputs, such as Bluetooth technology, GPS, and satellite radio antennas, may need ESD protection as well. 

Protecting exposed communication interfaces from ESD and other voltage surges induced through the antenna and the instrument’s wireless (RF) interface is a critical design issue.

A PolyZen device can help protect the power input to a Bluetooth module (Figure 2). Also shown are PESD devices that can be used to help protect the antenna against damage from ESD surges. PESD devices have the low-capacitance needed for high-speed data transmission lines and radio frequency data lines. They are available in compact SMD packages and are capable of withstanding numerous ESD strikes.

Figure 2: Bluetooth modules can utilize PolyZen and PESD devices for circuit protection.

LED Lighting

Interior and exterior LEDs are increasingly being used in automotive designs. Although efficient and long lasting, LEDs are vulnerable to heat, ESD and short-circuit anomalies that can lead to product failure and potential safety issues. Automotive manufacturers, therefore, use circuit protection for these lighting systems.

Most of the electrical energy supplied to an LED is changed into heat, not light. If not dealt with, the heat will reduce the LED’s life and alter the quality of the light that is produced. A PolySwitch PPTC device can be used in series with the LED to help provide overcurrent protection.

Additionally, this resettable device can provide overtemperature protection if it is thermally bonded to the metal core circuit board or LED heatsink. Problems can occur if the LED driver’s outputs are damaged or destroyed by being inadvertently shorted. In the event the driver circuit does not require input protection, PolySwitch PPTC devices can be used to help protect driver outputs.

ESD protection is also necessary if the LED does not have built-in protection. In this case, a PESD protection device placed in parallel with the LED can help protect against possible damage.

Many LED drivers are susceptible to destruction by improper DC voltage levels and polarity. Placing a PolyZen device on the input of the LED driver helps protect the driver from damage from inadvertent exposure to overvoltage and reverse polarity events.