Modern vehicles are growing increasingly sophisticated, and electrical computer engineers are spearheading their evolution. As vehicles are becoming ever-more reliant on electrical and smart components, the roles of electrical computer engineers in the automotive industry are proliferating by the day.
From controls to safety systems, vehicle-to-man and vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and self-diagnostics systems, the skills of electrical computer engineers are indispensable to modern car design and production.
Automotive electronics now take up 40% of the cost of car production, compared to just 1% when they were introduced back in the 50s. And according to McKinsey, the automotive software and electronics industry is set to outpace overall growth in the entire auto industry by several folds over the coming years. The industry is expected to grow annually at 5.5%, compared to just 1% for the auto industry.
The rise of electric vehicles and autonomous driving is also placing more demand for electronic computer engineers. Here, the roles of engineers span beyond the factory floors, catering to production as well as the operational infrastructures needed to run and maintain the vehicles.
In this article, we delve deeper into the outlook for the roles of electrical computer engineers in the automotive industry today.
Why the automobile industry relies on electrical computer engineers
The modern-day vehicle production line is increasingly becoming multidisciplinary by nature. But among the intertwining fields, the role of electrical computer engineering is growing more prominent by the day.
While much hasn’t really changed over the years in terms of the fundamentals of cars, electronics have offered a quicker path to innovation and growth, enabling car brands to distinguish themselves without having to reinvent the wheel – no pun intended.
Electronic components are used to improve operational efficiency and integrate smart functionalities in vehicles. As vehicles are becoming more technologically advanced, we are witnessing an increasing partnership between technology companies and automobile manufacturers.
Now and then, we hear of new partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions between automobile manufacturers and mobile technology brands. We’re also seeing deals bordering on everything from inventory supplies to talent management and everything in between.
Software companies are doing the heavier lifting for car companies, providing them with electrical components, manpower, as well as other resources required for car design and development processes.
Automobile brands are also leveraging technology to diversify their revenue modules, creating new revenue streams through subscription-based features and other similar innovations.
Once every few decades, a new technology disrupts the auto industry, and electrical software engineering is almost always at the forefront of it. Presently, it’s technologies like autonomous driving, smart controls, and electrically wired transmission systems.
As these technologies become increasingly mainstream, more car companies are being pressured to join the bandwagon.
All of this implies more decent entry-level opportunities for electrical computer engineers looking to switch away from their current industry. Whether your background is in aerospace, robotics, or IoT, there’s a department in car manufacturing that can fit you like a glove.
Now’s a great time to launch out and expand your horizon.
Two major ways electrical computer engineers provide an edge in car production
So why all the clamor for electronic innovation in cars? Here are some of the key reasons why electrical computer engineers are becoming increasingly sought-after by auto manufacturers:
For several decades now, chips and circuit boards have been used to expand the capabilities of various parts of automobiles.
For the most part, electrical computer engineers are not required to create new components from scratch. Rather, they work on improving existing systems and software, from anti-lock brake systems to infotainment systems, parking assistants, and so on.
Electrical computer engineers also work closely with automobile engineers, designers, and project managers to develop tailored versions of mainstream software solutions. Their job is to help place car companies on the front foot of innovation, creating a distinction while also helping improve their customers’ comfort and satisfaction.
Technology upgrades can be rolled out on either new or existing (or both) car models, and that can open up quite a lot of employment opportunities for electrical computer engineers.
The role of an electrical computer engineer is critical to a car manufacturer’s ability to survive and stay competitive.
Simplification also furnishes car manufacturers with an innovative edge, speeding up the adoption of new technologies. When new technologies are introduced, electrical computer engineers are often called upon to help design and develop systems for bringing everyone on board.
Simplicity has a direct correlation with productivity – the simpler the task, the greater the likelihood of timely and efficient completion.
Electrical computer engineers can help eliminate complexities in car models as well as their production process. This enhances productivity on the production lines while also improving the user experience and customer satisfaction.
What car parts do electrical computer engineers specialize in?
From powering and ignition systems to propulsion control and battery systems, here are the various automotive electronic components that you can specialize in as an electrical computer engineer:
Engines are the most complex part of a vehicle, and computing components are used extensively here.
Engine control units (ECUs) typically comprise a system of sensors and actuators, where the sensors track and report changes in parameters like pressure, temperature, and engine speed, while the actuators are used to execute both manual and automated intervention.
In fact, a typical modern car can have up to 100 electronic engine control units, including:
- Ignition system control
- Fuel injection rate control
- Emission control
- Turbocharger control
- Cooling system control
- Throttle control
- Lubrication system control
On-Board Diagnostics (OBD)
This is a special kind of engine control unit deserving a section of its own. As the name suggests, on-board diagnostics are designed to keep the car in check at all times.
OBD implements comprehensive periodic checks on a car’s performance, tracking any slight change that could possibly lead to major issues. In fact, auto mechanics now use OBD as the first port of call when checking for issues in various parts of the vehicle.
Battery management system software
A BMS software is designed to track a host of factors affecting battery performance. It’s integrated with other sub-units and sensors, constantly interacting with the different components powered by the battery.
Like ECUs, a BMS is a system of sensors and actuators with a software interface that gives users easy, hands-on control over their battery performance.
These systems enable smooth transmission while shifting gears. They’re mostly used in automatic and semiautomatic transmissions with fully automatic or semiautomatic clutch systems.
Transmission electronics are also integrated with other ECUs to coordinate signals and operations for smooth transmissions.
This comprises all the software and systems on the chassis designed to control various functionalities in a vehicle. The typical components of chassis electronics include:
- Anti-lock braking system
- Anti-slip regulation/traction control system
- Brake assist
- Electronic brakeforce distribution
- Electronic damper control
- Electronic stability program
- Parking assistance
Passive safety systems
Passive safety systems are designed to intervene in any event of a possible collision. They’re activated when a collision has happened or is about to happen.
Passive safety systems typically comprise:
- Hill descent control
- Emergency brake assist system
- Driver assistance
- Lane assist systems
- Speed assist system
- Blind spot detection
- Park assist system
- Adaptive cruise control system
- Pre-collision assist
Passenger comfort systems
This covers everything from cooling units to seat adjustment and infotainment systems – components relating to the comfort and safety of passengers. Passenger comfort systems often feature:
- Automatic climate control
- Electronic seat adjustment with memory
- Automatic wipers
- Automatic headlamps – adjust beam automatically
- Entertainment systems
- Navigation system
- Vehicle audio
- Information access
Electronic integrated cockpit systems
In hybrid vehicles, multiple ECUs and other sensor components are consolidated into what’s called an integrated cockpit system. This helps to centralize control, minimize complexities, and to support portable, space-efficient car designs.
EIC systems typically comprise units such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), parking assist, surround view systems, and lots more.
Electrical computer engineers are also responsible for protecting connected systems in a vehicle. They design security solutions to prevent threat actors from stealing data from various car components or from remotely hijacking a car.
One of the most effective cybersecurity techniques used in vehicles today is hypervisors, used to virtually isolate connected components and create ‘safe zones’ to prevent a breach in one component from spreading to other interconnected components.
Vehicle system integrations
This generally refers to the overarching systems used to control and manage the various electronic components of vehicles. Electrical computer engineers are responsible for developing software to test and monitor ECUs, wirings, and other integrated sensor and actuator systems.
Computer-based automotive parts
In addition to all the above, electrical computer engineers also work on many other vehicle parts that rely on computer technology. For instance, the Powertrain Control Module (PCM), which is widely regarded as the brain box of vehicles, exchanges data with many different sensors and control units to track various aspects of a car’s performance and warn drivers about any possible system failures. And the list of components goes on and on.
What jobs can you get as an electrical computer engineer in the automotive industry?
From all the above, you can see there’s quite a lot to keep an electrical engineer preoccupied in the auto industry. One key advantage that electrical computer engineers have here is that they can easily adapt to many different roles without requiring any extra training or certification. For instance, a program like Kettering ECE Masters’ degree is an all-inclusive program that equips you for most of the job titles. It prepares engineers to face current and future trends in the auto industry, including subjects such as:
- Electronic and electrical system integrations
- Advanced mobility applications
- Dynamic system designs (combining technologies like electric transmission, hybrid, artificial intelligence, etc.)
- Digital signal processing
- Vehicle electrification
What’s more, it also prepares engineers for administrative responsibilities, tackling subjects related to leadership, organizational behavior, technology management, and financial management.
Now, let’s look at the most popular automotive jobs that you can land as a full-fledged electrical computer engineer:
In this role, an electrical computer engineer helps design systems and processes for automating tedious tasks. These automations mostly border on systems for collecting, analyzing, and drawing insights from data. The insights are used to increase efficiency in various aspects of a car manufacturing process.
The daily activities of an automation engineer include brainstorming and developing new automations, optimizing existing systems, and finding and identifying quality issues in existing automations.
Control system designer
As the name suggests, this role entails designing and developing user-end applications for controlling various systems and processes. A control system designer is concerned with UI/UX design for all kinds of systems, from digital to analog, automatic to semiautomatic.
Building interfaces for testing and monitoring equipment is also a crucial part of a control system designer’s job.
Strong mathematical skills are required, as well as programming skills in languages such as C and C++. Knowledge of software development toolkits like MATLAB, HMI, and Simulink, as well as widely used operating systems, is also crucial.
Electronics design engineer
This covers the design and development of all types of electrical and electronic components, from powering to transmission, infotainment systems, and everything in between.
Their day-to-day activities include:
- Planning and developing electronic circuitry as well as software and algorithms,
- Hardware and software quality checks,
- Periodic assessments,
- Crafting and implementing maintenance procedures
- Monitoring compliance with regulatory standards
As a quality engineer, you’re mainly concerned with standards and procedures. You’re responsible for maintaining quality control systems to ensure compliance with standards.
Crafting standards and safety documentations, tackling issues limiting standard compliance, and offering recommendations for standard upgrades are also key parts of a quality engineer’s job description.
Automotive process engineer
Rather than dealing directly with the development of user-end products, process engineers are all about processes. They’re tasked with fine-tuning the various processes involved in car manufacturing to help minimize cost while increasing efficiency.
As a process engineer, you’ll frequently find yourself collaborating with people from other departments and disciplines. You’ll engineer processes relating to many different organizational processes, from project development to budgeting, HR management, and lots more.
Tips for switching gears to auto electronic computer engineering
The fast-paced innovation currently witnessed in automotive electronics is creating a growth-inducing environment for auto electronic computer engineers.
If you’ve decided to launch out, the first step you need to take is to get high-quality training and a good certification, such as an ECE Master’s program.
Here are more tips to help you succeed:
Step up to the plate: No doubt, electronic computer jobs require a lot of brain power and problem-solving skills. In some cases, it might require relocating to new cities where an auto manufacturer is based. Be prepared to accept the challenge, make the necessary sacrifices, and dig in to master the necessary skills.
Ditch your comfort zone: Always think of ways to expand your horizon and make the necessary efforts to accomplish them. Experiment with different ideas, fail to learn but do not learn to fail, and don’t stop innovating and improvising.
Develop your critical thinking skills: Hone your intuition and grow a knack for noticing details that others might be missing. Always look out for gaps in projects and think of ways to resolve them.
See solutions, not problems: Always see problems as an opportunity to prove your worth. Rather than wait for others or trade blames, always try your best to get things done faster and more efficiently.
Master your customers’ pain points: You’ll mostly be designing user-end products, so you need to be able to see things from a customer’s perspective. Work closely with marketing and sales teams and get feedback from people around you who fit your customers’ profiles.
Be culturally and socially informed: Don’t just stop at solving engineering problems, learn about sociocultural issues around you as well. These issues can significantly influence your work experience, so it’s better to get a firm handle on them.
Expand your professional network: Your professional network can help you grow personally and professionally. Learn from people from different departments and develop your understanding of how the entire industry works.
Find mentors and coaches: You can gain insights on a wide range of issues from a mentor or coach. This can span from design and development issues to career challenges and personal issues.
The automotive electronics industry is currently growing by leaps and bounds. That’s because automotive electronic technology is currently the biggest source of momentum for advancement in the automobile industry.
Computer electronic engineers are at the forefront of this drive, engineering systems and processes for creating more efficient car designs.
As an electronic computer engineer, you can help car manufacturers in a variety of ways, from improving their competitive edge to minimizing production costs and improving productivity. You’ll facilitate the adoption of new technologies like AI, IoT, and electrification in vehicles, helping push these technologies further into the mainstream.
And you don’t need multiple specializations and certifications to prepare for these roles. This gives you more flexibility for career advancement and personal growth.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.