Case Study

Helping a leading automotive manufacturer navigate the memory maze

When this leading automotive manufacturer was struggling to find the right memory card for its new navigation and entertainment system, we were called in to assist. We discovered a disconnect between engineering and purchasing requirements, which meant they were specifying insufficiently robust products to handle the demands of an automotive environment. Our role went well beyond the supply of flash memory cards – we worked closely with them as a trusted advisor through several iterations of their system, and they now understand why automotive system applications require industrial grade memory to work reliably in the challenging environment of a car. We were also able to save the navigation system supplier many hundreds of thousands of pounds in warranty claims by showing that a performance issue was not due to a fault in either their system or the memory we supplied.

Problem: finding the balance between performance and cost when choosing memory for an automotive System application.

Solution: Cardwave worked as a trusted advisor to help the manufacturer and application supplier navigate performance and supply issues and develop a reliable solution.

One of the key components of a car navigation and entertainment system is its memory card, which stores the detailed mapping data that drivers increasingly rely on. We were bidding to provide the memory card for one such system when the company designing it discovered that their customer – a global automotive manufacturer – was planning to buy the card themselves. To help persuade the automotive company to buy the memory card as part of the navigation package, they arranged a meeting between the manufacturer and Cardwave.

At the meeting, we quickly discovered a problem: a disconnect between the engineering and procurement teams. The automotive company was indeed planning to source the SD card to run the navigation and entertainment system. Although the application needed an automotive grade card to handle the demands that would be placed on it, a purchasing assistant had been researching consumer grade SD cards online and set the budget accordingly. The challenge was to square the circle between performance and budget.

Why consumer grade memory cannot handle the automotive systems environment

The issue had arisen because the navigation system was considered to be a ‘consumer’ application located in a car. If the manufacturer had been designing an automotive application, it would have specified a card that could operate in the demanding automotive environment. This has to be able to withstand instant switching on and off every time the engine is started and stopped – that’s equivalent to two power cuts, multiple times, when the system is in use. It also has to cope with whatever extremes of temperature the car experiences, from below freezing to desert heat. These conditions put a lot of stress on flash memory, but it is expected to work faultlessly throughout the car’s lifetime.

The purchasing team had researched relatively basic memory cards and set the budget accordingly. While perfectly appropriate for a home entertainment system, this type of card was simply not robust enough to perform reliably over many years in an automotive system setting. The results could be disastrous for an automotive manufacturer with a reputation for high quality and performance.

We provided extensive technical information to show why a consumer grade card would quickly result in problems and explained the features needed. This recommendation was endorsed by the technical and quality teams. After considerable discussion, purchasing accepted the need for a more robust card. However, it would cost significantly more than they had budgeted.

Finding a compromise between specification and cost

We were asked to work with the navigation system company’s purchasing department to negotiate a solution. Just as we thought we were making progress, they asked a company which supplied promotional USBs to quote for the memory! The team developing the system asked us if there was anything else we could offer, as they feared for their reputation if unsuitable memory was used and subsequently caused their system to fail.

To break the impasse, we turned to Micron, a memory manufacturer we knew well and who already supplied a relatively low-cost SD card to another automotive company. We obtained a competitive quote that was accepted, but it came with significant caveats. Micron did not know the system the card would be used in, and so was unable to offer warranties or performance guarantees.

We then had to develop a way of incorporating the licencing requirements for the mapping data into a volume production process. Half the license key had to be created and programmed into the card at our facility, and the dealer then created the second half of the license key during the pre-delivery inspection. This meant writing our own code, developing ways to prove that the license key was on the card and maintaining records of how many licenses were used. If a card went out with an incorrect license, or no license, then the dealer was unable to activate the navigation system, meaning that they could not deliver the car. So getting it right first time was crucial.

We were also audited by the navigation system manufacturer as meeting automotive quality standards. Now we could buy SD cards, load them and supply them directly to the automotive manufacturer’s UK factories on a weekly basis to fit with their JIT (just in time) manufacturing process.

Solving ‘card failure’ – due to a non-automotive grade card reader

Despite thorough quality checks at every stage, the SD cards started to fail within the first few months. Warranty returns were higher than normal, customers were complaining that their navigation system was not working and a motoring journalist began to write about the issue. The warranty claims – some of several thousand pounds – were passed from car dealers to the navigation system manufacturer.

We tested the cards and realised that something external was causing them to fail prematurely. Working with Micron, we quickly identified a pattern which suggested an inconsistent power supply from the card reader to the SD card. This caused the card to go into a self-protect state – which meant the card started to write to itself, then erase what it had written, effectively wearing itself out.

Investigating further, we discovered that the card reader had been purchased by the automotive manufacturer. They had assumed they could buy components from different vendors without integrating them and – crucially– the card reader they chose was not operating to SDA specifications. As they were not an expert in flash memory, they could not be expected to know this. However, the issue could have been avoided by checking prior to purchase that card and reader were compatible and of suitable specification. The result was that the reader was unable to handle the power fluctuations and variances from the vehicle, which led to data corruption on the card.

The automotive manufacturer addressed the problem directly with their card reader supplier. This also meant that the warranty claims became their responsibility, much to the relief of both Cardwave and the navigation system supplier. Dealers gave customers a new card, while the returns came back to Cardwave for analysis and fault reporting. This enabled us to understand the warranty return situation and therefore minimise the navigation system company’s exposure to warranty claims. Our expertise in diagnosing and providing evidence to show that the problem was not related to their system saved them many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

A lesson learnt – moving to a fully automotive system grade card

With these issues resolved, we continued to supply SD cards with no further incident for some time. However, a change in mapping data eventually led to a requirement for a higher memory capacity. We recommended changing to a product from SanDisk, a supplier of 16GB industrial standard SD cards. We were already using SanDisk industrial grade cards for another customer and could provide detailed performance information, including test results. SanDisk supported us with the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) standard used across the automotive sector, as well as IMDS records, quality reports, failure rate analysis etc. Their cards also came with warranty support.

This time the procurement process was much more straightforward. Having learned from experience, the automotive company now understood that both SD card and reader had to be sufficiently robust to cope with their operating environment, and to be integrated in order to work together effectively. We helped them to write a clear specification and establish appropriate testing requirements. The design and sign-off process went smoothly and, with SanDisk’s competitive pricing, we achieved an end result to everyone’s satisfaction.

The project ended in autumn 2019 but Cardwave continues to supply orders for after-market support.

Expert advice and effective problem resolution led to new projects

Through working together on this complex project, the navigation system supplier realised that they could trust us to provide professional expertise and support to complement their systems. As a result, they invited us to provide memory for three similar projects with other leading automotive manufacturers. All three projects are still running today.

Author: Cardwave

Date: Friday 3rd July 2020