EU project to produce more reliable electronics

In our everyday lives, we surround ourselves with electronics without really thinking about it. We go to work by car or train, travel by air when we go on holiday, and are reliant on our mobile phones, iPads and laptops. We take the products’ functions for granted, until they suddenly stop working. The fact is that this happens fairly often – every year in Sweden, we pay roughly SEK 2 billion to return products.

Erik Larsson

Erik Larsson is leading the Swedish team in the BASTION project, which is looking at how to make electronic products more reliable.

“If we manage to eradicate customer returns, we will save a huge amount of money”, says Erik Larsson, senior lecturer in electrical and information technology at Campus Helsingborg.

Erik Larsson is the leader of the Swedish team at the Department of Electrical and Information Technology that is taking part in the EU project BASTION. As well as Lund University, the project involves higher education institutions and industry partners from Estonia, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany.

It is of course important that technology works and can be relied on in products such as cars, lorries, trains and especially planes. The project focuses on finding solutions to two growing problems: “No Failure Found” and “Ageing”.

“Ageing has emerged as a fairly recent phenomenon. As technology develops, products become smaller. People want a mobile phone that is small and quick. When electronics shrink, they also become more sensitive and age faster”, explains Erik Larsson.

What many users don’t think about is that a mobile phone contains several million transistors. Taking that into account, it isn’t strange if one little transistor breaks.
Erik Larsson and his colleagues are investigating the possibilities of integrating measuring devices into the products in order to identify faults at an early stage, make a diagnosis and rectify the problem. This means that your car would alert you that a component was ageing and the garage could fix it before you break down on the motorway.

The second major challenge facing the researchers is known as “No Failure Found”. The majority of all product returns are attributed to faults for which the manufacturers cannot find a cause.

“It could be a warning light in the car that indicates a fault in the braking system. You take the car for a service, but the garage can’t find anything wrong. A car contains lots of electronics and it isn’t easy to know what might have gone wrong. It could also be the case that you have not operated the car correctly”, explains Erik Larsson.

Using built-in test instruments, the research team will now measure what happens while the product is being used. For example, a car will be able to give a signal to say “the user poured diesel into the tank instead of petrol”. It sounds like science fiction, but at the LTH School of Engineering in Helsingborg it is completely possible.

“We will manage to find some sort of solution to these problems”, says Erik Larsson convincingly. “I hope we will get some patents; the EU values them.”

Text: Eva Nelsson

Photo: Johan Persson

The EU project BASTION (Board and SoC Test Instrumentation for Ageing and No Failure Found) focuses on problems related to ageing and ‘No Failure Found’ (NFF).

BASTION started on 1 January 2014 and will run for three years, until 2016. The EU has awarded the project SEK 30 million through the Seventh Framework Programme.

The team taking part from LTH in Helsingborg comprises team leader Erik Larsson and doctoral students Dimitar Nikolov and Farrokh Ghani Zadegan. Their area of specialisation in electrical engineering is testing and reliability.

The project is being coordinated by Testonica Lab in Estonia. Other industry partners apart from Testonica Lab are Aster Technologies (France) and Infineon Technologies AG (Germany). The academic partners are Lund University, Politecnico di Torino (Italy), Tallinn University of Technology (Estonia), University of Twente (Netherlands) and Hochschule Hamm-Lippstadt (Germany).