The cost of functional safety, much like the cost of quality, is a difficult number to nail down for the automotive industry.

Is it the cost of the additional personnel? Is it the additional cost of components, that for both objectives are pricier due to their robustness? Is it simply the cost of training the folks that are already in engineering positions, as they are asked to add the safety hat to their collection?

There are obvious costs; undeniably ISO 26262 adds overhead. Immediately, it requires one more head per item, the safety manager. There are lean ways to fulfill this obligation, but conservatively, with 15 safety intense electrical systems on the vehicle, 15 new heads could lead to $1.5 – $2 million in engineering overhead annually. These safety managers then add up to 20% more work for all of the electrical team. With a one-billion-dollar development budget for a new product launch, it’s justifiable that the ISO 26262 related development costs could add 5% to this bill.

What does this 5% increase in development cost buy? Customers? Will customers pay for safety? It’s been shown that customers appreciate and are willing to pay for active safety systems, versus passive systems, or fuel saving systems. But what about functional safety? Will a customer pay for a vehicle that won’t thrust into an intersection due to unintended acceleration? No! Will they demonstrate understanding when they experience loss of assist because their new vehicle has transitioned from hydraulic to electric power steering? Again, no. Much like quality, functional safety is a required component for market entry and customer retention.

The industry’s drive to reap the benefit of vehicle electrification necessitates doing so safely.

When systems were primarily mechanically controlled, physical inspection could reveal a potential concern likely before causing harm. There was loss of fluid, noise, visible wear and tear. Now that electronics are performing critical vehicle functions, indicators of a pending fault may be missing. Likewise, the opportunity for a sneak path to do something unintended is greater. The controller looks like the same black box whether it functions appropriately or not. And therefore, to protect society from unreasonable harm, functional safety is owed to the customer.

A robust engineering process for functional safety is the cost paid for lighter, more reliable, easier to service components that provide the flexibility offered by electronically controlled systems. It’s the cost of entry to responsibly ensure that these valuable systems don’t inadvertently cause harm. Adherence to the ISO 26262 standard is truly a small cost to pay compared to litigation, warranty, and recall costs that can result from ignoring it. So, as you may have figured out, my point is not going to be whether we can afford to follow ISO 26262, but how in good conscience and to remain competitive can we afford not to?

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