"We're looking at things to mitigate arcing, both in low-voltage and high-voltage systems," Eric Varton, Yazaki North America's chief engineer of advanced development engineering, told Automotive News at the supplier's offices in Canton, Mich.
Arcing is a brief electrical discharge that can occur when the current in a circuit is interrupted by the separation of conductors, such as when an electric vehicle is turned on or off.
Varton said customers also "are looking for current sensors to better measure the flow of energy. ... We're seeing interest in solid-state switching because you can incorporate intelligence into those switches, which tells you about what's going on in the vehicle so you can monitor it in real time."
Technology is driving the transition for the Japanese company, which ranks No. 11 on Automotive News' list of the world's largest suppliers, with estimated part sales to automakers of $17.5 billion in its 2018 fiscal year.
"The architecture in vehicles is changing," Varton said. "We're adding additional voltage systems and layering those. It used to just be 12 volts, and that brings a lot of challenges. The reality is, there just never seems to be enough power."
John Romain, the company's senior manager of advanced development engineering, said the supplier is tackling products that are not far off from its traditional wire harnesses.
"This isn't a complete paradigm shift for our company. We're well positioned for this change," Romain said. "And our customers are realizing as they move forward that there are a lot of unknowns, things they haven't even thought about yet that they're going to have to solve before they can have these products go mainstream.
"Every time a voltage level changes, it's a completely different product," Romain explained. "Each one of those devices is different. It requires new internal components; it requires different designs again to make sure the end user is safe."
Yazaki sees an advantage in supporting multiple architectures to connect the 48-volt lithium ion battery to the existing vehicle system. But the company first wants to determine a new product's likely life span, how wide its application might be and what volume it could reach.
But Varton urges some caution since the EV market is still an unproven equation.
"With all the change that's happening in the market, you get promised 100,000 units that turns out to be 20,000, and the industry pivots in another direction, and you didn't even pay for your tools," Varton said. "This is a very interesting time to be a supplier.
"How do we measure, how do we monitor, how do we suppress arcing? How do we implement functional safety? How do we increase reliability? Those are a lot of the questions we're getting from our customers recently," Varton added.
Customers' needs also differ by region. Yazaki's largest global customer is Toyota, while its largest customer in North America is General Motors, and in Europe, Jaguar Land Rover.
Varton said adjusting plans for differing levels of adoption of electrification from region to region remains a challenge in the company's advanced project development.