Safe and Secure Electronics

© Fraunhofer EMFT/Bernd Müller
ESD System test with wide band measurement of the secondary discharge current

IoT, Industry 4.0, Big Data – there is no question that digitalization has come to play a major role in virtually all areas of our day-to-day lives. Secure electronic systems are required as the »infrastructure« of this interconnected world. The words »secure« and »safe« have various facets here, comprising such aspects as failsafe operation, protection from manipulation and unwanted access as well as safe usage and increasing the safety of human beings.

Electronic systems have to be 100% reliable in offering failsafe operation in sensitive areas such as medical technology, automotive industry and aerospace technology. With its R&D activities in the fields of malfunction analysis and characterization, ESD test and protection concepts, functional reliability, special qualification processes, monitoring of electrical connectionshardware security and manipulation protection as well as personal safety, Fraunhofer EMFT pursues the goal of enabling so-called zero-defect systems.


Brief Description of the Subthemes:

Malfunction analysis and characterization

The Fraunhofer EMFT measurement labs are able to carry out extensive multiparametric characterizations and reliability tests on electronic components and modules. Based on multiparametric characterization, it is possible to simulate physical input variables such as voltage, current, temperature, light, moisture and gases etc. under laboratory conditions, as well as determining the response of the component on its own and collectively and adjusting the simulation accordingly. The results serve as a basis for gathering evidence on measurement accuracy and reproducibility. Individual integrated circuits can be realized for further malfunction analyses and electrical tests in alternative housings and contact systems or contacted on the wafer sampler with contact probes. By applying suitable load tests to address the relevant error mechanisms, it is also possible to determine the anticipated reliability and service life of components and modules. Finally, services include systematic analysis of the causes of complex errors and reliability problems in electronic components and systems, reproduction of these under laboratory conditions, and identification of falsifications. The requirements range from simple industrial electronics through to complex qualifications for space flight.

ESD test and protection concepts

The »Analysis & Test« group has been involved with ESD protection for more than 25 years and supports industry customers from the most diverse sectors with risk analysis and the development of individual ESD protection structures for components and systems. So-called Capacitive Coupled Transmission Line Pulsing (CC-TLP) is a measuring technique developed and patented by researchers which exhibits a much higher level of precision and reproducibility than the conventional CDM (Charged Device Model) Test. This is especially important in highly miniaturized modules with a very low ESD tolerance. At system level, Fraunhofer EMFT experts are also specialized in tracing design-related disruptive effects and developing the appropriate protection concepts.

Functional reliability

In application areas where safety is a key element such as autonomous driving, aerospace and also medical applications, absolute reliability of the electronic systems is crucial. Concepts are required in which the system as a whole continues to operate even in the event of malfunction, ensuring there is no risk to users. The Autokonf project currently in progress involves a switch developed by Fraunhofer EMFT being used to connect a multifunctional reserve control unit to a synchronous motor during operation within a limited period of time. The multifunctional control unit replaces the classic redundancy of several individual units in order to achieve a secure state for a limited period.

Special qualification processes

Not all application cases of electronic modules, plugs and switches can be reliably validated by means of standardized tests. At Fraunhofer EMFT, test methods are developed for the purpose of durability validation prior to volume production which simulate potential loads in accelerated form. The environmental tests can be carried out with and without electric current load while characteristic variables are monitored at the same time. The effectiveness of measures applied to electronic modules to provide protection from climatic loads (condensation) is metrologically documented in the lab, after which potential improvements are discussed and verified with the customer.

Monitoring of electrical connections

In the area of IoT, connectivity between the systems has a key role to play. The functional efficiency of the system as a whole depends on the electrical interfaces (fixed and moving contacts) working at all times. Integrated sensor systems enable continuous monitoring of the state of the connection, thereby helping to avoid system failure due to defective contacts.

Hardware security and manipulation protection

Increasingly important in the age of digitalization is the protection of electronic systems from manipulation and unwanted access. Only when data security is guaranteed will IoT applications become accepted on a wide scale. This is where concepts such as hardware security and manipulation protection come into play: after all, software-base solutions are often insufficient to protect sensitive data in electronic systems, e.g. in the field of banking and smart grid/smart metering, or when handling patient data and operating critical infrastructures.

  • Based on sensors and so-called Physical Unclonable Functions (PUF), Fraunhofer EMFT is developing hardware-based solutions to protect electronic systems from manipulation. One option is to derive cryptographic keys from the physically unique properties of a chip or assembly. Here, keys are generated based on physical properties. As soon as these properties are altered – as is necessarily in the event of a manipulation attempt – the key no longer works.
  • Physical weaknesses and Hardware Trojans in highly integrated safety circuits – which can be inserted when such items are manufactured outside Europe – are to be identified in a protected lab at Fraunhofer EMFT. One aim, after the relevant retrograde preparation, is to detect deviations in physical realization from the design data. 
Personal safety

A further aspect of security refers to electronic systems being used to increase the safety of human beings, e.g. in occupational safety, medical applications or the area of Ambient Assisted Living. Fraunhofer EMFT solutions contribute to users’ personal safety in the various application areas. In the field of medical technology, for example, the micro dosing components and systems developed at Fraunhofer EMFT ensure that solutions for medication dosage function reliably. In the area of occupational safety, Fraunhofer EMFT’s sensor solutions can be used to detect hazardous substances in the environment.