Evolving toward enhanced EV charging

EV Charging Station

As the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and enhanced EV charging options increases, engineers face design challenges to deploy more charging stations. This article explores key challenges, such as faster charging, battery enhancements, and thermal management, and discusses the role of advanced connectivity solutions and technological advances in supporting the transition towards more efficient and reliable EV charging.

A growing global emphasis on transformational energy is converging with consumer expectations in the transportation space involving safety, comfort, convenience and functionality — spurring a revolution in automotive architecture and a shift toward electric vehicles (EVs). With EVs expected to become increasingly prevalent on our roadways, there’s also a rising call for broader implementation of both commercial and residential EV charging stations designed to help expedite battery replenishment.

As a result, engineers everywhere are grappling with complex design dynamics as they consider ways to deploy more EV charging stations along streets, on highways, in homes and at workplaces. Since EVs are still an emerging market, brand reputations are riding on these critical decisions. In this environment of intensified awareness, an expanded EV charging infrastructure needs to address important factors like safety, usability, reliability, thermal management and evolving regulatory standards. Read on for timely insights regarding EV charging-related challenges and opportunities.

Key design challenges

As regions around the world explore EVs, designs are advancing and the market is slated to gain speed. In fact, according to UBS Investment Bank, EVs are predicted to account for 20% of new car sales worldwide by 2025 and 50% by 2030. Similarly, JP Morgan notes that hybrid gas-electric vehicles will represent nearly a quarter of automotive sales worldwide by 2025. Yet several key challenges are still being addressed to help EV charging innovations follow suit. These include:

According to a 2023 S&P Global Mobility survey, 40% of EV owners indicate they would be willing to pay more for faster charging. A consistently reported criticism is that EV batteries take longer to recharge than internal combustion engines (ICEs) take to refuel. EV charging rates are even slower in frigid weather, since electrons don’t move as quickly in the cold.

Time to charge also typically varies by charge type, with Level 1 charging taking 40-50 hours and Level 2 charging taking 4-10 hours. These categories reflect the fact that manufacturers have been ramping up charger performance by raising the voltage to help address consumer concerns. Unfortunately, amped-up charging isn’t necessarily a universal antidote: It can potentially cause battery damage and hinder performance. Since charging time also inherently lengthens as batteries age, increased power doesn’t always equate to a brisk fill across the board.

In addition to the focus on charging efficiency, EV batteries themselves could benefit from increased attention. For example, a newer charging method known as Level 3 or DC fast replenishes EV batteries directly by circumventing the on-board apparatus that converts grid-provided alternating current (AC) into direct current (DC). Charging via this method can often take an hour or less. Unfortunately, some vehicles can’t accommodate DC fast charging because today’s battery configurations vary significantly across manufacturer makes and models. Although additional refinements may help address this issue, batteries are complex electromechanical devices — so research and development can be costly.

This is where more advanced connectivity approaches can support major strides. For example, the Volfinity cell contacting system from Molex employs a flexible printed circuit (FPC) board that connects battery cells to the control board in an EV battery module. This lightweight innovation eliminates the need for weighty and manually wired daisy chain connections, while being more resistant to individual wire degradation. That means batteries can be built more quickly and cost effectively, giving manufacturers greater opportunity to experiment with new designs.

Today’s EVs incorporate over 100 engine control units (ECUs) and exponentially more electronics than traditional ICE models. This creates space constraints that can restrict air flow and raise internal temperature levels substantially — a particular concern inside sealed automotive assemblies that regularly encounter ultra-harsh conditions. Overheated electrical systems create safety issues and may even abruptly shut down. Neither of these are optimal scenarios for vehicles speeding down a highway.

Since a byproduct of faster charging is heat, these same thermal dynamics influence EV charging options. Poor quality EV charging can lead to shortened battery lifespans, diminished driving distances and dangerous thermal runaway — an uncontrolled energy escalation that can cause fires or catastrophic failures.

In short, EV components must be compact and carefully engineered, so they perform reliably and mitigate heat escalation in constricted spaces. This is where high-fidelity simulation models are changing the game. For instance, Molex employs artificial intelligence (AI)-driven simulation technology to assess a connector’s thermal management capabilities before a vehicle model is mass-produced. This proactive insight helps accelerate and optimize engineering modifications — which, in turn, facilitates more effective customer solutions.

A changing charging landscape

As the need for enhanced EV charging accessibility and efficiency becomes more imperative, additional technological and infrastructural advances are also lending comprehensive support. Some examples are summarized below.

48V Power

While the 12V power model has been an automotive industry standard since the 1950s, changing emissions laws are combining with the dynamics noted above to drive a shift toward 48V design. In fact, vehicles known as mild hybrids are already incorporating 48V systems to sustain functions like regenerative braking. Unlike full hybrids, mild hybrids don’t require a charge. They use both a gas engine and small electric battery, and can store recovered brake energy for future use.

48V power supports smaller component production for every type of EV, allowing automotive designers to pack more features into a given space. That means vehicles can include more enhanced wireless charging, infotainment and advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) capabilities. Because smaller components require fewer materials, production costs and total energy use can likewise decrease.

More efficient 48V systems also help control emissions, while creating lighter vehicles with less drag — so those vehicles can handle better and travel farther on a single tank or charge. Another key benefit is that 48V systems can accommodate higher voltage that helps improve power distribution while reducing battery load. In terms of EV charging, this can mean:

  • Enhanced power transfer between the battery and charging station
  • Decreased charging time with improved battery life
  • Better support for higher-power charging systems like DC fast

Achieving the promise of 48V for full hybrids and EVs, however, calls for energy control systems that can manage higher voltage levels to optimize charging efficiency — along with connectors that help simplify architectural upgrades.

Connectivity Innovations

That’s why innovations like Molex MX150 mid-voltage connectors create important advantages. Based on the field-tested Molex MX150 design, these single- and dual-row solutions support upgrades to 48V wiring architecture while minimizing additional design engineering work.

This is just one example of how leading-edge connector engineering is paving the way for a more efficient EV future. Because today’s automotive interconnect solutions power vehicles and chargers, they need to pull quadruple duty: supporting efficient upgrades, accommodating space constraints, mitigating heat generation and withstanding harsh conditions for safe, reliable performance.

EVs themselves need sealed, miniaturized and ruggedized interconnects with higher pitches and more integrated functionality. Advanced EV chargers demand an array of dependable and carefully integrated wire-to-board connectors, board-to-board connectors, terminal blocks, barrier strips, memory card connectors and more — all of which need to operate seamlessly and predictably when battery levels are low. When drivers plug in, it’s equally imperative to avoid putting the vehicle, its occupants or surrounding structures at risk.

These high stakes require proven engineering expertise combined with market insight, multi-disciplinary perspectives and integrated manufacturing capabilities. For instance, Molex regularly works alongside Tier 1 automakers and trusted industry suppliers to diversify customer offerings in ways that are safe, compliant and commercially viable. Molex also uses digital twin technology to proactively optimize the performance of their connectivity product portfolios. Powered by historical data, machine learning (ML) algorithms and the latest AI advances, digital twin technology gives both designers and operators early real-world insights to help boost performance.

PowerPlane Busbar Connectors

These innovative, adaptable power connectors deliver high-current performance along with multiple configurations and feature options. Their precision-engineered reliability makes them ideal for a range of power distribution applications.

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EXTreme Power Products

Specifically designed to support high-current applications with optimal power densities and exceptional thermal management capabilities, these solutions are also available in an extensive range of configurations — so customers can continue evolving seamlessly.

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Micro-Fit Connectors

The Micro-Fit connector family can withstand operating temperatures up to 125°C. Choose from several circuit sizes and cable lengths that can capably support board-to-board, wire-to-board and wire-to-wire configurations.

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MX150 Mid-Voltage Connectors

MX150 mid-voltage connectors feature the proven MX150 form factor to enable 48V upgrades with minimal design engineering — supporting architectural enhancements with significant cost and weight savings.

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Sentrality Pin and Socket

Designed with a compact, conical socket assembly that supports shorter stack heights than most market equivalents using hyperbolic sockets, the Sentrality Pin and Socket Interconnect System offers high-voltage, high-current board-to-board, busbar-to-board and busbar-to-busbar connectors. It also provides an industry-leading +/- 1.00mm radial self-alignment capability to overcome tolerance stack-up issues.

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Compactus

These sealed hybrid connectors are robust, high-density, automotive-grade innovations that help manufacturers fit more power and signal transmission capabilities into constrained spaces.

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As widespread awareness of transformational energy options combines with escalating consumer demand for enhanced vehicle safety, comfort, convenience and infotainment, EVs and enhanced EV charging options are assuming center stage. Across this multifaceted industry landscape, Molex collaborates with Arrow Electronics to offer advanced interconnect solutions for a variety of EV-related applications. Molex's innovations — which include wire-to-wire, board-to-board and wire-to-board connectors, as well as cable assemblies and sensors — reflect decades of proven automotive expertise to deliver leading-edge performance that keeps ever-evolving customer innovations ahead of the curve.

 

Let Molex help you drive the future with the solutions you need for next-gen transportation applications.

 

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