How diagnostic tools cut through the ADAS confusion

April 21, 2022
Technicians must overcome differences in ADAS technology with calibration tools and new industry standards.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) rely on a combination of cameras, radar, lidar, ultrasonic sensors, and other technologies to improve safety, but where those technologies are located and how they interact with the vehicle vary. The differences in these systems can make a technician’s life hard.

“There is a lot of confusion out there exactly how ADAS works, how to calibrate it, what can be calibrated, and what can’t be calibrated,” said Chris Freeman, director of heavy-duty sales and training for Autel North America. “We’re getting a lot of different feedback from the dealers. No one puts these sensors in the same places. They’re different from make to make and model to model.”

Diagnostics providers such as Autel are equipping the industry with calibration tools to help close the gap as techs strive to ensure systems are working correctly.

“We’re trying to clarify the information,” Freeman said. “That way, we can give a clear picture of what needs to be programmed and what doesn’t.”

There are various elements to vehicle ADAS, including adaptive cruise control, around-view monitoring, blind-spot detection, lane departure warnings, light imaging detection and ranging, night vision systems, and rear collision warnings.

“Each of these has a different function and uses different sensors or a combination of sensors to function,” said Brandon Alexander, marketing manager for Thinkcar.

Adding to the confusion, there aren’t consistent expectations of ADAS capabilities for any given fleet or consumer vehicle.

“Because of that inconsistency, technicians don’t know if a vehicle has the same capacity as the vehicle before it. I’m finding, too, that some technicians are even confused about what it means to perform a calibration and have it pass,” said Jordan Krebs, worldwide alignment product manager at Snap-On Equipment.

Tom McGuire, chief operating officer of Precision Diagnostics, said the industry hasn’t even figured out how to standardize terminology in the U.S.

“With emergency assist braking across 35 different manufacturers, there are literally 35 to 40 acronyms they use to describe their systems,” he said. “There is a tremendous challenge of having both access and the current level of service information to really support that technician in not only where the sensors and the components of the ADAS are, but also what is required to program or calibrate it correctly.”

Scott McKinney, senior product manager at Bosch Automotive Aftermarket, said a lack of standardization, and the fact that ADAS technology is new, puts the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the shop to ensure a calibration is completed properly.

"There are thresholds and tolerances that each system allows, which means there are instances where it may pass but not prevent an accident or perform as it should have in a real-world scenario, Krebs said. “The problem that many techs face is they don’t know what may or may not be on the vehicle. Even the same vehicle built in a different time period may not have the same system they were just working on," he explained.

Alexander said that manufacturers establish the specific functionality within their vehicles and the calibration process. The general function of the ADAS components is similar between brands, but the ADAS calibration process will differ.

Fortunately, Fred Andersky, director of government and industry affairs for Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, said most OEMs make collision mitigation technology standard on their highway vehicles. “Each system has its own set of maintenance rules that are published by the manufacturer just like with any other system on the vehicle,” he said.

Understanding the importance of tools

Marcos Obispo, director of sales for Cojali USA’s commercial vehicles division, said everybody seems to understand the safety benefits of ADAS, however, the lack of regulation has slowed adoption, and therefore the need for shops to invest in calibration equipment and training for technicians.

Calibration tools are helping to provide all necessary information to technicians, so they can prepare for the calibration and better estimate the time to repair, Krebs said.

Alexander said advanced scan tools will include detailed steps on how to set up the targets and framework, providing technicians greater confidence.

McGuire said his technicians utilize OEM information as well as calibration tools. “We like to have both. For a technician to work on it without a tool, they become almost a liability rather than an asset,” he said. “You can have a great technician, but without accurate, up-to-date service information, you’re chasing things you shouldn’t have to chase.”

Completing an ADAS calibration using the standard OE process can take up to an hour, McKinney said, but with Bosch’s DAS 3000, that exact calibration can be completed in under 10 minutes.

Obispo said calibrations could be either dynamic or static, which are not interchangeable. Some systems can be calibrated by driving the vehicle while using a hand-held or diagnostics device connected to the ADAS, which is the dynamic calibration. According to the manufacturer, the tool will tell the technician how to drive during the calibration. Static calibrations are performed with the vehicle stopped. “In this case, we would need specific, sensitive calibration equipment to calibrate and test the ADAS modules to ensure their correct functioning,” he explained.

Not all shops have the right tools needed to perform static calibrations, which can cause them to lose income. If repairers want to continue being competitive, they will have to seriously consider this new market demand, Obispo explained.

Meeting technicians’ challenges

The most common obstacle techs face is familiarity with the calibration process. “As with any newer technology, it is taking time for technicians to become comfortable with ADAS and gain the knowledge specific to calibrations,” Alexander said. “Until that time, a limited number of technicians will be willing and trained to perform the calibrations, resulting in labor shortages.”

Brian Screeton, supervisor of technical service training at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, said radar alignment tends to be one of the top issues technicians encounter. “While radars today do a great job in adjusting their alignment, it can still happen that a radar needs to be aligned by the technician,” he said. “The other issues typically tie to the braking system. If the ABS goes out, then both stability and collision mitigation are deactivated. If stability goes out, then collision mitigation is deactivated.”

Often, issues with ABS are tied to wheel speed sensors, with the gap between sensor and tone ring being too great because the sensor was pushed back in the clip during a previous wheel end repair or a worn spring clip, Screeton said. Another area often overlooked is some type of wiring harness issue, such as a wire casing that may be cut.

One of the stumbling blocks for technicians when repairing ADAS is not looking beyond it. ADAS relies on information from many other parts of the vehicle, including the ABS and stability systems. “Other systems, mainly the drivetrain, supply information that ADAS requires to function correctly,” Screeton said. For example, an ‘Adaptive Cruise Fault’ could be activated by ADAS, and the root cause of the fault could stem from an engine issue.

A somewhat common situation that can cause lost repair time is not paying attention to J1939 communication errors first, especially ones that are being reported by multiple systems, Screeton said. “We recommend that technicians resolve those diagnostic troubleshooting codes first, then rerun the Bendix ACom PRO diagnostic software to see what remaining DTCs may remain,” he said.

Systems have unique ways that they are calibrated and require different tools and procedures to perform calibration and alignment, Screeton said. Having the correct tools and service information for the ADAS the technician is repairing is crucial.

“We recommend that all technicians troubleshooting Bendix electronic systems, including ADAS, use Bendix ACom PRO or Noregon’s JPRO software,” he said. “Those PC-based, subscription-based diagnostic tools are comprehensive to cover all Bendix electronic systems and offer a complete suite of diagnostics, troubleshooting, advanced troubleshooting, and reporting capabilities for both tractor and trailer systems.”

A second element that can present an issue is the space and environment required for calibrations. The area needs to be level, free of obstructions, and have ample lighting.

“Technicians have to know how to prepare the shop environment before starting the calibration. The OEM may provide the information in the service manual, but then the technician has to go through that service manual, and it adds to the time,” Krebs said. “There is a lot out there and a lot of confusion on what it takes to have a clean environment.”

ADAS calibration tools consist of the targets, framework to position the targets, and diagnostic tablets to access the CAN, Alexander explained. “High-quality targets are key to providing an accurate reference point for digitally calibrating the vehicle sensors,” he said. “The targets must be at the exact height, angle, and distance relative to the vehicle, and a solid framework with alignment accessories is critical to hold the targets in the precise position. Professional-level diagnostic tablets are essential to accessing the vehicle onboard network to initiate and confirm the calibration process.”

ADAS technology changes frequently, so regular software updates for calibration tools are critical. “For our technicians, whether they’re in one of our brick-and-mortars or are mobile, there are constant updates being sent to tools. If you don’t update it, you’re looking at the front end of a car looking for a sensor that should be at point A, but at the mid-year model change, they moved it,” McGuire said, adding that he does a lot of work with Autel. “They do a nice job of providing you with auto-updates as long as you use them. You waste a lot of time without updates.”

Educating buyers

Technicians are undergoing a learning curve related to ADAS, but buyers also have to gain a new understanding of the technology. For vehicle owners, there are things they can no longer do. “For instance, a lot of truck owners would buy a truck and replace the plastic bumper with a chrome bumper. With ADAS, you have to have one that works with it. There are things like that you have to think about now,” Freeman said.

McGuire explained that ADAS technology is a living, breathing component of the vehicle. “You have to be aware that once you modify as built, you could have changed how it works,” he said.

Every time a windshield gets replaced, it has to be recalibrated, and even an aftermarket windshield rather than an OE windshield could create challenges. “Some aftermarket windshields have more wave to them, or the tint level could be off in some cases,” Krebs said.

Autel’s Freeman explained that even a small bump, such as hitting a curb or a small animal, can cause problems if the system isn’t recalibrated. “The slightest bend can take a sensor from reading straight to reading at an angle.” he said.

Monitoring mandates

In the U.S., there is not a mandate for ADAS like there is in Europe. “In Europe, everyone has to have it, and it is a done deal,” Freeman said.

Bendix’s Andersky said mandates may be coming to the U.S. “In the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the recently passed ‘infrastructure bill,’ there is a requirement that NHTSA promulgate a rulemaking for autonomous emergency braking on Class 7 and 8 tractors and motorcoaches within two years,” he said. “There is also a study requested for eventually mandating on Classes 3-6 trucks.”

Additionally, the U.S. government’s new car assessment program is getting a major update, which is moving the country closer to an ADAS mandate, Obispo said.

There has also been work to standardize terminology. While there are numerous marketing and brand names for ADAS, SAE and AAA have recommended a classification for naming 20 different types of ADAS, McKinney said.

Creating standardization is not an easy task because of the dynamic and changing nature of ADAS development, Obispo said. “Traditionally, there have been a lot of acronyms and naming given to these systems,” he said. “Manufacturers used to put their own names to similar technologies, which of course did not help much to the comprehension of the systems.”

Going forward

Because there are so many variables and the technology is continuing to emerge at a lightning pace, it is going to become more challenging in the near- to mid-term for technicians to perform the tasks they’re required to perform, McGuire said. “As technologies and systems are advancing and more are being added, the lack of standardization really drives an incredible wedge between time and efficiency,” he emphasized.

In the future, equipment and technology providers can expect more systems to address the safety features. “Bosch is planning for these changes with upgradeable technologies to integrate in the shop now and grow with the technicians’ skill and expertise as the industry moves toward digitalization,” McKinney said.

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