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'Duality' as key cornerstone for automotive apps

Posted: 16 Jul 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:automotive? automobile? car? electronics? cmos?

Electronics for safety systems are expected to be the fastest growing application area within the automotive environment. According to a report published last year by Strategy Analytics, while the global demand for automotive electronics systems will be close to $150 billion by 2007, safety systems will grow the fastest at 12.1 percent, reaching over $23 billion in 2007. According to another market research firm, iSuppli, Chinese production of automotive electronics systems will grow nearly 40 percent this year and will reach $5.5 billion by 2007.

These statistics point to a significant increase of electronics within the car. Many control circuits are being incorporated for everything from engine control units, electronic dashboard instrument clusters and remote keyless entry systems, to antilock breaking systems, airbags and safety systems. Not so obvious though is the fact that the automotive environment presents challenges that are different compared to standard low-voltage digital electronics systems.

One of the key differences is that many of the ICs may be connected directly to a battery and experience voltages of up to 40V. The reason is that everything from displays and audio to actuators require high voltages; even the power transistor drivers to control the motors need to handle higher voltages. This comes in parallel with significant increase in signal processing, which requires submicron technology.

The challenge for designers is how to integrate high and low voltage components in, say, a standard CMOS process. These components would typically include 40V circuits as drivers, load regulators and sensing elements, high-performance analog circuits and sensors, together with low-voltage elements like embedded flash memory, microcontrollers and other digital logic--often integrated onto a single chip.

Such SoCs may control small electrical motors in the engine management, safety and comfort electronics systems. A typical example might be a single chip airbag or an intelligent motor driver application, including sensor signal conditioning, microcontroller memory and drivers. Some of the system blocks - including power management and sensor circuits - require high-voltage transistors and sensors that are not usually available in a standard high-density digital process such as CMOS.

Even with standard high-voltage CMOS processes, logic performance can be typically low, and it is not possible to achieve high levels of integration. To realize mixed-signal ICs with this capability in a low-voltage process, high-voltage devices and Hall sensors on a submicron CMOS process base should be developed. The solution is not in adding a new high-voltage transistor to an existing process. Instead, it is in optimizing the high-voltage transistor that is possible using standard processing steps in the technology.

This illustrates the evolution of a common process technology platform for both ICs found in most modern low-power consumer electronics products, as well as integrated high-voltage and low-power devices in automotive systems. We are seeing an increase in this 'duality' of manufacturing technology for mobile phones and automobile electronics.

However, automotive systems demand more complex systems as electronics content increases. They often require more modern manufacturing technology. The issue is therefore that the automotive environment needs the new technology but cannot wait for years for the commercial technology to be qualified for the automotive environment. For example, the consumer technology is going for 12-inch wafers and below 100nm, but nobody would dream, at present, of using this technology for the automotive environment.

The challenge for manufacturers is therefore to find the right balance between lowering the cost of silicon and optimizing the use of silicon real estate, while ensuring that both high and low voltages can be handled using a standard, commercially available manufacturing process.

- Roland Pudelko

CEO and President, Dialog Semiconductor

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