Body, safety, lighting, climate and HMI applications in the automotive market
Automotive Industries spoke to Dr. Frank Rottmann, Member of the ELMOS Board, responsible for development and sales, asking about future developments in the world of automotive electronics
The German company ELMOS Semiconductor AG was founded in 1984 in Dortmund, Germany, and went public in 1999. ELMOS develops and manufactures custom-specific semiconductor chips mainly for automotive applications. In 2005 the turnover was 147 Million Euro. The company has sales, design and manufacturing sites with overall more than 1100 employees in Germany, France, US and Japan.
The core products of ELMOS are application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that combine analog and digital functionalities on one chip using a proprietary high-voltage CMOS technology. Its major revenue source is the automotive sector which accounts for nearly 90 per cent of the total turnover. According to the company, ELMOS is a leader in analog/mixed-signal automotive solutions. The products of ELMOS are used by nearly all suppliers to the automotive industry. They address safety functions of vehicles, such as squib drivers for airbag systems, or lane departure warning systems; as well as convenience systems, such as air conditioning, power window lifts, rain sensors, parking assistance. Nevertheless, ELMOS chips are also used in systems for improved chassis stability, and powertrain applications, like regulators for alternators, and cooling systems. To fulfill future customer requirements for smart sensors and actuators the level of integration has to be increased. ELMOS´ Microsystems division is able to combine different technologies like micro-electronics, micro-mechanics, packaging/assembly and testing methodology to meet these customer’s expectations.
In addition ELMOS as an innovative partner to the automotive industry offers more than chip technologies to its customers. For example the company started the development of a new product family for driving brushless DC motors (BLDC motors) without external Hall sensors. In comparison to others, this motor driver principle allows to control torque and speed of the motor under all conditions from zero to maximum speed. In general BLDC motors have advantages of better efficiency, variable control of speed and torque, reduced noise and higher reliability in comparison to DC motors.
Started in the late 80ies, ELMOS developed the physical interface for the first automotive bus system (K-bus) introduced by BMW. Following the fabrication of LIN, CAN and byteflight products ELMOS became member of the FlexRay community, obviously. Beside different transceiver devices ELMOS developed also a star coupler, which connects up to four branches to the FlexRay network. According to the company, this IC allows to build up cost and area efficient active and passive FlexRay-nodes. For details see www.elmos.de.
Automotive Industries spoke to Dr. Frank Rottmann, Member of the ELMOS Board, responsible for development and sales, asking about future developments in the world of automotive electronics.
AI: What are the future innovations we can expect in automotive electronics over the next few years?
First, the major future innovation for me will be the total replacement of mechanical systems in automotive vehicles by electric/electronic systems. This is the way to improve safety and ecological aspects further on.
Take the example power of steering application: Today we combine mechanical and electrical systems to influence the steering angle vs. velocity of the car. In the future we won´t need the mechanical coupling between driver and wheels any longer – coming to real drive-by-wire systems. This concept allows both, to reduce energy in case of driving straight ahead as well as to increase safety due to active steering- and braking-assistance systems. By the way – a typical FlexRay application.
Second, today´s board net architecture has to be changed for standardized solutions in safety applications or open platforms for new infotainment services. I think AUTOSAR is the most favorite approach for future network communications which is based on a standardized operating system which offers the flexibility for new or additional software features. Due to higher complexity in future ECUs the level of integration has to be increased, but the functionality of the system will become independent from the physical hardware layer. Consequently, this requires an increased amount of intelligent sensors and actuators to provide and communicate signals and information via standardized interfaces. In addition, this new architecture reduces wiring harness complexity. Depending on the application FlexRay offers the right solutions for the communication within the board net.
Third, I think new functions in driver assistance systems by using the already available information will be a significant add-on in the upcoming future. Simple example: The combination of light and wipers on indicates bad weather conditions. In parallel the navigation system knows the details of the next bend ahead. Due to data mining of all information the result could be that the driver assistant will warn you to slow down. The combination of infotainment plus the current car status information plus pre-safety functionality will create a new chapter of accident avoidance.
Finally, don’t forget the so-called human machine interfaces (HMI), for example the high number of knobs in present cars. You get a feeling for the real complexity when you start driving a rental or new car. Therefore, an important job for the future will be to develop towards more intuitive solutions. The goal will be to combine more functionality with less effort and ‘booklets’.
AI: What are some of the new products ELMOS is working on currently?
FR: With our proven technology base we are addressing many of the above mentioned applications. For example: With Microsystems we are working on the next level of integration. The synergy of combining sensor elements, electronics and dedicated packages in any constellation allows us to realize small and high-efficient sensor and actuator systems.
Take for example the tire-pressure monitoring unit installed in a wheel. The intelligent sensor contains a micro-electro-mechanical-system (MEMS) for pressure and sometimes even for acceleration measuring, a signal conditioning circuit including RF-transponder, all integrated in a dedicated package. By the way - this package has to fulfill both demands: protection of the electronics and mechanical housing of the pressure sensor element. The acceleration sensor is used to switch on and off the complete system to lower the energy consumption for increased battery lifetime.
Microsystems also means the combination of two chips in one package. So you can combine a high performance microcontroller (digital technology) with a high current driving circuit (power technology), both devices optimized and fabricated in state of the art technology.
Another set of innovative ICs is under development at ELMOS: We are going to realize a family of BLDC-motor drivers, which will operate without any external hall-sensors for commutation. These devices are in focus, as they enable increased functionality at reduced costs for BLDC-motor systems. Standard products and customer specific semiconductor solutions are planned for this new product family.
AI: How do you see your role in the FlexRay consortium help change the face of automotive electronics?
FR: FlexRay is the answer for high-speed and determined network architecture in future cars. FlexRay will be the new standard for high-speed bus links in future. In the first step it will replace some of today’s time-critical CAN connections. Based on the robust technology ELMOS is the specialist for bus transceivers, which are needed as the physical interface between the electronic module on the one side and the bus lines on the other side. Combined with almost 20 years of experience in the field of different bus systems, e.g. K-bus, LIN, CAN, byteflight, ELMOS is focusing on various bus transceivers and star couplers for FlexRay. Our products complete the portfolio of available FlexRay products, which are mainly communication- and microcontrollers.
AI: What will ELMOS need to do to keep ahead in the field of automotive application-specific integrated circuits? And how do you see this segment developing?
FR: Due to the ASIC business which has linked ELMOS strongly to its customers we have gained many years of experience in automotive system integration. The result: More than 300 customized solutions and over 1 billion ELMOS chips on the road. For the future this trend will continue. The know-how about system integration on chip level leads us to the next level of integration: Smart Microsystems, the combination of sensors and electronics in one dedicated package. Unique solutions are the result of the capabilities of the members of the ELMOS group. This approach fulfills the demands of higher performance and better quality in silicon systems for the future.
AI: What are some areas in which ELMOS needs to strengthen in your opinion?
FR: ELMOS has to focus on the real core items we can address in the market depending on our experience, know-how and technologies. My goal is to bring the slogan ‘ELMOS – The Expert Company’ as a quality brand to the market. That means that ELMOS should be the name for competence and know-how for electronic solutions in motor control (DC-, stepper-, BLDC-motors), bus links (LIN, CAN, FlexRay), DC/DC controllers, and Microsystems for intelligent sensors and actuators. For some dedicated applications we will use strategic partners to complete our product capabilities. For example we are able to combine our mixed-signal chips with automotive standard microcontrollers in one package. Based on these items ELMOS will be able to address successfully additional body, safety, lighting, climate and HMI applications in the automotive market.