Automotive Industries

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Issue: Mar 2010


AI interview with Bernd Gessner, General Manager Automotive, austriamicrosystems AG



by Steve Barclay




Austrian firm austriamicrosystems AG, is a world leader in designing and manufacturing high performance analog integrated circuits or ICs. Its products are used in sensors and sensor interfaces in the automotive, power management, medical, communications and industrial sectors. In December this year, austriamicrosystems launched two new in-vehicle-network ICs – the AS8520 and AS8530. 

The AS8520 is dedicated to LIN slaves which can be found in car doors, car roof modules, seat modules or similar applications providing the transceiver, a voltage regulator, four-wire micro controller interface for window watchdog, diagnosis and backup register access, as well as two relay drivers and a resistive attenuator. The AS8530 is a general purpose companion IC for LIN slaves providing the transceiver, a LDO and a shared pin microcontroller interface with window watchdog inside an 8-pin package. The company says that application specific features make the AS8520 an ideal companion IC for LIN networked window lift and sun roof actuators. The AS8530 is a stripped down version of the AS8520 and supports LIN sensor or actuator slaves.
“The AS8520 and AS8530 enable a new generation of LIN nodes. This is due to the fastest start-up procedure available on the market, which is achieved by the integration of low power back-up registers. Additionally, all current and future EMC requirements are addressed by the unique integrated automatic slew-rate control,” says Bernhard Czar, marketing director, automotive, at austriamicrosystems.
The 27-year-old austriamicrosystems has state-of-the-art manufacturing and test facilities and prides itself in developing best-in-class products. “austriamicrosystems offers high performance integrated analog and mixed-signal process technologies such as CMOS, HV-CMOS and SiGe (silicon germanium). We are a recognized leader in high voltage CMOS technology which provides significant advantages for a wide range of applications. A strategic co-operation with IBM supports our manufacturing roadmap and ensures access to state-of-the-art processes for both partners,” says the company. 

The company’s manufacturing facilities include a 200mm (8") wafer fab in Austria and test centers in Austria and the Philippines. The company has over 1000 people in Europe, America and Asia in its product design and sales centers which are located in Austria, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Great Britain, Switzerland, the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, China, Taiwan, India and South Korea. Quality is a critical issue for austriamicrosystems. The company has the ISO/TS 16949:2002 certification, the ISO/TS 16949:2002 certification for its test center in the Philippines, the ISO 13485:2003 quality certification as well as the CECC 90000 certificate. Plus austriamicrosystems was awarded the STACK Technical Approval for advanced quality management and the Q1 award by the Ford Motor Company. 

Last month, austriamicrosystems introduced its AS1716, a sensor designed for interfacing to Piezo Electronic capacitive sensors. “Piezo Electronic sensors have many advantages over other sensor types. They are self generating and need no external excitation and they are compact and have excellent linearity. In automotive engine designs the knock sensor is an integral part of the engine management system helping to increase overall reliability and improve fuel efficiency. The AS1716 provides the automotive customer with a complete flexible differential to a single ended solution,” explains Bruce Ulrich, marketing director, consumer & communications at austriamicrosystems

Automotive Industries spoke to Bernd Gessner, general manager (automotive), austriamicrosystems AG

AI: Tell us about your automotive products and their applications and the main focus areas for austriamicrosystems 

BG: austriamicrosystems leverages its significant expertise in low power consumption, high accuracy and its high-voltage knowhow paired with more than 25 years of experience to provide best-in-class integrated circuits (ICs) for automotive markets worldwide. We split our activities mainly into two groups: sensors & Sensor Interfaces which includes our wide portfolio of magnetic encoders and our ASICs, and in-vehicle networking group. This deals with battery management solutions and system basis chips (SBCs) that contain power management circuits as well as LIN, CAN and FlexRay bus drivers. 

Generally, austriamicrosystems has an excellent IP base for safety critical inductive and magnetic solutions. Our sensor interfaces comply with the most stringent safety and quality requirements. Applications include, for example ESP and position measurement for steering wheels, accelerator pedals and gearbox. In the ASIC business we are recognized as specialists for challenging safety critical applications. We have experience in pre-crash warning systems, ESP, ABS, accelerator pedal applications, just to mention a few. In the area of power battery management, and BUS systems, we provide solutions for current and future applications using our flexible and scalable approach. We also focus on solutions for electric and hybrid cars alongside our pioneer solutions for conventional cars where we have the unique position to offer high-side and low-side battery management solutions for lead-acid cars. To complete the area of in-vehicle network we offer a portfolio of application specific SBCs with different interfaces and FlexRay products, which enable the highest network stability on the market.

AI: What makes your automotive high performance analog semiconductors best in class? 

BG: austriamicrosystems offers more than 27 years of experience in developing high performance analog solutions, and continues to invest significantly in research and development to offer cutting-edge products and technologies Our success factors in the automotive industry include our the pool of talented engineers, our lead customer approach as well as our own manufacturing., Our 200mm (8") wafer fab in Austria is qualified for the stringent automotive requirements and provides best in class quality standards and a long-term source of supply

AI: What are some of the automotive applications for your magnetic encoders? Describe the most important application areas. 

BG: A magnetic rotary encoder is a complete system on chip and together with a simple magnet, a high accurate, contactless sensing system. It has the benefit of low wear and tear, high reliability and lack of sensitivity to factors such as temperature or magnetic stray fields. Plus they are cost effective. Magnetic encoders can be used in virtually every application where angles or distances need to be measured. Currently, austriamicrosystems’ automotive magnetic rotary encoders are strongly represented in module applications like gearbox, steering and brushless DC solutions. For gearbox applications, it is vital and necessary to provide a highly accurate sensor, which is insensitive to external magnetic stray fields. 

Steering for example is a safety critical application. To fulfil the toughest automotive requirements redundancy is a must. For these critical applications we offer stacked-die solutions which include two independent sensors, isolated from each other, in one, small package. On the other side, BLDC applications require a high-speed interface for real time measurements. Each of our target applications requires different key features for programming and diagnostics. With our wide portfolio of rotary encoders we are able to provide the right solution to our end customers. 

Customers rely on our encoder solutions because of their robustness, their insensitivity to external influences and their accurate performance. Some of the recently won projects especially in the application areas of electronic power steering, gearbox, throttle (flap applications), gas pedal or BLDC motors are proof our competence in this division.

AI: How have austriamicrosystems rotary encoders impacted your automotive clients? 

BG: Rotary encoders by austriamicrosystems are designed to replace dust sensitive optical encoders, expensive resolvers and low reliable potentiometers. In the automotive business we impacted our clients by offering solutions enabling contactless measurement, without moving parts in the chip with no further required components, providing highest reliability at low costs. We can provide reliable and accurate performance without any compromise! 

austriamicrosystems´ approach to measuring the angle position of a rotating movement is based on the following principle: Using four Hall elements instead of one, and placing them equally underneath a diametrically magnetized rotating magnet, generates four sinusoidal waveforms, each of them being phase shifted by 90° from its neighbour. 

By using differential amplifications of two opposite sensors, two 90° phase shifted signals with double amplitude are generated. These two analog signals are digitised by analog-digital converters, and processed further in the digital domain. The CORDIC (coordinate rotation digital computer) transforms sine- and cosine information into angle and magnitude information. This shows the major advantage of the principle and the benefit to our customers: it is independent of the signal amplitude and consequently independent of temperature and vertical gap variations of the magnet as well as temperature drift of the Hall elements. This means no temperature compensation or calibration is needed, which saves time during development and production. These elements also cancel magnetic offsets caused by disturbing external magnetic fields. This excellent insensitivity to these stray fields saves shielding costs in the end, which gives the customer another huge benefit. In addition, several diagnostic and best in class device protections like overvoltage protection, reverse polarity and continuous short circuit detection to mention a few guarantee to meet stringent automotive requirements. 

For safety critical applications like steering or gas pedal redundancy is a must-have. We are able to provide such a redundant, stacked-die solution. This fail-safe, built-in redundancy magnetic angular encoder includes two sensors in one package, fully electrical and isolated from each other. The dual die, as well as the single die solution, are fully qualified to AEC-Q100 with an operating ambient temperature range from -40 up to 150° degrees.

AI: Tell us about the importance of battery management related to current and future applications in car and developments of austriamicrosystems to fit those requirements
BG: For years we have seen comprehensive OEM programs, and governmental sponsorship, towards vehicle electrification for CO2 reduction. Today we see two major directions in developments: the first is electrification of conventional internal combustion engine type vehicles for efficiency increase. This is a trend towards micro hybridization based on conventional lead acid battery technology. 

The second direction is towards full hybridization or full electric vehicles. This second direction is quite uncertain due to limitation of the current available electrical energy storage technologies. Time will show when it will be possible to successfully launch mature electric vehicle solutions to society. 

We at austriamicrosystems are prepared to address both directions with our existing products and with our future product developments. We offer best in class battery sensor products for conventional lead acid battery management which supports brake energy recovery, and idle stop-start-automatic, electrified vehicle actuators like electric power steering and demand controlled engine actuator units like electric water pump, oil pump, fuel pump. We are the first, and only solution provider, for high dynamic range, highest precision shunt current measurement; either in positive or negative battery rail, and synchronized voltage measurement. Specific ICs are available to provide power management at a very low standby consumption, and for connecting the battery sensor with the IVN (in vehicle network). Intelligent function splitting to various ICs enables excellent flexibility which addresses new requirements in high voltage Li-Ion battery management, including highly efficient DCDC converter options, perfectly.
Li-Ion Battery management is at the limit with state of the art electronic solutions in performance and price. Therefore we started developments of less expensive, and higher efficiency, next generation battery management ICs for Li-Ion batteries and ultra capacitors to provide better performance in state of charge, state of health, state of function acquisition, cell balancing and battery diagnosis.

AI: What are the benefits of your FlexRay products compared to competition and how do you see the development of FlexRay in the future? 

BG: austriamicrosystems has set a new standard for the FlexRay network reliability by increasing the immunity level of our FlexRay transceiver products. Additionally we developed the Bit-Reshaper embedded in the AS8224 FlexRay Active Star Device as the world-wide first company. This enables network topologies with extended cable lengths and an increased number of ECUs (electronic control units) connected to the FlexRay bus. On the other hand the system costs can be significantly reduced because with the usage of the Bit-Reshaper the expensive FlexRay cables can be substituted with cheaper CAN cables. 

We work on FlexRay solutions bringing a benefit for the complete system layout and the system stability. Naturally we are also fully compliant to the FlexRay standard
Today, FlexRay is established, but is still a very young technology. Most recently, the FlexRay Specification V3.0 has been released to the market, which has already indicated that with the experience gained from a series of previous projects there are still possible improvements. The product portfolio increases from year to year and the FlexRay V3.0 development will continue with time. However, the current available products will be designed-in the next couple of years. We also believe that any products that are developed according to the V2.1 Rev B standard (like our AS8221, AS8223) will now enable the FlexRay networks to be applied in high-volume segment cars. In parallel, new features like the Bit-Reshaper, will be validated and the next generation network designs will make use of these enhancements to make FlexRay even more efficient and practical. At this stage, the FlexRay adoption rate will dramatically increase, while the FlexRay costs related to the new enabled applications are insignificant. 

FlexRay will be a common automotive bus-system as CAN and LIN are already today.


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