Custom-designed ICs push the limits
Integrated circuits are having to work harder and smarter in today’s vehicles, driven by the convergence of in-vehicle media, increased connectivity and energy saving.
One of the technology leaders is German-based Dialog Semiconductor. Management of Europe’s fastest-growing semiconductor company aims for sales of US$500-million by 2014 of products for automotive and personal mobile applications, including smartphones and tablet style PC devices. Innovation by the company includes the manufacture of the first combined GSM audio and RF interface, the first system level CMOS power management device, and the first 3G power management and audio device.
Jürgen Friedel, vice-president and general manager of Automotive & Industrial business unit at Dialog Semiconductor, says the company supplies Europe’s top five car manufacturers with custom, mixed-signal, and system-on-chip devices for smart motor control. The devices are produced on a purpose-designed automotive CMOS process, which was developed earlier in collaboration with TSMC and Bosch.
Dialog Semiconductor’s motor control ICs are custom-designed for a wide range of automotive applications, including window and mirror control, automatic seat belt tensioning, windscreen wiper control, and control of engine cooling fans. Dialog replaces discrete solutions with integrated single chip systems that provide improved reliability, design simplicity as well as space saving, power and cost advantages.
Highly integrated power management ICs for car infotainment have recently been added to the product line. As an extension of its industrial lighting business, LED-based advanced lighting systems are under development.
In 2009, Dialog announced its collaboration with Harman Becker’s Harman International Automotive Division in the development of the DA6001 power management IC as a companion device for the Intel Atom processor. Now upgraded as the DA6011, it is a highly integrated flexible system on chip solution for the Intel E6xx (Tunnel Creek). It is the industry’s first single chip solution to provide all power and clock supplies as well as system management control. It is designed to support E6xx platforms, including the IO-hubs. The DA6011 is now used in the Harman International Automotive Division’s in-vehicle infotainment command centers.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Jürgen Friedel, vice-president and general manager of Automotive & Industrial business unit at Dialog Semiconductor, to expand on the range of products the company has developed.
Friedel: The range of applications for our circuits is extremely broad, as we have the ability to integrate a very high level of mixed signal functionality on a single CMOS chip. In some cases, we integrate up to 40 different functions, including microprocessors, flash memory, smart power management, high voltage circuitry as well as very high precision analog circuits on a single device. This exceptional level of mixed signal integration is unique in the industry and one of our key differentiators. Applications addressed by our ICs within the consumer market include smartphones, tablet PCs and handheld media players; and within the automotive and industrial markets they’re used for motor control, automotive infotainment and complex industrial lighting control.
AI: What about providing silicon-based systems for intelligent electro motors connected directly to car batteries?
Friedel: In1999, we were the first company to offer such high voltage solutions on a CMOS monolithic IC. An example of one such product series is our intelligent wiper motor control system ICs, which have been in production since 2001. The process that we have used is a high voltage CMOS process that supports voltages of up to 40V.
AI: How did your association with Intel’s Atom develop? How do you see this relationship progressing?
Friedel: An element of the strategy of our company is to partner with processor vendors and develop companion power management ICs that sit alongside these processors. This allows us to reach a broader base of customers and applications with standard products. Our relationship with Intel is a long relationship as we also developed power management devices to support their earlier processors, for example XScale.
For the DA6001, our first infotainment Atom companion device, we worked closely with Harman Becker. Both our companies subsequently entered into an agreement to continue the collaboration for a successor device, the DA6011, supporting Intel’s next generation of Atom processor, the Intel Atom E6xx processor series, formerly known as Tunnelcreek. This device was successfully demonstrated at the Intel Developers Forum during September in San Francisco.
Going forward as our customer base and footprint expands for such devices we would likely continue to support future Intel Atom processor releases with new power management devices for our customers.
AI: What are some of the developments in the IVI industry?
Friedel: Infotainment in cars is rapidly changing as multimedia and wireless technology enter the car environment. Video must now transmit throughout the car, capture video outside the car and monitor with extremely low latency to be able to react in real time to the changing external environment. Hi-Fi quality is also demanded of the audio system and of course better GPS support. Additionally, wireless and the ability to support and communicate with the new wave of Smartphone-type devices is emerging as a key trend in integrated infotainment systems.
To support these requirements, you require a much higher performance microprocessor than was used within automotive infotainment in the past. The Atom processor is ideal for this application. Reduced power consumption, space saving and cost are also key, so it’s no longer acceptable for IVI manufacturers to deploy a discrete component power management solution - hence the demand for highly integrated solutions such as the ones we now provide.
AI: To what do you attribute your company’s success as a supplier to the automotive industry?
Friedel: The automotive industry is an extremely difficult market for new suppliers to enter, as automotive manufacturers demand a level of quality and supply assurance far beyond that required in, for example, the consumer industry. Companies must be prepared to support products for many years, in some cases up to and beyond 10 years and provide quality close to zero ppm failure. Dialog’s success is unique here as we are also one of the very few fabless companies to have been successful in the automotive industry with the ability to compete against the large IDM’s.
AI: What is Dialog’s history within the automotive industry?
Friedel: Dialog has a long history of being a qualified automotive supplier to major companies for nearly twenty years. Dialog was part of the Daimler-Chrysler organization in the early 90’s, which was a period where it was common for many automotive companies to be vertically integrated with their own semiconductor and component operation. Later in the 90s, when this trend changed, Dialog was spun out as an independent company.