Issue: Apr 2013

Automotive Industry: Innovation Driven by Electronics

by Giorgio Scuro, GM, ABU, Micron Technology

The automotive market is moderately but steadily growing. Global car sales rose 6% year-on-year in the first half of 2012, despite the ongoing headwinds associated with the sovereign debt problems in Western Europe and some moderation in the pace of global economic activity. Global sales of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles are expected to grow from 78 million units in 2011 to more than 100 million units in 2018. In a recent study, Gartner confirmed that electronics are playing a major role in the advancement of automotive technology. Electronic content in cars has been steadily increasing since the first digital engine control modules were introduced in the 80s.

Today, microelectronics enables advanced safety features, new information and entertainment services, and greater energy efficiency. The electric/electronic share of value added to a state-of-the-art vehicle is already at 40% for traditional, internal combustion engine cars and jumps as high as 75% for electric or hybrid electric vehicles. This trend will accelerate as advances in semiconductor technology continue to drive down the cost of various electronic modules and subsystems.

Infotainment is one of the key megatrends fueling the pervasiveness of microelectronics in cars. Users want to be connected and conveniently access their personal content anywhere, anytime, on all of their devices. The vehicle becomes just another node in the network, an extension of the user's digital and social lifestyle. A "connected" car is also more comfortable, safer, and energy efficient, having early access to important information such as weather reports, traffic jams, or road accidents. According to a recent study, 60% of new cars will be connected by 2017. Given this scenario, consumer electronic trends are dictating features in the car, and the innovation cycle time is becoming shorter and shorter.

Automotive Electronics Are Memory-Hungry

The explosive growth of infotainment systems in modern cars has a significant impact on the market demand for semiconductor memories. For 2012, the average memory content of a car was estimated to be around US$12.8, ranging from US$2.0 for low-end models to more than US$100 for fully equipped luxury vehicles. As a result, the total available market value for semiconductor memories in automotive applications is expected to reach a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 9% from 2011 to 2015. The automotive segment is anticipated to be the fastest growing market for memory solutions, which is significantly higher than the overall CAGR for the total memory semiconductor market.

Managed NAND: The Ideal Solution for Car Infotainment

New memory solutions, specifically tailored for automotive infotainment systems, are needed to provide additional storage space for rich multimedia data and advanced software and applications. The embedded multimedia card (e•MMC) device is an interesting nonvolatile memory option. It has all the features needed to support navigation and infotainment applications such as detailed 3D maps, traffic monitoring, meteorological information, car radio and multimedia, e-call, and voice recognition. e•MMC memory is a standardized version of the "managed NAND" memory architecture. It is essentially a module based on a bank of nonvolatile NAND Flash devices and is internally managed by an ad-hoc microcontroller.

The primary advantage to the user is that an e•MMC memory is fully managed and independent from the NAND technology inside. As NAND Flash geometries shrink, the technology becomes more complex to manage in terms of dealing with increased error correction code (ECC)) requirements, wear leveling, and bad block management. NAND Flash is also variable in terms of roadmap changes that require updates to software and perhaps even at the controller level.

e•MMC memory is backward compatible and has a standard interface so that changes to the NAND are transparent to the application. This means that developers don't have to bother with dedicated software to manage the complexity of NAND Flash. e•MMC memory uses standard interfaces and all functions match JEDEC specifications. e•MMC devices are available from different suppliers.

Micron Technology, for example, provides a wide range of densities, 4GB–64GB, with an integrated 16-bit NAND controller that offers more robust management and memory optimization compared to discrete NAND devices. An evolutionary roadmap has already been defined toward 256GB modules. The next step will be the development of higher-density managed NAND memory solutions like solid state drive (SSD) modules and higher performance 32-bit microcontrollers.

All of Micron's e•MMC devices are available in JEDEC-standard 100-ball, 1mm pitch and 153-ball/169-ball, 0.5mm pitch BGA packages, easing the design and validation process that is critical to the fast pace of product development in the automotive segment.

A Dedicated Answer to the Needs of Automotive Applications

Quality is an important factor for the automotive electronics market. Semiconductor products must meet specific automotive-grade certifications. These stringent requirements are vital and can only be met when dedicated quality and reliability programs are put in place. Micron offers one of the broadest memory portfolios for today's automotive electronics industry and, in fact, is the only major memory supplier focused on automotive as a main strategic target market.

In the case of the e•MMC embedded memory architecture, special features have been incorporated to meet automotive requirements. The package has been enhanced with dedicated test-pads for failure analysis. The NAND devices inside the module can be accessed without going through the controller, enabling a full and comprehensive check of the memory bank. e•MMC devices are tested to be fully operational in the temperature range of –40°C to +85°C so that data written into the memory at the lowest end of the temperature range must still be valid when read at peak temperature, and vice-versa. Power-loss protection is another advantage. Smart features have also been implemented to provide the option of infield firmware updates to reduce costs in the event of post-sales system upgrades. Parts Per Million (PPM) reduction programs have been applied across the entire manufacturing and supply chain, with a zero-defect mindset.

But that is not enough. Automotive customers demand even more, such as short cycle time guarantees for failure analysis or a product longevity program to provide peace of mind that the memory that they are designing in today will be available for 10 years or more. A long-term vision and commitment is important to customers in the automotive industry.

Micron has been a leading supplier of memory to the automotive industry and associated markets for more than 20 years and has developed an in-depth understanding of the needs of the segment. A recently opened lab purely dedicated to automotive applications in Munich, Germany, is an example of Micron's willingness to meet the specific needs of car makers with cost-efficient, leading-edge products.

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