IISc researchers collaborate to provide solution to automotive chip shortage
Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have collaborated with a semiconductor foundry under the Indian government’s IMPRINT program, which could provide a solution to the severe shortage of chips in the automotive industry.
The IISc team has embarked on the development of an indigenous technology platform for manufacturing automotive (analog) chips to be used for commercial and mission-critical applications, an official statement from IISc said on Friday.
Since the beginning of 2021, the global automotive industry has been facing a severe shortage of chips. Several reasons contribute to this shortage, one of which is the growing demand for automobiles and consumer goods (most of their parts are powered by electronics). Like the rest of the world, Indian automakers have also been significantly affected by this shortage.
Automotive chips are different from conventional processor chips used in devices such as smartphones and laptops. An automotive chip (also known as a power ASIC) must handle various tasks simultaneously, including instrumentation, sensing, and control of various electromechanical parts.
The electrical interface of these parts operates at higher voltages (5V-80V) compared to a CPU chip, which only requires a low voltage switch or transistor (0.9V-1.8V).
Developing a technology platform capable of delivering the wide range of capabilities required by automotive chips has always been a challenge for the industry and can take 5-6 years, unlike the processor technology platform which typically takes around 1.5 to 2 years.
However, this extra time investment can pay off in terms of significantly lower obsolescence rates – these chip technologies can last 15-20 years without having to be replaced.
Automotive chips require on-chip high-voltage switches or transistors. These transistors are called side diffusion MOS (LDMOS). Silicon LDMOS devices are a type of field effect transistors that can operate at much higher voltages than ordinary transistors. They can also be integrated with billions of other transistors inside a chip. This requirement is also particularly important for space and defense applications.
Keeping these requirements in mind, the IISc team and its founding partner worked to develop a range of LDMOS devices (from 10V to 80V) with characteristics matching current industry offerings. The collaborative effort led to the development of a robust high-voltage automotive technology platform.
Technology platforms available in the industry have allowed the development of circuits capable of handling voltages ranging from 7 V to 80 V, greatly increasing the previous capacities of the national partners of 3.3 V. The extension of this portfolio to 80V importing technology would have cost tens of millions of dollars. This collaborative effort augmented the core process and enabled the development of devices capable of operating at 80 V, at a cost of less than $0.5 million.
“IISc and its partners worked much like an industrial R&D team and dealt with fundamental problems differently, which industry usually deals with empirically (trial and error)”, explains Professor Mayank Shrivastava (Department of Electronic Systems Engineering) who led the project. of the IISc.
“For example, we could dig deeper into some fundamental issues with these devices, like near-saturation behavior, which hasn’t been fully understood and solved for the past 40 years. Thanks to the IMPRINT program for enabling such a development, which is proving to be a win-win for IISc and its founding partner,” he said.
Shrivastava adds that the devices developed have been rigorously tested and found to be robust. “These LDMOS devices can now become standard offerings (like any other industry), which will help our foundry partner to develop a range of VLSI products in-house. Also, the technology/know how can be transferred to other semiconductor foundries that want to upgrade their process from a basic CMOS to an automotive process.”
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