Review of automotive electronics
In today's automotive industry, the entire product supply chain is constantly squeezed for cost reductions. The intent is the same, even though each vehicle manufacturer may use different terminologies or threatssophisticated and complex vehicle components, such as body electronic modules are being treated as commodity items and are being "e-bidded" during scheduled on-line bidding competitions.
Even if a Tier 2 or Tier 3 Supplier were to develop a new technology, what guarantee is there that a vehicle manufacturer will design it into a future vehicle?
Technology development risks are compounded by the cost reduction pressures imposed by the vehicle manufacturers and the increasing R&D costs to validate and commercialize any new technology. As an example, consider a common semiconductor device, such as a single output MOSFET high side driver (HSD). Vehicle manufacturers and their Tier 1 electronic suppliers are demanding that automotive semiconductor manufacturers provide smaller, cheaper and more reliable MOSFET HSDs. In order to meet these cost and reliability mandates, the semiconductor manufacturer must invest in more expensive development and manufacturing processes to implement "die shrinks" of the single output MOSFET driver.
Sourcing and procurement groups at many vehicle manufacturers have developed cost modeling tools, use competitive analysis and comparative costing methods. Using these tools to estimate and control costs in their purchased products they tend to view semiconductors as the cost of "processed sand" at a market price expressed in silicon area ($$/mm2) or die-size plus packaging.
For our single output MOSFET, this not only equates to higher power densities (amp/mm2) in smaller and cheaper packages, but also increased component reliability with zero defects, measured in parts per million (ppm), at zero vehicle miles and a just a few ppm at 36,000 miles or whatever the vehicle warranty life may be.
In such a prevailing market, Smart Automotive Systems Engineering (SASE), a small systems engineering firm, recognized the opportunities of providing silicon IP and systems electrical engineering services to vehicle and semiconductor manufacturers. These services focus on both the module-level manufacturing cost as well as system electrical savings opportunities by designing next generation electronics that meet the targeted component price and required level of functionality. Common designs (i.e. electronic modules that can be configured and scaled across multiple vehicles) can also provide some volume based cost reductions.
On the other hand, the vehicle's electrical distribution system (EDS) is one of the most "technology starved" electrical subsystems in the vehicle today. A subsystem refers to a partitioned or localized feature in the vehicle's electrical system. Consequently, door electrical features, radio, safety, EDS, etc. are all electrical subsystems in today's vehicle architectures.
Figure 1 below depicts how technology has evolved for various vehicle electrical subsystems since the mid-sixties. It can be seen that the electrical features in vehicles in the mid-sixties contained little electronics and was characterized by the use of mono AM radios sometimes enhanced with mechanical reverb, carbureted engines, relays, fuses, and high current ignition switches.
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