Executive viewpoints: 2018 outlook

Supporting increased demand for automotive semiconductors

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 12.24.58 PMPat Lord, group vice president and general manager of the Customer Support Business Group (CSBG) at Lam Research Corporation.

There are many exciting growth and innovation opportunities in semiconductors. One such area is the automotive industry, where recent advances in technology are transforming this sector. Electric vehicles – not long ago considered somewhat impractical – are becoming more common, and the avail-
ability of autonomous vehicles may soon be a reality. Another key area that has carmakers’ attention is the development of electronic systems to improve safety, performance and convenience. Given these needs, demand for a wide range of integrated circuits (ICs) for use in vehicles has grown significantly. In fact, the automotive segment is now forecast to be the world’s fastest-growing electronic systems market through 2021.

Addressing the technical requirements of automotive applications is challenging as they involve a broad spectrum of devices. These include chips to support vehicle connectivity, advanced infomatics, navigation systems and sensors (microelectromechanical systems or MEMS, RADAR and ultrasonic, and optical/infrared image and light detection and ranging or LIDAR). Furthermore, in electric and hybrid vehicles, advanced power modules and discrete devices are needed for applications ranging from power inversion to rapid battery charging.

At the same time, these more complex electronic systems are no longer limited to higher-end cars and are now being included in a range of vehicles that have a significantly lower price point. With this change, demand is growing for both new and novel ICs as well as established ICs such as sensors, analog chips, and microcontrollers. Many of these devices can be readily fabricated by 200 mm or 300 mm fabs that are running automotive qualified processes well above the 28-nm technology node. As such, these fabs are well-positioned to capitalize on the auto industry’s growing chip demand, provided they can achieve reliable, cost-efficient production. These needs can be addressed with productivity and process enhance- ments that have been developed for existing systems as well as the ability to add capacity with new and refurbished equipment.

Although many of these applications do not require the most advanced chip-processing capability, they are, in fact, driving a great deal of innovation in IC fabri- cation. Significant investment is being aimed at deliv- ering enabling solutions that improve the performance of automotive electronics. For example, wide bandgap semiconductors used in high-temperature and power- switching applications are now being developed for use in automotive electronics. These include SiC MOSFET devices for compact integrated power modules and improved battery charging solutions based on GaN high-electron mobility transistor (HEMT) devices. At Lam Research we are continuing to support these new device requirements with enabling process capabil- ities for these new materials.

The future also holds significant promise, driven by the increasing desire for semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles. To realize this goal, a paradigm shift is needed in both the sensing and communica- tions capabilities of vehicles and the processing and memory content of automotive electronic systems. For 2018 and beyond, clearly many opportunities exist in automotive for our industry in providing technology innovation and fabrication solutions.


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