Overcoming obsolescence in chip manufacturing

Online Editor

How working with the right chip designer can help manufacturers avoid the problem of discontinuation.

The fact that thousands of parts per car model are expected to become obsolete each year presents a huge challenge for automotive manufacturers. The automotive industry is more prone to obsolescence than other industries because of the sector’s unprecedented rate of development. In fact, consultancy company Oliver Wyman estimates that some 3,000 parts per car model are expected to become obsolete every year.

Where vehicles were once entirely mechanical, there is now increasing digitalisation throughout including lane and hazard detection systems, automatic parking and even completely autonomous driving — all requiring advanced electronics. The faster these developments occur, the quicker components become obsolete. Consultancy firm Roland Berger estimates that some 62 per cent of the automotive market relies on older, more specialised chips. And as chip manufacturers are moving to more advanced technologies, there’s a drop in availability of older components for OEMs. As a result, manufacturers are having to spend more time dealing with supply chain problems and sourcing suitable chip replacements.

Often, obsolescence is managed reactively, after the process or component is out of date. But this is expensive and leaves little room for error. Alternatives may be hard to find and replacement chips must be verified before use. In addition, there’s often significant redesign work required to ensure that a product is compatible with the substitute device. Even if a suitable chip doesn’t require product design changes, it’s unlikely to have the same performance or functionality as the original IC.

Sourcing the right supplier

Sourcing the right supplier can be just as difficult since a third-party supplier may not be able to deliver components of the quality demanded by the application, and automotive companies will need to be mindful that any new chip may also become obsolete.

To minimise these issues, companies should ensure the right type of chip is purchased in the first place. For example, an Application Specific IC, or ASIC, is designed uniquely for custom requirements. As a result, it can be optimised to suit specific needs, offering improved performance, functionality and power consumption compared with off-the-shelf solutions.

Besides performance enhancements, the ASIC route offers several other benefits where the silicon process or the packaging have become obsolete since an ASIC designer will always be trying to mitigate these issues.

While sourcing packaging alternatives is relatively simple, silicon obsolescence requires a little more pre-planning. Typically, this is done at the earliest stage possible, and the ASIC supplier will select a silicon process and foundry with the required maturity and longevity to match the product’s lifespan.

In the unlikely event that the silicon process still becomes obsolete, the ASIC supplier will provide at least a years’ notice, offering ample time to find a suitable solution. The ideal resolution will depend on the customer and its application. For short-term production, for example, a one-off purchase of fully packaged parts may be suitable for the quickly changing demands of automotive electronics.

The IC design can also be ported onto a new silicon process, or the ASIC designer and customer can embark on a completely new design altogether. Regardless of the route taken, this decision-making process must be taken collaboratively to ensure that the solution works for the customer and the product.

This article was written by Ross Turnbull director of business development and product engineering from Swindon Silicon Systems.

Look for industry expertise

Manufacturers in the automotive sector should aim to work with IC designers with the same industry experience. An ASIC designer that understands your application will likely lead to additional insight around industry regulations or trends (such as ultra-low power requirements).

Swindon Silicon Systems is a global leader in the design and supply of Application Specific ICs for the automotive sector. Having been at the forefront of TPMS technology since its inception and now fulfilling more than half the world’s total demand for TPMS sensors, the company is well-versed in the unique demands of the automotive electronics industry.

It can offer full compliance with strict ISO 26262 standards as well as AEC Q100 stress testing.

As a result, the company is well placed help manufacturers navigate the challenges associated with the sector, including the ever-present risk of obsolescence.

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