GF’s AutoPro™ Solutions Drive Automotive Electronics Forward

by Gary Dagastine

Today, “4D” on a car’s window sticker means it’s a four-door model, but that designation soon may come to mean something else, too. At least that’s the hope of GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ customer Arbe, a world leader in automotive-grade chipset for so-called 4D imaging radar systems. 4D radar enables higher levels of safety and autonomous driving capability, because unlike existing automotive radar systems, it doesn’t just alert the vehicle about an object in the lane ahead. Instead, it actually sees hundreds of objects in the vehicle’s environment in great detail, including vehicles, pedestrians and stationary objects. It detects their movements in real-time, providing dynamic, free-space mapping of the vehicles’ surroundings.

Arbe’s 4D imaging radar chipset, enabled by GF’s 22FDXTM platform, is only the latest example of the fundamental changes taking place in the brave new world of automotive electronics. It’s a fast-growing, compelling end-market for semiconductors because chips are essential to the industry’s efforts to differentiate vehicles from one another for competitive reasons, and to make all cars and trucks more connected, efficient, and autonomous in general.

That’s why the average semiconductor content related to safety and electrification in a mid-range car continues to grow, from $410 in 2018 to an estimated $643 in 2025, and an estimated $1,097 in 2030, representing an annual growth rate of around 8.5 percent, according to a recent IHS Markit report.

How quaint the first automotive use of a microprocessor now seems – a modified Motorola 6820 which ran a dashboard mileage display in the 1978 Cadillac Seville1 – compared to the diverse semiconductor technologies used in today’s vehicles.

This growth in automotive applications could hardly be more favorable for GF, though, because as the world’s leading specialty foundry, GF’s broad portfolio of differentiated solutions and its AutoPro™ Solutions service package uniquely support all automotive technical, packaging/testing, sourcing and quality requirements.

For example, the 22FDX platform is not only ideal for many short- and long-range radar applications, it also offers outstanding signal processing capabilities for cameras, and low-power, real-time functionality for ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) applications. Its high power-added efficiency (PAE) reduces the thermal budget, making it versatile for uses in vehicle chassis and bodies where thermal performance is key, such as for radar sensors embedded in foam bumpers.

GF’s HP SiGe platform, meanwhile, is the gold standard for image quality in long-range automotive radar, and offers unparalleled response times for LIDAR (light-based) sensors. GF’s 12LP FinFET solutions, on the other hand, provide the ultra-fast, high-performance compute power needed for autonomous driving, AI inferencing and sophisticated in-vehicle infotainment capabilities.

For vehicle control, GF’s various BCD/BCDLite® solutions for analog, power, mixed-signal and RF applications enable state-of-the-art powertrain control and battery management, among other functions. Rounding out the offerings, GF’s 130/55/40nm CMOS solutions, some of which incorporate rugged embedded nonvolatile memory (eNVM), are used in a wide range of applications, from short-range radar and LIDAR to all manner of vehicle controls (e.g. windows, mirrors, seat adjustments, etc.).

However, the raw performance of any semiconductor technology is only part of what automakers need. Automotive electronics also require much higher levels of quality, reliability and documentation than traditional applications, because vehicles must operate properly and reliably in all weather, road, and traffic conditions over long service lives.

Suppliers must certify that their chips will withstand the temperature extremes, shocks/vibrations, and other harsh conditions found in many of the operating environments within a vehicle, such as the engine compartment, because, as Michael Brucker, GF’s Senior Manager of Automotive Systems, put it: “Let’s face it, in a car the best-case outcome for part failures would be that you’d have to spend money on repairs, but the worst case outcome could be fatal.”

Brucker leads GF’s automotive-related corporate policies and programs, which involve all GF fabs and business units so that the company’s automotive policies, systems and procedures are coordinated, implemented properly and continually improved.

GF’s AutoPro Solutions Manage Complexity

A cornerstone of this effort is GF’s AutoPro Solutions service package, which since its introduction in 2017 has evolved into a major corporate effort to manage the complexities that come with serving the automotive marketplace.

Under the AutoPro umbrella, GF works to meet customer performance requirements, manages the design and manufacturing process, provides turnkey assembly and test services, and takes any and all actions needed to meet required AEC (Automotive Electronics Council) quality standards from Grade 3 to Grade 0, which encompass all present requirements plus evolving ones that call for more autonomous vehicle capabilities.

AutoPro grew out of the realization that the automotive industry expects deeper partnerships with its suppliers than commercial customers do. For example, Brucker described a meeting in Dresden which GF hosted a couple of years ago with representatives of the AEC and OEMs, including BMW, Renault, Volkswagen, GM (by phone) and others. “One fellow pulled me off to the side and said he was concerned that there are a lot of Johnny-Come-Lately chip suppliers in the automotive market, who’ve maybe had success in traditional data processing applications but who’ve never worked in automotive before and see it as a fertile market.

“He said that these suppliers may meet IATF 16949 and other standards, and so they think they’re all set, but he said was worried, because companies like GF that have been in the market for a while know there’s a lot more to it, such as how to handle outsourced assembly and test effectively. I think his comments describe in a nutshell the need for our AutoPro Solutions package,” said Brucker.

AutoPro is a customer relations management framework built on GF’s technology readiness, quality systems and the operational controls running through all GF fabs. “Say a customer comes to us with a design,” Brucker said. “Maybe that design is robust enough to meet all necessary automotive quality requirements, maybe it isn’t. AutoPro enables us to pull resources from every relevant area of our organization in an integrated fashion to ensure that the design is capable and robust enough for the intended use, producible on the required timeline, and that it will lead to a quality part. If not, we work with the customer to change it, based on our decade-plus experience serving automotive customers.”

Differing Needs Demand Different Solutions

Brucker’s comments are echoed by Matthias Klude, GF’s Account Manager for EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), based in Dresden. “The automotive industry is conservative in how it chooses suppliers, which means it isn’t sufficient just to create great applications. Suppliers also need to have the customer’s mindset – the drive for zero emissions in production and zero defects in the product and so on,” he said.

That’s hard to achieve, though, because the various industry players have different viewpoints and needs. The automakers, or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), he explained, have two core concerns. One is how to differentiate their vehicles from the competition. “Some 90 percent of new automotive features are driven by electronics, and, in fact, some OEMs have found that trying to develop these solutions by going through their Tier One suppliers sometimes simply takes too long, so they are working directly with us,” he said. “The other core concern of automotive OEMs is quality, because they are the ones who’ll suffer the most from quality lapses.”

By contrast, he said, Tier One suppliers such as Bosch, Continental, Delphi and others, who supply automotive-grade parts and systems to the OEMs, face huge cost pressures and also are risk-averse. “They have a great need for custom solutions but this becomes increasingly difficult when traditional silicon suppliers want to sell their standard platforms. There is no perfect match and thus you pay extra for something you do not need but still could be an additional potential source of failure,” Klude said.

Meanwhile, newer, smaller, innovative fabless chip suppliers such as Arbe need entirely new and soup-to-nuts solutions for new applications such as 4D imaging radar, and GF must meet these needs as well. Avi Bauer, Arbe’s Vice President of R&D, said, “On the one hand, we need to reach high levels of reliability and quality, but on the other, our solutions must remain affordable, and the cost should be competitive and provide the highest value proposition”

“GF’s experience in the automotive market has enabled the creation of a silicon process for us that meets both goals, with cost-effective digital content and the highest millimetric-wave RF performance,” he said. “At the same time, as a close partner of Arbe, GF supports both our silicon manufacturing and our post-silicon activities. We get significant field support for design-related process handling, and GF acts as Arbe’s supply-line management focal point. In that role, GF is responsible for our packaging, testing, supply management, and RMA (warranty) management.”

“Having GF as our silicon supplier helps us to deliver our differentiation and eases our market penetration path to major automotive players,” Bauer said.

The Road Ahead Looks Good

Sudipto Bose, GF’s Senior Director & Business Unit Leader for Radar and Automotive Sensors, said that semiconductors will continue to bring vastly greater capabilities and features to transportation systems, and in the process make our world a better and safer place.

“Electronics has brought about many significant societal transformations, such as the pervasive connectivity that benefits our lives. One of the next ones, alongside the Green Revolution, is mobility. I tell my kids that if you can participate in something that can change the way you live in 20 years for the better, that’s a good thing to do. And we here at GLOBALFOUNDRIES are helping to make it happen.”