Multiple opportunities seen for electronics in the automotive market

March 06, 2018 // By Patrick McNamee
The traditional automotive electronics market is dominated by a handful of big, Tier 1 suppliers with a long-established supply chain. This historically leaves only a few aftermarket and infotainment systems open for everyone else.  Now, however, a real revolution is going on with the race to develop electric and driverless cars. 

The speed of innovation means that many of the traditional Tier 1 suppliers don’t have the necessary skills to create solutions for these new technologies, creating a gap in the market for new and innovative companies to enter.

The problem for these newcomers is that their products could be used in systems that are safety critical and therefore their products need to meet stringent reliability and safety standards, such as AECQ and ISO 26262. These standards apply not only in manufacturing, but also in the design and every aspect of development up to and beyond the mass production phase. It entails a meticulous amount of pre-planning and long-term data collection and storage.

The purpose of these standards is increasingly to ensure a problem does not arise in production. However, if a problem occurs and, in the worst case, car manufacturers have to recall cars, they want to be able to recall as few as possible to keep costs down. So they need to be able to isolate just those ones with an issue. This means being able to trace individual faulty chips right back to the individual wafer that they came from. That requires a lot of processes and expertise to provide such an exacting level of audit control.

This is a huge challenge for a company entering in this market.  Their primary skills are in the innovative Intellectual Property that provides a solution.  Turning this into a fully, automotive-qualified chip first needs a design team that knows all the automotive design specifications that have to be adhered to.  

For example, if something goes wrong, what does the chip do?  What should the failsafe setting be and what happens when it is enacted, i.e. what is the effect analysis on the consequences of a fault and the knock on effects to the rest of the system?  This has to be done right at the design stage as it is fundamental to safety and cannot be altered without a redesign.  Right first time is never a more appropriate goal.