Power Electronics

Auto market holds appeal to mixed-signal IC vendors

With 55 million cars manufactured every year, whether the economy is up or down, the automotive market provides an attractive opportunity for developers of mixed signal ICs, according to Ross Bannatyne, marketing director at Austin, TX-based Silicon Laboratories.

Bannatyne notes the increasing importance of electronics within a vehicle, measured by the growing number of electronic control units and the increasing popularity of LIN networking, which was developed largely to connect sensors to MCUs, he notes.

While some automotive electronics applications justify 32-bit MCUs, the vast majority do quite nicely with 8-bit parts. Bannatyne claims that Silicon Labs offers one of the only 8-bit MCUs to integrate a high-speed (1 Msps), high-resolution (16-bit successive approximation) A/D converter.

Demand for the integration of various analog functions on a digital MCU is one of the major trends in the automotive semiconductor marketplace, at least from Bannatyne’s vantage point. “The advantages of mixed signal technology include better reliability, superior noise performance, lower cost, smaller size, lower power requirements, and better performance,” he says.

Bannatyne explains that reliability is improved by reducing the number of chips required for an application, which means fewer interconnections, and less potential for trouble from dry solder joints, bent pins and other types of connector-related problems. Mixed signal devices offer superior noise performance, Bannatyne asserts, because fewer chips means fewer high-speed signals traveling between chips. It’s usually cheaper to have a single chip than multiple chips, and while smaller size isn’t a significant factor for a lot of automotive applications, it could be increasingly important in applications such as battery monitoring.

Similarly, according to Bannatyne, the lower power consumption potential of mixed signal devices is likely to become more important as electronics proliferate. “When you put an A/D converter on an MCU, it draws less power than it would by itself,” he notes. “It also improves performance, because its data is available immediately to the MCU.”

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