Electronics has been facilitating a range of new technologies across various industries, especially the automotive sector. The fundamental structure of electronics can be broken down to the microchip that acts as the brain for almost every kind of electronic system present. These microchips are made by semiconductor companies, which collaborate with manufacturers of electronic technologies across a wide spectrum of industries. One such company is Texas Instruments (TI), and this is their story.
In over six decades of industry presence, Texas Instruments (TI) has carved out a niche for itself in the semiconductor industry. It was in 1954 that the company invented the silicon transistor, followed by TI’s engineer and innovator Jack Kilby’s invention of the integrated circuit in 1958. These inventions revolutionised the semiconductor industry and paved the way for all modern electronics. Today, the processing products from TI, analogue & embedded, power electronics across every industry help make systems smarter, safer, greener, healthier and more fun.
Jayanth Rangaraju, End Equipment Manager, Texas Instruments (TI) India, provides a perspective of the current automotive industry trends, along with the various solutions offered by the company to address them. We provide TI’s views and developments in the area of electric vehicles (EV) and their entire ecosystem, autonomous driving & related systems, along with the move towards higher power output of electrical systems.
According to a credible industry sources, global plug-in vehicle deliveries stood at 1.2 mn units for 2017, reflecting a 58 % increase from the previous year, noted Rangaraju. For 2018, this is expected to increase to 1.9 mn units, boosted by strong EV adoption in China and mass production of the long-awaited Tesla Model 3, he added.
The EV market in India, however, is still in its nascent stage. Notwithstanding the government’s drive towards electromobility, the company feels a lot still needs to be done on the ground to realise that goal. However, Rangaraju said that conversations around EV have begun on a serious level which is a good augury. Degrading air quality in major cities, high import of fossil fuel and increased levels of noise pollution are problems the country is grappling with, and TI believes that EVs could help India address all these issues. This would also assist in reducing carbon footprint and achieving CO2 emission goals set by the Paris Agreement, he added.
As the car industry shifts from the internal combustion engine (ICE) to hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) or EVs, there are expectations that cars can get smarter, safer and greener. This paradigm shift will lead to an exponential increase in average number of semiconductor components required to build a car, observed Rangaraju. He said that it will at the same time, challenge semiconductor manufacturers like TI to develop solutions and address challenges. These challenges include enabling smarter HEV/ EVs that can be charged faster, coupled with battery technologies that have high power density, which can provide more range per single charge.
There are a few barriers for adoption of EVs in the form of upfront cost, range anxiety, optimum charging infrastructure and slow charging systems. The cost of EVs is higher than that of a comparable fossil fuel-based car, primarily because of expensive battery technology. A typical EV has a range of 120-200 km per charge and this poses a challenge for intercity travel. There isn’t a reliable EV charging network at public places such as offices, malls and highways in the country, and those present largely offer slow AC charging. These AC systems require anywhere from 8 to 12 hr to charge a battery with 100+ km range, Rangaraju noted.
Policies that mitigate the above barriers will help accelerate adaption of EVs, he said. These challenges can be addressed by bringing down the cost of battery production, either by local manufacturing or by tax-free imports. Tax credits, combined with zero down payment purchase plans can aid customer with the upfront cost. Considering private-public partnerships can be an option as it can provide charging infrastructure such as battery swapping stations or a good network of fast charging stations for EVs that is currently absent even in urban India.
TI SOLUTIONS FOR EV ECOSYSTEM
The company’s analogue front end (AFE) and data converters can help design accurate (voltage, current and temperature) sensing blocks. TI’s power management devices, including power management ICs (PMIC), AC/DC, DC/DC and LDOs can help design highly-efficient power conversion blocks, Rangaraju explained. Additionally, its wide range of isolated and non-isolated gate drives aid engineers to design fast switching power stages, with the portfolio of microcontrollers (MCU) enabling them to meet design requirements of the system controller block. He also said that the company’s devices support a wide range of communication protocols, for both on board and external communication.
In terms of charging, TI offers Wi-Fi enabled Level 1 and Level 2 EV charging as well as new designs for Level 3 charging. Rangaraju said that fast charging, which takes 30 min or less, is primarily driven by the power modules of a DC charging station that bypass the on board charger on the EV and directly talks to the battery management system. The three-phase AC from the grid is conditioned by a power-factor-correction (PFC) circuit, and is rectified by active metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET) rectifiers into a high-voltage DC of about 400 V. This voltage passes to a DC/DC converter made up of power FETs or insulated gate bipolar transistors that generate the correct DC level of about 400 VDC for charging the battery, he explained. The company offers isolated and non-isolated gate drivers that can be used to drive these MOSFET/ IGBTs with high precision, Rangaraju noted.
48 V ELECTRICAL SYSTEMS, LED TECHNOLOGY
The industry trending towards 48 V systems from 12 V systems is no surprise, said Rangaraju. With the move towards more feature-rich electronics being added to cars in the form of infotainment, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, lane control and interior/ exterior LED lightings, 12 V systems are maxed out, he added. The move to 48 V systems will give a lot of room to automotive OEMs to continue adding further more feature-rich value-additions to the car. In addition, automotive OEMs are able to realise cheaper and lightweight systems with higher efficiency by replacing the Motor Generation Unit, DC-DC converter and higher voltage batteries to 48 V systems. This is another reason for the high adoption of 48 V systems.
The automotive LED driver solutions from TI help customers build innovative, reliable and cost-effective automotive lighting systems that exceed the industry’s stringent requirements. Be it interior or exterior lighting, the broad portfolio of highly-efficient LED drivers extend the life of lighting system designs, enable greater driver & pedestrian safety, as well as enhance the driver experience, explained Rangaraju.
The company’s range of single-stage LED driver products provide high levels of configurability, in addition to diagnostic & protection features and EMI mitigation techniques. Its solutions also provide pixel-level control of LEDs for dynamic headlight functions like sequential turn-signals and adaptive front lighting, which are witnessing increased adoption in car models. The LED matrix solution uses front-facing cameras for vehicle & object detection, and subsequently enables the automatic adjust of intensity of light emitted from the high/ low beams without physical movement of the headlamps. Rangaraju said that this creates optimal roadway illumination.
The evolution of ADAS technology is happening in phases and with increasing level of autonomy from 1 to 5. TI’s integrated circuits as well as reference designs are aiding ADAS system developers in designing the next generation of such systems. The company developed a family of high-performance application processors that act as the heart of the ADAS system, and is designed specifically for advanced vision processing and control. Rangaraju noted that this processor family has been optimised to achieve the best balance between performance and power consumption. The company has also worked on solutions that help connect multiple ADAS systems to a single coaxial cable, with the aim to reduce complexity as well as solution size.
With all the solutions that TI offers to its customers, it is clear that the company is focused on providing performance-oriented solutions for the fast-paced increase in electronics in the automotive industry. The innovations developed by the company are also addressing the challenges arising from future mobility trends, be it new energy vehicles, added power needs, lightweighting or lower power consumption. TI is taking new strides in innovation and development well ahead of the industry demands, which puts it in an optimal position to tap the growth arising from the automotive sector.
TEXT: Naveen Arul
PHOTO: Texas Instruments