Semiconductors: Bosch claims to be outpacing rivals in race to bring intelligence to vehicles
Bosch discusses automotive opportunity during Electronica 2018
In 2016, every newly registered vehicle globally had nine Bosch chips on board, on average, the German manufacturer told Electronica 2018 in Munich last week. The multiplicity and value of the chips in vehicles is only spiralling upwards, and Bosch is outpacing the rest of the market, it said.
Semiconductors are core components of electrical systems, including in vehicles, where they regulate the powertrain and vehicle handling, orientate navigational systems, and signal airbags to deploy.
In 2018, every new vehicle featured semiconductors worth $370-$380, according to the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW). It was a statistic that was brandished repeatedly in Munich, in most cases as a leaping-off point for the industry’s new growth.
Demand for chips in vehicles is expected to rise further over the next few years. Dutch semiconductor maker NXP said in a separate address at the Munich fair that up to $1,200 will be added to the value with level four and five automation, and a further $450 will be added with fun electrification.
For its part, Bosch said it is best positioned to capitalise on these new opportunities. The company’s own growth in semiconductor’s is currently outpacing the rest of the market, it claimed.
Gartner reckons global semiconductor sales will reach $451 billion in 2018. By 2019, PwC says the market will have grown at an annual growth rate of more than five per cent.
Jens Fabrowsky, member of the executive management of Bosch’s automotive electronics division, said: “The Bosch semiconductor business is growing faster than the market.”
Bosch described the art of making chips for vehicles as the “ultimate discipline” for a semiconductor company. Bosch has been making vehicles smart since the 1970s, when it started equipping them with its smart integrated circuits.
It has been an easy fit, to run alongside its traditional supply of service parts, from drive belts to spark plugs to windscreen wipers.
“When it comes to semiconductors for cars, we have a singular advantage: Bosch is the only company equally at home in both the automotive and semiconductor industries,” said Fabrowsky.
Semiconductors for vehicles have to be smart and robust; Bosch has better understanding and experience of these requirements than other chip makers, it reckons.
“In a car, chips are exposed to strong vibrations and extreme temperatures that range from far below zero to far above 100 degrees Celsius. This requires higher standards for the toughness of these special components. Developing semiconductors that can withstand these stresses for a vehicle’s entire lifetime is an intensive process,” the company said in a statement.
“Here is where Bosch leverages its special dual role: while other companies can process the information collected from semiconductors, Bosch can also apply its deep understanding of the physical principles at work in the chips, and of how to gather the data and ultimately integrate it into the vehicle systems.”
Bosch holds over 1,500 patents and patent applications for engineering and manufacturing its semiconductors. Fabrowsky said: “Our comprehensive expertise in semiconductors helps us to both develop new automotive functions and steadily improve the chips themselves.”
At Electronica 2018, Bosch showcased its semiconductor portfolio, covering power semiconductors, as well as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs).
Much of its growth is coming from power semiconductors, it noted, employed for regulating electric motors on hybrid and electric vehicles, it said. “Power electronics for hybrid and electric vehicles are a growth driver for Bosch,” said Fabrowsky.
But Bosch is the leading semiconductor company for MEMS, as well, which supply vehicle engine control units (ECUs) with key data about handling. These systems feature increasingly sophisticated ASICs, chips with built-in ‘intelligence’, tailored to particular applications.
As vehicles gain new levels of automation and control, the semiconductor industry is betting on these advances. “Progress in microelectronics is what made development of assistance systems and automated driving possible in the first place,” said Fabrowsky.
Bosch’s Electronica 2018 showcase, both at its stand and in its conference talks, flagged up its MEMS work, in the shape of a couple of new sensor arrangements for car safety and navigation.
Its new line of high-g acceleration sensors, the SMA7xy family, bring faster activation and higher precision of passive safety systems such as airbags.
Its new SMI860 five-axis inertial sensor brings enhanced stability control and anti-skidding, and its SMI230 six-axis inertial sensor enables a vehicle’s position to be determined even when the GPS signal is weak or absent.
In Munich, the company also unveiled its new BHI160BP ‘position tracking’ sensor, providing the same accuracy as standard GPS or GNSS tracking, but at the cost of 80 per cent less power. It will go into consumer and industrial wearables, it said.