It may be a cliché to say that so-and-so “wrote the book on” whatever, but with Infineon and power electronics, it’s true. The firm wrote “Fundamentals of Power Semiconductors,” and one of the fundamentals, though not necessarily in the book, is the idea that power components are likely to tip the scale in automotive electronics.
“Companies that are dominant in automotive electronics will start to fall behind in the future if they don’t have power electronics,” contends Shawn Slusser, vice president of the Automotive Business Group at Infineon Technologies North America.
Slusser says logic devices – especially microcontrollers – have been dominant in automotive systems, but power electronics, including IGBT (insulated gate bipolar transistor) components and modules, and higher voltage MOSFETs (metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistor) will increase dramatically in value as markets for hybrid and electric vehicles continue to grow.
Citing estimates from Strategy Analytics, Slusser says the value of semiconductors in cars in North America, Europe, and Japan ranges from approximately $320 to $400, growing at about 5 percent per-year. With hybrid and electric vehicles, semiconductor value should more than double.
Slusser says Infineon is a global market leader in power electronics based largely on sales for industrial applications. “The industrial world lives by power electronics – traction motor control for trains, industrial motor control for factories, power management for the computing industry – all of that is the base core you need for this next automotive wave; charging batteries, power management, and traction motor control.”
He concedes that industrial technology is not yet tuned for the automotive world with its insistence upon zero defects. “This is a long range opportunity for 2013 and beyond,” he notes, “but we’ve got to be working with customers right now on their future architectures.”
Slusser describes powertrain systems as “the most complex harmonization between the mechanical world and the electrical world,” and so powertrain development involves long lead times. “As you blend electronics into the mechanical world you need to make sure that the system works well together from the mechanical and the electrical standpoint. It takes more testing, more effort, more system engineering, and more time to get it right.”
But a very large market opportunity makes all of that worthwhile.