In order to develop chips for the innovations in the cars of tomorrow, Volkswagen has entered into a new partnership with the technology company Infineon. Peter Schiefer is Head of the Automotive Electronics devision at the company. He explains where microchips are used in our cars and how they are produced. In the photo: Handshake for the semiconductors of the future – Peter Schiefer (Infineon) (l.) and Volkmar Tanneberger (Volkswagen).
Volkswagen builds cars. What do you build?
Infineon builds microchips. Virtually everyone at Volkswagen in Germany will have one of our chips in their wallet, e.g. on their EC card, health insurance card or electronic ID card – and probably on their work ID card too. Our chips are involved wherever it’s a question of mobility, saving energy or data security. They allow modern communications – in smartphones and in cars. They help us to generate clean energy from the sun and the wind, transmit energy and save energy in household appliances, trains, industrial facilities and cars. The drive system for the new e-Golf which recently began rolling off the production line in Dresden contains chips from Infineon. They are found in the control devices for the electric drive system and convert for example the direct current produced by the battery into alternating current which powers the electric motor.
Where are Infineon products already found in our cars?
In cars, our chips are used wherever it’s a question of increasing comfort, driving safety and data security or reducing fuel consumption and harmful emissions. For example, they are used in power steering, windscreen wipers, electric windows, radar sensors, in converters for the main drive system and in the body control module (BCM); they are also used in airbag, air conditioning, light and transmission control systems as well as in the engine control system, fuel pump, the camshaft and crankshaft and in the wheel for measuring speed.
Why will even more chips be used in the future?
Around 80 percent of all vehicle innovations are based on electronics. And electronics is dependent on microchips. Without chips, fully electric, autonomous and safe cars are not possible. Today’s cars contain chips worth on average around US$350. And the chips in an electric car with a driver assistance system will be worth around US$700.
What are the challenges for the automotive industry of the future?
Cars are becoming more and more complex. We want to combine car manufacturers’ knowledge regarding the cars of the future with Infineon’s knowledge regarding future chip technologies – and thus work together to develop the cars of the future more quickly.
What specifically are you planning?
We want to work together to develop the technology for future generations of vehicles. A modern car already contains up to 100 connected control devices with thousands of electronic components. They control a range of functions – from the air conditioning system, interior lighting and exterior lighting to distance radar and assistant systems. And automated cars with electric drive systems will be even more complex. Chips are the key technologies here. The close collaboration from the start of the development process allows innovative, mature and reliable systems for tomorrow’s mobility.
The close collaboration from the start of the development process allows innovative, mature and reliable systems for tomorrow’s mobility.
Which trends in the automotive sector are shaping your business?
Electric mobility, automated driving as well as connectivity and data security are the automotive trends which are shaping the chip sector.
Volkswagen builds its vehicles in huge factories. Can you give us an insight into one of your factories? What goes on inside?
Round sheets of silicon, so-called wafers, are the basis for producing chips. They have a diameter of up to 300 millimeters. 100 to over 10,000 chips can be manufactured on them at the same time. Chips are produced under special conditions in clean rooms. This is necessary because the structures on the chips are just a thousandth of the diameter of a human hair.
There are several million particles in every cubic meter of normal air. In a clean room, there must be no more than 10 particles one ten thousandth of a millimeter (= 0.1 micrometers) in size. The air is constantly cleaned. Production staff wear a special full-body suit – like the one worn by forensic scientists. They also wear gloves, a tight-fitting face mask and special shoes. The smallest of our chips can fit between the ridges of a finger. Airborne dust particles, flakes of skin or metal debris could contaminate it, rendering it unusable. That is why hair gel, perfume, make-up and nail varnish are not allowed in chip production. Jewelery such as bracelets, necklaces and earrings must be removed before a shift begins.
And smoking is not allowed at least two hours before the start of a shift. Between 600 and 1,200 individual production steps are needed to produce a single chip. This can take up to 16 weeks – considerably longer than it takes to produce most other automotive parts.
Our chip factory in Dresden for example operates day and night, seven days a week with three different shifts. There are no company holidays when the factory shuts down completely. Employees work 36 hours a week. There’s a rolling shift system with early, late and night shifts each lasting eight hours. The shifts begin at 6 am, 2 pm and 22 pm respectively. Employees work six days and then have four days off.
What opportunities and risks does the digitization of cars bring? What needs to be borne in mind?
Digitization means greater connectivity but the systems must be protected against hackers and very, very secure. The systems must be reliable too given the increasing complexity of cars. We have the opportunity to produce cars which are safer than anything seen before and absolutely environmentally friendly. Volkswagen and Infineon will work together to achieve this vision and I look forward to doing so.