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Innovation

Tailor-made chips

Peter Schiefer (Infineon) explains how microchips in our cars work and are manufactured.

This is how a wafer looks coming out of production. It may contain over 10,000 chips.

Interview with Peter Schiefer, director of the automotive electronics unit for Infineon Technologies AG.

The car in the future will be a smartphone on four wheels – like the I.D. Crozz or I.D. Buzz, which is slated for purely electric operation from 2020. Completely connected and always online. By then the number of control units, electronic components and assistants in cars will grow significantly. Semiconductors are the carriers of the electronics in the car and pave the way for technological innovations. Even today there are more than 50 control devices, outfitted with up to 70 semiconductors, in a Golf. Last year some 982,495 Golfs rolled off the assembly line. They already have over 3.4 billion conductors on board – and the numbers are rising. To develop chips for the innovations in the vehicles of tomorrow, Volkswagen has established an initial partnership with the technology company, Infineon. Peter Schiefer heads the automotive electronics unit there. He explains where microchips are located in our cars and how they are manufactured.

Volkswagen makes cars. What do you make?
Infineon makes microchips. Practically everyone at Volkswagen in Germany has a chip of ours in their wallet: for example, on their EC card, health insurance card or electronic ID in a card format – and probably even on their plant IDs. When it comes to mobility, saving energy and data security, our chips are involved. They enable modern communication – in the smartphone and in the car. They help enable clean energy generation through the sun and wind, energy transmission, and also saving energy in household appliances, trains, industrial facilities, and cars. The drive unit in the new e-Golf, which recently went into production in Dresden, includes chips from Infineon. They are in control units for the electric drive system and do things like converting the direct current from the battery into the alternating current that powers the electric motor.

Infineon Technologies AG

Infineon Technologies AG is based in Munich. The company employs over 36,000 people worldwide. Infineon conducts research and development at 34 locations worldwide. Its chips are manufactured at 19 locations in Europe, America and Asia. With a market share of over ten percent, Infineon is one of the two leading chip manufacturers for the automotive industry worldwide and is the largest chip manufacturer for vehicle applications in Europe and Germany.

Chip production in Dresden continues night and day.

Where is Infineon in our cars already today?
In cars, our chips are found everywhere where the objective is to increase convenience and driving safety and data security, or to lower fuel consumption and hazardous emissions. They’re located, for example, in the electric steering system, the windscreen wipers, the power windows, radar sensor, in the converter for the main drive unit, and in the Body Control Module (BCM). They’re also in the airbag, air conditioning, lights and transmission control units, as well as in the motor control unit for drive motors, the fuel pump, the camshaft and the crankshaft, and in the wheel for measuring the rotational speed.

Why will that be even more frequently the case in the future?
Some 80% of all vehicle innovations are based on electronics. And electronics only work with microchips. Without chips, no car can drive fully electrically, let alone autonomously or indeed safely. The average car today has chips worth roughly 350 dollars; in an electric vehicle with a driver assistance system, the figure is some 700 dollars.

What challenges do you see for the automotive industry in the future?
Cars are becoming ever more complex. We want to combine the knowledge of the carmakers about the car of the future with the knowledge of Infineon about the chip technologies of the future – and thus forge ahead with new ideas in vehicle development more quickly together.

What are you planning in concrete terms?
We want to work together to advance technology development for future vehicle generations. Modern cars today already have up to 100 networked control devices with thousands of electronic components: from the air conditioning system to the interior and exterior lighting to distance control radar and assistance systems, they control a wide variety of different functions. And automated cars with electric motors will be even more complex. The key technologies in all of this are chips. A close collaboration from the beginning of the development process onwards enables innovative, mature and reliable systems for the mobility of tomorrow.

Handshake for future semiconductors – Peter Schiefer (Infineon) (left) and Volkmar Tanneberger (Volkswagen).

» A close collaboration from the beginning of the development process onwards enables innovative, mature and reliable systems for the mobility of tomorrow. «

What trends in the automotive industry shape your business?
Electromobility, automated driving as well as connectivity and data security are the vehicle-based trends that strongly impact the chip sector.

Volkswagen builds its vehicles in huge plants. Give us a glimpse of your interior: what do your facilities look like?
The basis for the production of chips is round silicon chips known as wafers. Today they have a diameter of up to 300 millimeters. Anywhere from 100 to over 10,000 chips can be manufactured on them at the same time. Chips are produced under special conditions in cleanrooms. That’s necessary because the structures on the chips are the size of one-thousandth of the diameter of a human hair.

In every cubic meter of normal ambient air there are several million particles. In a cleanroom, it can’t be any more than a maximum of ten particles no larger than one ten-thousandth of a millimeter (= 0.1 micrometer). The air is continuously cleaned. Production employees wear a special full-body suit similar to the ones worn by forensics experts on TV crime series. They also wear gloves, a fixed mask and special shoes. The smallest of our chips fits in the groove of a finger. Having dust particles, flakes of skin or metal residue floating around in the air could contaminate it and render it inoperative. So hair gel, perfume, make-up and nail polish are absolutely off-limits in chip production. Employees have to remove their personal jewelery – bracelets, necklaces, earrings – before their shifts.

And they can’t smoke for at least two hours before starting a shift. Between 600 and 1,200 individual production steps are necessary for the production of a chip. This can take up to 16 weeks – considerably longer than for the production of most other automobile vendor parts. Our Dresden chip factory, for example, runs non-stop day and night, three shifts a day, seven days a week. There are no company holidays in which the plant shuts down. Employees have 36-hours weeks. The daily early, late and night shifts last 8 hours and are part of a rolling shift system. The shifts start at 6 a.m., 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. After six days of work, employees have four days off.

A wafer during production.

What are the opportunities and risks you see in the digitalization of vehicles? What should one keep in mind?
Digitalization means increasing connectivity, but has to be protected against hackers and be very, very safe. In addition, one has to reliably master the rising complexity in the vehicle. The opportunities that then emerge are cars with the highest level of driving safety and absolute environmental friendliness. Volkswagen and Infineon will work together toward that end and I look forward to it.