Infineon Technologies AG, with over 36,000 employees, 34 production sites spread across 19 countries in Europe, America and Asia, and a market share of over 10%, is one of the world’s biggest chip manufacturers for automotive electronics. Peter Schiefer, Head of the company’s Automotive Electronics division, explains how microchips are used in our cars and how they are produced.
In the not too distant future, cars will be smartphones on four wheels – like the I.D. Crozz or the I.D. Buzz, which from 2020 will have a purely electric drive system and will be fully connected and always online. Until then, the number of control devices, electronic components and assistants in cars is set to grow rapidly. Semiconductors are the basis for electronic systems in cars and pave the way for technological innovations. A Golf already has more than 50 control devices equipped with up to 70 semiconductors. In 2016, 982,495 Golfs rolled off production lines around the world. They already have more than 3.4 billion semiconductors on board – and this number is increasing. 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.
To gain a better understanding of this, we asked Peter Schiefer, head of Infineon’s Automotive Electronics division, where microchips are used in our cars and how they are produced.
Volkswagen builds cars. What do you build?
Infineon makes something that we all use already, the microchips which allow us to make purchases on our credit cards or have our health insurance cards read. These chips are what allow modern communications to take place, whether that be in smartphones or in cars. They also help us to generate clean energy from the sun and the wind and save energy in household appliances, trains, industrial facilities and cars.
So, Volkswagen Group cars already contain chips produced by Infineon...
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 the power steering system, windscreen wipers, power windows, radar sensors, in converters for the main drive system and in the body control module (BCM); they are also used in airbags, air conditioning, the lights and transmission control systems, as well as in the engine control system, the fuel pump, and many other components.
What are the biggest challenges for the automotive industry of the future?
Cars are becoming more and more complex all the time. We want to combine car manufacturers’ knowledge with Infineon’s knowledge regarding future chip technologies. Because only a close partnership from the start of the development process will allow us to obtain innovative, mature and reliable systems for tomorrow’s mobility.
Which trends in the automotive sector are shaping your business?
Undoubtedly electric mobility, automated driving as well as connectivity and data security are the main ones.
Can you give us an insight into Infineon's factories and what goes on inside?
Round sheets of silicon, known as wafers, are the basis for producing chips. They have a diameter of up to 300 millimeters, and between 100 and 10,000 chips can be manufactured on one single wafer. Chips are produced under special conditions in clean rooms. This is why production staff wear a special full-body suit – like the one worn by forensic scientists, along with gloves, a tight-fitting face mask and special shoes. This is necessary because the smallest structures on the chips are just a thousandth of the diameter of a human hair. Airborne dust particles, even flakes of skin, could contaminate the chips and make them unusable. That is why hair gel, perfume, make-up and nail varnish are not allowed in chip production. Jewelry 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.
What opportunities and risks does the digitization of cars bring?
Digitization means greater connectivity. For this reason, the systems must be very secure and reliable, not just due to the increasing complexity of cars, but also to protect them against hackers. 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.
Source: Volkswagen AG