Microchip expands auto tech lab near Detroit

Microchip Technology invited 150 OEMs and Tier 1 auto industry customers on Wednesday to its expanded 24,000-square-foot Detroit Automotive Technology Center in Novi, Mich.

While the locale is designed help them develop, test and refine applications in the design phase, it is also a mark of where companies like Microchip fit in a rapidly expanding universe of electric vehicles and Advanced Driving Assistance Systems. 

The current era takes automotive engineering from a mechanical endeavor where automotive speed and handling were once the main priorities to something quite different, explained Matthias Kaestner, corporate vice president of Microchip’s automotive business. “More and more, cars are getting to be defined by software and compute and power. ADAS and software and electronic hardware and sensors play a more important role,” he said in an online interview with Fierce Electronics.

“OEMs are realizing this is more important and starting to invest heavily in this domain to generate a revenue stream on electronic hardware,” Kaestner added. He recalled how in the past, Microchip would deal with Tier 1 players and is now also dealing with OEMs that reach out for tech insights.  Some big-name carmakers are even designing their own chips, which leaves room for companies like Microchip to provide a wide array of products supporting the needs of EVs and ADAS vehicles.

Microchip competes in a crowded field that includes Texas Instruments, Infineon, Analog Devices, Marvell and others, but will use its expanded tech center to gain share in multiple ways.

The new tech center boasts a dedicated high-voltage lab for demonstration of reference designs featuring Microchip’s silicon carbide mSiC products, dsPIC Digital Signal Controller and a wide array of analog and mixed signal solutions. Microchip PCIe Gen 4 and Gen 5 switching hardware and single-pair Ethernet devices and dev tools will also be demonstrated.

The new high-voltage lab is designed to help customers use Microchip reference designs with analog, digital control and power solutions. “As more OEMs transition to our E-Mobility offerings, we are ready to support them,” said Clayton Pillion, vice president of Microchip’s silicon carbide business unit. Microchip makes AEC-Q10 qualified products including microcontrollers, DSCs, USB and networking products, analog and interface products, SiC MOSFETs, serial EEPROMS and others.

Kaestner described the transition to EVs as “revolutionary, and a pretty hard switch” and the move to ADAS something more evolutionary.  With ADAS, engineers are confronting a “data center on wheels” which is a combination of a processing unit and data pipes, along with shared memory for a redundant main computer. “A single SoC is not enough. The shared memory for all this is super high…and PCIe will play a very important role. All the different connections and the bus in-car today are using different products and it’s a challenge to do.”  (PCIe stands for peripheral component interconnect express, an interface standard for connecting high speed components. Some modern cars have up to 10,000 components, many of them electrical.)

He sees “tremendous momentum” for a relatively new standard effort, ASA, which has an ambitious set of interoperable standards, including an asymmetrical SerDes (Serializer/Deserializer) standard for physical, data link and transport layers.   “More people… realize electronics is about compatibility.”

Microchip’s expanded tech center also includes a human-machine interface lab for development of full-width cockpit displays. Also, the lab supports USB and networking development resources. Testing of MEMS resonators and oscillators and development of automotive security with Microchip CrytoAutomotive TrustAnchor ICs will be supported alongside with security training for secure boot, message and hardware authentication.

With its lab space in the Great Lakes area, Microchip sees great potential for work with automakers and suppliers. “It’s important to be close to customers,” Kaestner said.