In an industry where saving a few cents on a control module provides huge benefits, there is always interest in what a module costs. IHS iSuppli recently pulled apart electronic modules on a Ford Edge to determine the manufacturing costs in its first teardown of a full vehicle.
The research house, which has done these so-called teardowns for products in various consumer and electronics sectors, dissected all the electronic modules in a 2011 Edge. Teardowns list the components of each module and estimate the cost of manufacturing the board.
IHS iSuppli estimated that the total bill of materials and manufacturing costs for the accessory protocol interface module (APIM) that provides Ford’s Sync functionality at $127.30. Though the teardown looked at every module, the company is currently divulging only details on the APIM.
It holds 1,062 components, nearly all of them off-the-shelf, eschewing ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits). By way of comparison, that is roughly the typical component count for a complete Android smartphone. A major difference is that while a phone’s circuit board is densely packed with many passives, the Sync board is sparsely populated because its integrated circuits are getting smaller while the module occupies the same space as in earlier installations.
The sparse design underscores a major difference between automotive circuit boards and those of other industries. It’s often cost-effective for automakers to maintain an existing form factor rather than to constantly shrink boards or move more functionality onto a board when there is extra room.
“Automotive modules usually use extreme modularization,” said Andrew Rassweiler, Senior Principal Analyst for IHS iSuppli’s Teardown Services. “That gives automakers the ability to upsell features. Modularization also makes a sense for repair and maintenance.”
One of the biggest changes in the new Ford APIM is a substantial memory upgrade, with eight times more DRAM (dynamic random access memory) and NAND (not and) flash. Memory is the most prominent cost in the second-generation Sync module. DRAM is the number one cost driver, with four 1 Gbit modules, up from two 256 Mbit modules in the generation earlier. Flash memory is the next most costly technology. It soared from 2 Gbits on the previous version to 2 Gbytes today. Micron Technology supplies the memory chips.
The remainder of the APIM has also undergone a significant transformation. Its processor is a Freescale device based on ARM core Cortex A8 architecture used by many smartphones. Freescale also provides a 16-bit microcontroller and a power management/user interface.
Communications are handled by a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi integrated device that also includes an FM radio receiver. Rassweiler calls it an “edgy” design because it uses a Mitsumi module with a Broadcom controller. That chip was fairly new in smartphones, which have design and life cycles far shorter than those in automotive electronics, at the time.
After the first analysis of a full vehicle’s electronics, Rassweiler noted that there is a commonality in every board that is significantly different than the results seen in teardowns for other industries.
“Reliability is very heightened in automotive products, the specs are much more prickly,” Rassweiler said. “Component suppliers must spend a lot of time going over details like temperature ratings and mean time between failure. Chipmakers need to do a lot of specification screening.”