The steady electrification of the vehicle and rapid emergence of biofuels are driving new product-development activities across the automotive-electronics sector. For analog and mixed-signal application-specific integrated circuit supplier ZMD, exhibiting at Convergence 2008, these trends have made sensor technologies a major growth area, said Frank Cooper, President of ZMD America, the North American arm of the Dresden, Germany-based company.
Cooper said the industry’s demand for hybrids and EVs, battery-management systems, electronic throttles and piezo-resistive technologies, ultrasonic oil-level detection, and proximity sensing are driving development of better-performing, more cost-effective sensor solutions.
“Flex-fuel powertrains are an area of our development focus,” said Cooper. “There is an emerging need to have very quick, real-time capability to sense water content levels in ethanol-blend fuels,” he said, particularly given the broad bandwidth of fuel products (from E10 to E85) in the marketplace. “We’ve got some things under way in this area that we’re very optimistic about.”
Sensor signal conditioning is one of ZMD’s sensor-IC core competencies. Examples from the company’s portfolio are the Advanced Differential Sensor Signal Conditioners. Designed for pressure measurements, these CMOS devices process signals from most resistive-bridge sensors available on the market, ZMD claims. Applications are wide ranging and include engine fuel rail, turbocharger wastegate, exhaust gas recirculation, and HVAC, to cite a few examples.
At a reception during Convergence, ZMD executives also revealed battery-management technologies that Cooper indicated will enter production with an automotive OEM next year.
OEMs have been marching in various directions regarding the proliferation of electronic control units (ECUs) in the vehicle. Toyota, for example, has stated its goal to reduce the number of ECUs per vehicle to five or fewer, while the number of ECUs in some high-end European luxury cars continues to grow. The industry’s general inconsistency presents challenges to semiconductor and sensor suppliers, Cooper noted.
ZMD is developing metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET)-based fusing solutions for the new electrical/electronic architectures. Cooper said these “FET switches” can be programmed for individual subsystems (LED lighting, for example) and will be capable of significantly reducing the fuse proliferation per vehicle, which will in turn help reduce the mass of the wiring harness.
ZMD’s Opto Sensors product line includes CMOS imagers finding many applications in driver-assistance systems including blind-spot recognition, lane recognition, and parking aids, as well as replacement solutions for rearview and outside mirrors.