KPIT Technologies is a global tech company with software solutions that are helping the automotive world race towards an autonomous, clean, smart and connected future. To understand the role semiconductors play in a modern-day car, FE’s Vikram Chaudhary talked to Anup Sable, CTO, KPIT Technologies.
Where all are semiconductors used inside cars?
Almost all automatic functions of a modern-day car are controlled by microcontrollers (made up of microprocessors and some peripherals, essentially semiconductor devices). Microcontrollers are needed for sending the right amount of fuel to the engine, controlling brakes, controlling the human-machine interface (HMI) display, operating automatic seats, windows, mirrors, and so on. These are at the heart of a modern-day car. An entry-level car might have 15-20 such microcontrollers, and a high-end connected car could have more than 100 such microcontrollers.
Do electric cars require more semiconductors than regular petrol or diesel cars?
The electronic content inside an electric car is much more than what you find in petrol or diesel cars, and that means more chips will be needed. At the same time, there is an attempt in the industry to change the architecture of the vehicle, so that instead of using more chips there could be fewer chips doing more work. In distributed architecture more chips are needed, and moving towards the central architecture could mean slightly lesser usage of chips and more work accomplished.
Do ‘simpler’ machines such as entry-level motorcycles or tractors have semiconductors?
Almost all vehicles that have some or the other automatic function need these devices.
Are these rugged devices?
These are super-rugged devices. Microcontrollers made for cars have to meet automotive-grade specifications, and so these can operate in a large temperature range—from freezing to very hot. Microcontrollers sit on a printed circuit board, and that board also goes immense testing, including vibration testing, and then there are voltage-related tests as well to make sure high voltage surge from the battery doesn’t blow up any connections. Microcontrollers inside a car don’t usually fail.
Do carmakers directly source semiconductor devices from chipmakers?
It’s usually done by the suppliers of carmakers; suppliers such as Bosch and Continental etc source these devices.
Why, in your opinion, is there a semiconductor shortage?
There could be many reasons. It could be that during the pandemic a lot of people were at home and so the usage of personal consumer electronics devices rose, and the semiconductor supply chain got diverted towards these devices instead of cars, or it could be any other reason. My understanding is that June-end will be the peak of this shortage, and things will start getting better after June.
Do such global shortages impact companies such as KPIT Technologies?
No, these don’t impact companies like ours. The reason is that we work on engineering 3-4 years ahead of the production of a vehicle. For example, we are currently working on cars that would be launched in 2023-24 or even 2025. The current semiconductor shortage has hit production vehicles.