How ADAS and EVs Drive Semiconductor-To-Automotive Supply Chain Innovation

Test strategy a differentiating opportunity in the shifting automotive ecosystem.


As EV and ADAS become the focus for the automotive industry, the supply chain is going through a transformation. The industry is keenly reminded of recent semiconductor shortages as well as the growing semiconductor content requirements per vehicle.  This prompts the entire supply chain including traditional semiconductor suppliers, Tier-1s, and automotive OEMs to rethink their strategies not just from a supply assurance perspective, but also from long-term product differentiation perspectives (as differentiation at semiconductor and software becomes more and more important).

EV and ADAS demand more ICs

The good news for semiconductor suppliers is that EV and ADAS demand more semiconductor content per vehicle, and in more diversity. For internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, the consumption of analog ICs, sensors, and various micro controllers has been prevalent for decades. But with EV and ADAS, new kinds of semiconductors are now in demand and in rapidly-increasing complexity. In ADAS, the basic driver-assistance is giving way to exponentially more sophisticated high level autonomous driving (such as AD Level 4 and beyond). The entire backbone of the system is now a suite of high-end purpose-built logic ICs and the associated software stack – in the form of a platform. On this front, cutting-edge semiconductor process nodes are in increasing demand for AI-enabled cockpits.

On the EV front, power train represents another area of growing semiconductor demand. On an EV power train, the task of delivering the power from battery stack to the main electric motor falls on power semiconductors (which effectively converts the battery’s DC voltage to AC voltage needed by the electric motor). In the early years, the main type of power semiconductors used were silicon insulated gate bipolar transistors (silicon IGBTs). However, the industry is now turning its attention towards wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, particularly SiC (silicon carbide) and GaN (gallium nitride) due to their significantly higher performance. The demand for SiC MOSFETs in particular is growing particularly rapidly to support the EV demand.

The supply chain shifts

For automotive OEMs, the need for supply security/assurance, as well as increasing strategic importance of semiconductors are prompting the rethink of the supply chain. Because of this, certain strategic shifts are starting to take place:

  • Semiconductor players are now directly supplying automotive OEMs which has led to them shifting their product strategy to offer more integrated automotive solutions (from just selling off-the-shelf ICs)
  • OEMs are starting to build some degree of semiconductor capabilities, including some IC design capabilities (similar to fabless semiconductor players) or taking on design IP at the module level
  • Tier-1s are re-evaluating and expanding their semiconductor role by either building on their existing core capabilities or building new capabilities at either IC or at module level

Test perspective and the need for common approaches

Due to the supply chain shifts mentioned above, some semiconductor testing will be done by new players who may not have previous experience. Hence, having a standardized test approach and method becomes more important in this shifting landscape. Various consortiums and standards bodies play an integral role here to help the entire automotive-semiconductor ecosystem move forward with universally accepted approaches and methods of test.

One important organization to highlight is ECPE (European Center for Power Electronics). ECPE has various working groups and one example of influential material it publishes is known as AQG324 “Automotive Qualification Guideline” where it describes common procedures for characterization, environmental and lifetime testing of power electronics (and power semiconductors). The working group (comprised of ECPE members and industry representatives) routinely updates the document with new findings and recommendations, and for the forementioned SiC MOSFETs, AQG324 provides invaluable guidance for environmental and lifetime test. Even while the AQG324 is not an “enforced” standard but rather a guideline, it is commonly accepted and followed. Additionally, it is not uncommon to see other countries also using it as a reference.

For test vendors, offering test systems that closely follows or implements AQG324 (or other standards) are obviously helpful. It helps to ensure that test customers (regardless of whether they are OEMs, Tier-1, or semiconductor vendor) can have a standard approach and implementation of important test capabilities.

Semiconductor test challenges for vehicle electrification: Complexity vs. reduced timelines

The surge in demand for automotive semiconductors presents significant test challenges. As mentioned above, these new and complex systems require more complex testing as well. While increased demand pushes semiconductor manufacturers to develop more complex and integrated devices that can handle multiple functions in a single package, doing so makes it more difficult to test these devices. To further complicate matters, the automotive industry faces more stringent safety and reliability requirements than ever before. For example, power electronics devices used in EVs require robust testing to ensure that they can withstand high voltages and currents over long periods of time. In addition, these devices must be able to handle temperature extremes, as automotive applications often expose them to extreme heat and cold.

Despite the substantial design complexity increase and stringent safety requirements car manufacturers face, market windows continue to shorten. In the race to be first-to-market, only those who are able to move quickly can capitalize on the huge market opportunity for chips. Unsurprisingly, the need for high-volume production of automotive semiconductors is also driving the development of new testing technologies. Traditional testing methods can be time-consuming and expensive, making them unsuitable for high-volume production environments.

The bottom line: Test strategy will define who wins in this space

As technology advances, engineering organizations become responsible for more complex product development with less time and fewer resources. Because of this continuing trend across transportation, only teams that proactively address the inefficiencies in their workflows will be effective in tackling technological innovation in the future. To succeed in this rapidly evolving market, semiconductor manufacturers must develop new test strategies that can ensure the reliability and safety of these critical components. They must also invest in new testing technologies to improve throughput while reducing costs. Thinking about test as a differentiating opportunity will set winners in this space apart.

Automotive players who can create a test strategy that allows them to quickly adapt to evolving requirements and scale effectively will be poised to win in the race to market. Taking the steps to elevate tools, people, and processes is the most reliable way to do so. Partnering with a leading test expert is the only surefire way of achieving this goal in a time-effective way. Be it with top-performing, specialized hardware or automotive-focused software solutions, NI can help you build a comprehensive, future-proof test strategy. As the electrification of vehicles continues driving innovation and growth in the semiconductor industry, the future looks bright for those who can keep up with the pace of change.

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