Interview: ROHM Focuses on SiC Plus for Automotive and Industrial Markets


Roland R. Ackermann at Bodo's Power Systems

Bodo´s Power Systems recently interviewed Christian André, Heiko Metzger, Dr. Andreas Bauknecht, and Aly Mashaly, the management of ROHM Europe and ROHM Semiconductor GmbH in Willich about actual and future economic and technological plans and developments of the company, especially in Europe.

 

 

Gentlemen, how is ROHM's business going at the moment? In which industries are your business results satisfactory, where is there a backlog? Where do you see significant opportunities for future expansion in technology and sales?

Christian André: Revenue for the last fiscal year ended up with a growth rate of 13% and 397.1 Billion Japanese Yen (BJPY). Automotive and Industrial are the main contributors with a share of respectively 14% and 22%. The revenues in these segments come from in-vehicle infotainment, powertrain, and body electronics as well as factory automation and home appliance.

Further opportunities will come from ADAS, energy, and infrastructure as the demand for semiconductors in these areas will grow.

 

We are particularly interested in your focus market segments automotive and industrial. What share of the consolidated turnover of the company as a whole do these have, and what does the European organization contribute? What is the global distribution of sales in the other areas?

In our last fiscal term, which ended in March 2018, Automotive and Industrial sectors realized 43% of the turnover of ROHM Group. Our guidance for this new fiscal year is to achieve 48% of our total revenue in these areas. In March 2012 we target to generate 50% of our sales in Automotive and Industrial segments. The European Region will have a larger contribution to the growing revenue in the upcoming years. The company target is for 50% of our revenue to come from overseas customers. Currently, 62% is gained from Japanese customers while overseas represents 38%.

 

How do you see your position in the competitive environment of the industrial market? What do you focus on, where have you already been particularly innovative (can you give examples?), and where do you want to go in the future? What measures have you taken?

Heiko Metzger: ROHM’s vertical integration and the large products portfolio from passive, optoelectronics, small, middle and high power discrete devices and IC’s, power management, gate driver, and wireless make us unique, we are a one stop shop company for our industrial customers. We particularly focus on the factory automation, energy management fields such as BEMS, HEMS, and infrastructure. Our market share is still modest with 12% of our consolidated revenue but we are steadily growing. We target 15% of sales by March 2021 with 13% CAGR. Last year, to assist and secure time to market for our customers’ projects, we established a Powerlab with several test benches in Europe with TÜV’s approval. We are able to support our customers at their system level for several applications.

 

What further plans do you have to achieve these goals?

On top of our lineup of analog power devices, including system power management ICs, we will enhance our product offering of complex motor drivers for motor control applications which require sensors, wireless communication, and CPUs. We will notably increase the efficiency of our power management IC in response to the market needs in high efficiency and high accuracy. For example, "Nano Energy" is a DC/DC converter that achieves the lowest current consumption in the industry, making it ideal for compact battery-driven devices that deliver an unprecedented current consumption of just 180nA (nano→10-9) making possible to increase the battery drive time by 1.4 time over conventional products contributing to longer battery life.

Our SiC devices get great traction thanks to their superior characteristics—on-resistance, faster switching speeds, and higher temperature operation—all allowing a compact system design. Additional advantages include high voltage and high-temperature operation making SiC a preferable solution in the field of auxiliary power supplies, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), auxiliary traction power supplies and drives and other applications like medical, welding equipment, white-goods, and fast-growing, off-board EV charging.

 

What share do automotive sales have in your considerations, which are of eminent importance for the European and especially also for the German economy? Where do you see your main focus here (power semiconductors)? In which direction does the further development in this sector go? How, for example, does the trend to 48V systems influence your work and your developments?

Dr. Andreas Bauknecht: Automotive sales have the largest share of our development plan, currently representing 32% of our revenue. We target 35% by March 2021 with 11% CAGR. In the large scope of application, our major focus globally but also in Europe is the Infotainment where we have transferred our experience from the consumer market to develop products for clusters for instance LCD drivers, timing controller, ADAS for which our strategic cooperation on system power management with SoC manufacturers are key to introduce our know-how and technology to the next generation of the Cars, Body electronics where we are successful with Led drivers and developing products in the communication IC.

We also offer a discrete IC based solution with a complete power tree with high performing DC-DC "Nano Pulse Control" enabling low voltage 2.5V output from 60V at 2MHz for the 48V mild hybrids market. Powertrain has an important place in our growth plan where EUROPE could play an important role in the EV market, the application that our SiC gets traction is DC-DC, inverter, e. compressor and OBC. SiC diodes are mainly used in OBC, but the technology is recognized and adopted in several new applications including DC-DC, e. compressors, and inverters. We are expanding our successful IGBT lineup to be boosted by the tight market supply in automotive and industrial applications.

 

Where do your shares, your solutions, and your development goals lie in the rapidly growing ADAS sector? 

Our growth expectation for the ADAS field is very high with 20% CAGR by 2021. Our developments are on low-power power management ICs for cameras, radar, and high-precision signal processing ICs for sonar. It is necessary to achieve utmost safety at the semiconductor level. ROHM recently received certification for the development process under the ISO 26262 functional safety standard for automotive products.

 

ROHM is known for its large vertical range of manufacturing; almost all products are manufactured in their own factories. What is the philosophy behind this?

Christian André: Our company philosophy was created by our founder, it is written in the Mission Statement of the company which has not changed since its establishment:

Quality is our top priority at all times. Our objective is to contribute to the advancement and progress of our culture through a consistent supply, under all circumstances, of high-quality products in large volumes to the global market.

It speaks for itself. It is about quality, our ability to supply our customers globally and under the rapid change of the market.

 

What further plans do you have for the industrial market to achieve these goals? 

Heiko Metzger: In addition, ROHM establishes ROHM Product System “RPS”. By improving the production efficiency through RPS activities through capital investment to build smart lines. We believe that these activities are important for the automotive and industrial markets to keep high-quality level, stable supply, and long-term supply which is one of the key requirement of the industrial market.

 

Where do you want to go in the future (regarding the industrial sector)?

We are expanding our power solution with Digital Power IC, IGBT line up and IPM.

We will continuously develop new SiC trench MOSFET, Fully qualified 6-inch SiC wafers for diodes, development of new 4th generation fo SiC MOSFET technology, and the development of SiC MOSFET for high voltages such as 3.3kV, new 650V, and 1200V IGBT generations. In addition, the product line with more efficient packages for 650V and 1200V will be extended.

 

In power electronics, the possibilities of silicon are mature and almost exhausted. The alternatives are wide band gap (WBG) semiconductors, where you are known to be one of the pioneers (examples SiC diodes and SiC MOSFETs). What other forward-looking activities are you pursuing in this sector? And where do you see your next goals in this area? Also with GaN? What part does the European organization play in this?

Aly Mashaly: Since ROHM mass-produced SiC MOSFETs for the first time in the world in 2010, the company has led the market for SiC power devices. SiC has conquered diverse markets, such as photovoltaic power generation and xEV. Its demand will expand drastically with the accelerating trend of energy saving. ROHM continues to invest in the wafer production capacity at SiCrystal in Germany and will build a new facility at ROHM Appollo in Japan. The total invests will be about 60 billion yen in 2025. We will increase the current share of 20% to 30% in 2025, and aim for the world's top position by further expanding production capacity.

For GaN devices, we believe that application benefits can be obtained in the high-frequency range. ROHM already started development and we will propose each application separately for each power device.

With the newly established European “Power Lab”, ROHM demonstrates the deployment of its global strategy on the power semiconductor’s market in Europe which is one of the very potential regions for power devices. The Power Lab is located at the European Headquarter facilities at the Willich-Münchheide location near Dusseldorf. The project took several months and ended with the TÜV’s approval in 2017. The 300m² lab’s purpose is the analysis of power components and systems to provide the customers with the best support at the application level. To that end, the test lab is equipped with several test benches with a separate high voltage area.

 

In your opinion, will SiC MOSFETs play an important role in electromobility and replace conventional solutions such as IGBTs?

The demand of PHEV and EV chargers is growing and the number of companies that stated to adopt SiC devices is growing with it. On the other hand, we also believe that the adoption of SiC MOSFETs will rapidly increase to applications such as in-vehicle inverters in the future. SiC enables to increase the efficiency of inverters while reducing the battery size.

Although the SiC market is still small compared to the whole IGBT applications, we see a gradual replacement from IGBT to SiC progressing.

 

In this context, what contribution do you make to improve the ecological and environmental aspects? 

Christian André: Shifting to EV is proceeding with worldwide environmental regulations.

In October 2016, ROHM started sponsoring and officially partnering with the Venturi Formula E team. We provide our SiC devices to their development team. In season four, we provided Full SiC power modules for their inverter. These embedded modules make it 43% smaller and 6 kg lighter than the inverter for season two. We believe that our quality and good performance is becoming famous as a leading company of SiC.

In addition, as progressing electrification due to the expansion of EV and ADAS, the need for energy saving at device level increases as well as the power consumption of the automobiles itself. We will contribute to energy-saving with the world's best analog power devices such as ultra-low dark current or highly efficient power supply IC as well as state-of-the-art devices such as SiC.

 

What other trends do you expect in power electronics in general, both in terms of technology and applications?

Aly Mashaly: Power electronics are indispensable to increase the sales ratio of the automotive and industrial fields. From the technical point of view, ROHM is going to develop new devices of both existing Si devices and SiC devices, which is expected to accelerate adoption. In modules, we focus on especially intelligent power modules (IPM) combined with SiC and LSI and differentiate.

In addition, in applications, we expect that adoption will also increase demand for servers, as data centers grows, as well as power conditioners and xEVs.

 

Beyond the large vertical range of manufacture, you distinguish yourself through your image as a broadliner who offers everything from a single source. Is this philosophy recognized and appreciated by the market, is it being pursued and expanded?

Christian André: ROHM supplies a one-stop product proposal with a wide range of line-ups from resistors to discrete products, LSIs, and modules. In order to solve the problems of society and customers, we believe that our strength is that we can propose solutions that make use of the comprehensive strength of the ROHM Group, including LAPIS Semiconductor and Kionix. We will continue to propose suitable solutions for various applications in the future.

 

Are you involved in development projects by your existing and potential customers already at an early stage? Does it happen that as a Japanese company of German and European companies, for fear of Japanese competition (especially in the automotive sector, for example), you sometimes find it harder than your competitors?

We have established long-term cooperation with several Tier One and European OEMS. We are regularly awarded for our performance in product’s quality and being a reliable supplier. We do produce in Germany Nurnberg our latest innovative power technology which is valued by our customers in Europe.

 

On the other hand, Japanese technology is highly valued in this country for its innovative power, reliability, and quality. What specific strengths does ROHM offer as a Japanese company in cooperation with the European market? Where are the typical differences and distinguishing features of your company?

Our strong differentiation is our vertical and integrated company structure. This structure increases our product's quality, which is appreciated by our customers and delivery performance is better than the market average. In addition, we are continuing to invest in increasing our production capacity in both front-end and backend to keep a stable supply and satisfy the increasing global customer’s demands for semiconductors devices and passives.

 

What are your plans for the current year?

Our guidance for this fiscal year is 420BJPY which is +9% growth versus last FY where our power solution plan is +37% and our analog solution is expected to growth by 11%. We will start the construction of a new building for the production of SiC devices.

Source: Bodo's Power Systems, June 2018