IBM’s new chip process enables wireless and power management on same IC
By now it’s well established that power management is a common thread in almost all emerging applications that rely on electronics: Either the applications are mobile and thus the finite battery power budget is a limiting factor, or else the application is set up permanently but in an area far from ac mains electricity, and the application must survive on harvested energy or battery power.
However, power management circuitry doesn’t exist in a vacuum: The device is usually interacting with its environment, taking input from sensors and outputting control signals to lights or energy monitoring, and communicating with a network. In an effort to streamline both circuit size and component count in the application, IBM’s foundry service is introducing a high-voltage, mixed-signal process, CMOS-7HV, that allows the combination of power management and wireless power on the same chip.
One example of the importance of wireless-enabled power management chips is in Smart Buildings, where sensor-enabled control of lighting systems can save a sizable amount of building energy. Each light needs both power management, for example, to perform ac-dc or dc-dc current-regulated power management for LED luminaires, and in addition must process information such as occupancy detectors and ambient light sensors, communicating the information back to the building’s control network. Shrinking the power and wireless comms functions into the same chip saves space and, potentially cost, both vital in retrofit lighting.
Another application example is electric and hybrid vehicles, where wireless/power management chips could cut up to 30% off the weight of the car’s wiring harnesses, important in gasoline efficient cars.
Some of the capabilities of the CMOS-7HV process are: 180nm lithography; triple-gate oxide, high voltage CMOS technology including high-voltage FETS from 20 to 50V extendable to 120V; shallow-trench isolation; 150K circuit/mm2; and RF features, including precision poly, diffusion and well resistors, vertical natural capacitors for high voltage use (MIM capacitors), varactors, HV Schottky barrier diode, and low-current inductors
IBM is rolling out the new chip-making process to manufacturers in the consumer electronics, industrial, automotive, digital media and alternative-energy segments. The company’s semiconductor plant in Burlington, VT will be the primary manufacturing location for the new technology.