issue: September 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine
Electronic Controls and Embedded Systems
A Silicon World
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by Lisa Bonnema, Managing Editor
Advanced control technologies are taking appliance designers to a place they've always dreamed of: a world where flexibility, high performance, and low cost are simultaneously possible.
Over the last few years, appliance makers have
been designing more and more electronic controls into their
devices, both at the low- and high-end. As consumers request
more features, OEMs are adding sophisticated technology such
as microcontrollers and software to not only meet demands,
but to differentiate their products from the competition.
And according to Tony Massimini, chief of Technology at Semico
Research Corp. (Phoenix, AZ, U.S.), that trend will only continue.
"Right now our total semiconductor view is on the order
of 18 to 19 percent growth this year," he reports. "The 8-bit
microcontrollers (MCUs) last year were negative. And this
year, the trend is showing that it's going to grow about 9.5
percent on dollar sales, and then next year still delivering
a steady 10-percent growth. So the 8-bit micros tend to be
at a slower growth rate than the overall semiconductor market,
but the point is that they are still a very large, profitable
market and one that is mainly characterized by providing more
for less cost."
Mr. Massimini says that the main drivers of the 8-bit MCU
market are consumer-based applications such as appliances
and automotive. "Everyone talks about the high end of the
marketÑ16-bit and the 32-bit microcontrollersÑbut these 8-bit
[products] really infiltrate so many different areas. Every
time you have a keypad that you're interfacing with, there's
got to be a micro in there somewhere." In fact, Mr. Massimini
reports that in terms of the total MCU market, 8-bit MCUs
make up about 40 percent of dollar sales and 60 percent of
Possibly the main reason for the category's growth, he says,
is cost. "CompaniesÉhave brought the price down so much that
it is very attractive to replace a lot of mechanical and electromechanical
controls that have been out there for many years," Mr. Massimini
Advances in 8-bit MCUs are even stealing from the 4-bit
market, he adds. "There are 4-bit microcontrollers that are
very low cost, but many of these 8-bits are coming down in
price that they challenge the 4-bit products. And these are
found throughout many different consumer productsÑremote controls,
toys, games. The 8-bit is taking business from that."
response to appliance OEMs' demands for high performance,
reliability, and low cost in motor control applications,
Rectifier (IR) of El Segundo, CA, U.S. says it is
focusing on offering state-of-the-art silicon, control
IC, and packaging technologies.
One example is the company's IRAMS10UP60 PlugNDrive,
an advanced Integrated Power Module (IPM) that reportedly
combines the latest refinements in low-loss, high-voltage
IGBT and driver ICs by utilizing advances in packaging
technology. Besides integrating all the high-voltage
power transistors and associated driver electronics
into a single, compact package, the company says the
IPM also incorporates protection features to ensure
fail-safe operation and system reliability. Additionally,
it can reportedly operate from a single +15 V d.c. supply
to further simplify its utilization in motor drive applications,
thereby accelerating the development of the final product.
Applications include 750- to 1.2k-W variable speed motor
drives in room air-conditioners, commercial refrigerators,
and large-capacity washers.
One of the most notable advances of the 8-bit segment is
the use of Flash memory. According to Semico, there is an
upward trend in the use of 8-bit Flash products in comparison
to non-Flash products such as ROM and OTP. The research firm
shows about a 23-percent use in Flash products in 2002, for
example, and it expects that number to reach more than 40
percent by 2007.
"If we're talking about a lot of new and emerging products
and end-use markets, companies have to be very flexible because
the market could change; they're in a state of flux," says
Mr. Massimini. "They like to have a base design, but with
different features, and Flash allows them to make changes
among the product line and keep their circuit design identical,
and they're not stuck with an inventory of microcontrollers
that they can't use because they're pre-programmed."
Tony Keirouz, senior marketing and applications manager
Inc. (Lexington, MA, U.S.) agrees, adding that most manufacturers
want to be able to quickly retrofit to the demands of a specific
country or need, and they are using microcontrollers to obtain
In response, ST is now offering Flash in every new microcontroller
it introduces, according to Mr. Keirouz, although ROM products
are still available. For instance, the company's new ST72F32X
for interface control and the soon-to-be-released ST7MC for
advanced motor control both feature Flash.
In the ST72F32X family, the company even offers a range
of 8k to 60k Flash memory to offer OEMs more flexibility. "That
gives them the advantage if they want to add more features," he
says. "They can use the same subfamily and add these features
or user interface functions without having to change the
Another way appliance producers are achieving flexibility,
he says, is by using at least two microcontrollers in product
designs. "In the past, you used to have one control board
that controlled the user interface and the motor that ran
the washer, for example," he says. "Now they're trying to
separate it so they have one control board for the interface,
and another control board that does everything else - the main
function of the appliance. They want to be flexible and use
common platforms across the board."
Addressing the needs of the portable appliance sector, Motorola
has introduced an 8-bit MCU that features a third-generation
0.25m Flash technology, as well as low power and high performance. "Traditionally
that's been a tradeoff - you either get high performance or
you get high power, and you can't have both," notes Kevin
Kilbane, strategic marketing manager of Motorola's
8/16 Bit Microcontroller Division (Austin, TX, U.S).
The company's new HCS08 family, however, has reportedly
overcome that challenge, offering extended battery life at
a high performance. Ideal applications range from cordless
telephones and digital cameras to security systems and electric
To achieve the extended battery life, Mr. Kilbane says
the company had to develop an optimized process technology. "The
existing process technology in the market today wasn't really
optimized for low power. It was optimized for higher performance.
So we had to make modifications to that process," he explains. "And
then we added new capabilities to our device with these low-power
modes. Together, this allows us to get very, very low current
The product's low-power features include multiple power
management modes, such as a 20-nA power-down mode at 2 V,
and a low-power auto wake-up timer.
Mr. Kilbane adds that Motorola designed the product line
to even serve its customers that aren't concerned with battery
life and only want a very high-performing product at a reasonable
price point. "It's 2.5 times faster than our previous generation
device, so it's a significant jump for our customers," he
According to Mr. Kilbane, the goal is to offer the customer
everything they could want, and products like the HCS08 family
are making that possible by adding features such as an on-chip
debugger that even addresses an OEM's time-to-market issues.
"Engineers today [use] our microcontrollers to produce
products like remote controls or dishwashers, and they're
getting pressure to reduce the time it takes to develop new
versions and get them into the market," says Mr. Kilbane. "We
spent some considerable effort to put capabilities on our
device that allow our customers to developƒ[new products]
much faster than existing solutions in the market. Especially
today, if you can shorten the development time - call it-time-to
money - a customer can generate revenue much faster than before
with fewer resources."