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issue: April 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

The Open Door
Greater Chip Integration Drives Down System Costs

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by Scott Anderson, senior vice president and general manager, Transportation & Standard Products Group, Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector

Semiconductor chips that combine microcontroller (MCU) and digital signal processor (DSP) capability, along with flash memory and other peripherals, are rapidly driving advanced features and functions into appliances.

These devices are helping appliance producers and electronic module suppliers meet relentless goals to reduce system costs, reduce component counts, and simplify assembly while delivering new features and greater functionality to consumers.

These DSP/MCU "hybrid" chips bring to life the "smart appliance" that has been touted in recent years. Some of the developments they enable are more efficient cooling systems, more computational ability to better clean clothes, and entirely new connection capabilities for connecting to the Internet and to networks within the home.

Once considered separate and distinct technologies, MCUs were valued for managing anticipated events such as turning switches on and off and other control functions, while DSPs were crucial for fast number crunching and executing in real-time computationally intensive digital processing algorithms.

Now, 16-bit DSP/MCU hybrid devices, for example, can enable electronically controlled motor systems to run advanced algorithms, allowing systems designers to build in precision and better energy efficiency and reliability. These devices incorporate a number of features suited to motor-based system requirements, such as integrated flash memory, advanced pulse width modulation optimized for motor control, and integrated, mixed-signal peripherals such as analog-to-digital converters and on-board voltage regulation.

In Asia, these electronic control devices are crucial to meeting the unique needs for home air-conditioning systems. Multi-unit dwellings require individual cooling systems for relatively small rooms, but older wiring cannot stand up to the on/off cycling of individual systems. Use of digital signal processing techniques can avoid these cycles by speeding up or slowing down the compressor, rather than turning it on or off. This allows for a continuously variable output to set the exchange rate in a room. The 16-bit DSP/MCU hybrids are designed to be able to handle these variability and peak performance issues in a compact form factor that can help save system costs over other methods. For manufacturers, it means they offer higher energy-efficiency ratings with smaller motors and compressors.

High-end washing machines no longer need mechanical transmissions because a lower-cost alternating current induction or reluctance motor controlled by a sophisticated DSP/MCU hybrid chip can provide the normal machine cycles. These electronically controlled motors enable new features such as high-speed water extraction, out-of-balance correction, and gentle agitation cycles. Wash cycles can be reduced and spin cycle speeds increased, both of which save energy and alleviate stress to fabrics. More efficient agitation cycles mean less time is needed to wash clothes, so less water is used. This means less detergent is needed, and clothing is subjected to less stress. The hybrid DSP/MCUs can incorporate various control functions in a single integrated chip, which can reduce overall costs for providing those functions.

One of the most exciting areas of appliance development is network connectivity. Being able to perform appliance diagnostics and upgrades remotely via the Internet represents potential costs savings and new revenue streams for manufacturers. While intense interest has been building over wireless networking technologies for the home, it's not likely that the cost parameters of WiFi (wireless fidelity) will soon match the economies of appliances. There is the possibility of using existing power lines, which all appliances plug into anyway, for connections to home networks and the Internet. Sophisticated DSP/MCU chips are at the heart of power line modems, ensuring adherence to required data rates while also maximizing resistance to noise and interference to the signal.

DSP/MCU chips with integrated, on-chip flash memory help manufacturers realize shorter development cycles, as well as enable the stocking and use of a single type of chip that can be repurposed for multiple models. The ability to store and change program code during the development cycle, at the end of the production line, or even in the field has become a reality rather than mere possibility. Field diagnostics and upgrades can be made by service representatives or through the appliance's built-in network connectivity. These represent a potential new revenue stream for appliance makers; instead of waiting out the typical 10- to 15-year cycle, appliance OEMs can utilize the sophisticated programming capabilities of DSP/MCU hybrids to provide new features and functions without having to swap out components.

About The Author

Scott Anderson is senior vice president and general manager of Motorola, Inc.'s Transportation & Standard Products Group. He joined Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector in 1978 as a microprocessor product engineer and has since served in various vice president and management positions.


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