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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.
portable wrist blood pressure monitor from Omron’s Healthcare
Business Company features the ADXL202E (inset) from ADI.
accelerometer integrates moving
microscopic silicon parts and sophisticated signal conditioning
to produce a complete two-axis sensor on a single monolithic
"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 unit shipments.
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 says.
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, International
Rectifier (IR) of El Segundo, CA, U.S. says it is focusing
on offering state-of-the-art silicon, control IC, and packaging
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.
include 750- to 1.2k-W variable speed motor drives in room
air-conditioners, commercial refrigerators, and large-capacity
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 at STMicroelectronics,
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 such standardization.
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
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 microcontroller."
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
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 toothbrushes.
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 consumption."
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
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 says.
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."
Edition May 2004
Electronic Controls and Embedded Systems
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.
Some manufacturers talk about "thinking outside the box," while
others - like Omron Corp.'s Healthcare Business
Company - actually do it.
MCUs and DSPs: Worlds Apart?
Traditionally, MCUs and DSPs have been perceived as appropriate
control options for entirely different types of applications.