Automotive applications represent some of the harshest operating conditions for electronics. Because automotive electronics are unique, both in how robust its components must be and the consequences of their failure, manufacturers must meet high standards to qualify for automotive use.
SST, a subsidiary of Microchip Technology, recently announced that their widely-used SuperFlash memory platform on UMC’s 55nm technology has met these specifications, earning AEC-Q100 Grade 1 Qualification.
A graphic depicting the SuperFlash concept. Image from SST
As auto manufacturers turn to microcontrollers with embedded flash memory for safety and reliability, SuperFlash’s Q100 Grade 1 qualification expands the reach of a platform already in use across a vast number of consumer goods.
A Brief Look Under the Hood at AEC-Q100 Grade 1 Certification
The Automotive Electronics Council, a collaboration of vehicle manufacturers worldwide, was founded in the early 1990s as circuits became more integral to manufacturing and operation of vehicles. The AEC sets standards for electronics parts suppliers to ensure quality control, covering categories such as integrated circuits, multichip modules, and passive components.
The standards for AEC-Q100, Stress Test Qualification for Integrated Circuits, are exacting. To achieve Grade 1 qualification, platforms must have an ambient operating range of -40°C to +125°C, and must pass electrical test at room temperature and hot and cold extremes. The circuit must pass stress tests for Power Temperature Cycle, Bond Pull After Temperature Cycle, and Early Life Failure Rate. It must also meet physical dimensions standards of Cpk>1.33 and Ppk>1.67, and ESD-CDM must have corner pins equal to 750V minimum and all other pins equal to 500V minimum.
The AEC-Q100 Qualification Test Flow. Image from the Automotive Electronics Council. Click to enlarge.
Typically, Grade 1 components are used in interior applications or away from heat-generating sources in the engine, in applications such as safety and infotainment systems.
In the press release, Mark Reiten, Vice President of SST, noted, “As part of the AEC-Q100 Grade 1 qualification on UMC’s 55 nm platform, SST’s SuperFlash technology completed a very high bar in endurance testing, including 700,000 program/erase cycles and 20 years of data retention.”
SuperFlash Technology in the Driver’s Seat
SST’s SuperFlash is well-suited for automotive applications because of its split-gate cell architecture. Using a much thicker oxide layer around the floating gate, SuperFlash is able to “provide superior performance, data retention, and reliability over conventional stacked gate Flash,” SST claims.
With the architecture providing protection from damage and leakage, SuperFlash's move to automotive-grade applications is, by some measures, unsurprising. The platform, which first began use in 1994, is now embedded in billions of consumer goods.
The automotive space is evolving. Current-gen vehicles have complex sensor systems, live firmware updates, and other advancements that bring now-familiar challenges identified by other applications, such as smart industrial facilities. Memory speed and storage are crucial for supporting this evolution and it is in this field that SST is clearly hoping to gain ground.
With SuperFlash's rapid development across so many sectors already, it will be interesting to see just how far this new automotive application of the platform can go.