When EBV Elektronik presented its EBVchips concept around four years ago, it encountered some scepticism: can a distributor define components that the market needs, as well as taking the wishes and sensitivities of its customers and suppliers into account, in such a way that everyone profits? According to the company, its experience since then has showed this model to be a success.
Distributors marketing their own brands is nothing new, but to offer their own semiconductors like EBV is doing with its EBVchips programme is unique. It sees the company offering its own components with EBV engineers undertaking product definition jointly with customers and suppliers.
“We use more of an ASSP model than a classic ASIC development,” explains Dr Eckart Voskamp, who heads up EBVchips. “Naturally, if just one customer needs a component they can make good use of the classic ASIC development order. But EBV prefers to rely on bundling the shared requirements of numerous customers and jointly defining new components. Contrary to the name of the programme, this is yielding not only chips but also modules, including software and development kits.”
A graduate engineer of electrotechnology and computer science, Voskamp brings extensive professional experience to chip design. He began as a doctoral candidate and ASIC design engineer at Bosch in Reutlingen, Germany, then worked as an IC design engineer at both Texas Instruments and Infineon, before moving to the startup Brecis in the USA, followed by ZMD, Chipidea, Staccato and On-Ramp Wireless.
In February 2012 he returned to Germany as director of the EMEA RF segment at NXP Semiconductors, followed by a move to EBV towards the end of 2013. With over 20 years of professional experience, Voskamp can negotiate on equal terms with the semiconductor companies that undertake the actual chip development and production, and knowledgeably assess the product ideas of his field application engineers.
In seventh heaven
In the four and a half years since its launch the EBVchips programme has already yielded seven components. Dr. Voskamp defines the strategic objectives for further projects: “We must bring new products into the market quickly and be able to earn stable sales and profits,” he explains.
As an engineer and manager he knows the technical and economic fundamentals. “As a rule we will work with well engineered semiconductor technologies and build on existing IP, which keeps NRE costs within limits. As a distributor, EBV can also evaluate the market opportunities extremely well and therefore the risks remain manageable.
“Even if a product finds hardly any buyers, EBV does not take it out of the range; this was the case with a chip for solar inverters. Although the market here has completely collapsed, we are continuing to offer the component. We just aren’t advertising it actively anymore.”
EBV holds the exclusive sales rights to EBVchips; nevertheless manufacturers can also list these products in their catalogues with corresponding part numbers. “We have worked hard with our semiconductor suppliers to implement this new business model,” Voskamp reveals. “In the end, however, we achieve a win-win-win-situation, which means that not only EBV but also our customers and suppliers profit.”
As in some cases manufacturers are supplying their A-list customers with EBVchips via EBV, the distributor hereby gains access to companies which would otherwise only work directly with the semiconductor manufacturer. This also boosts the chance that customers procure not only the EBVchips from EBV but also other components from the BOM list.
Since EBV itself only covers EMEA, the Avnet subsidiary cooperates with other Avnet group companies in the Asian and American regions. “We’re just back from a hands-on workshop in Asia,” reports Voskamp. At the workshop, potential customers and Avnet FAEs together learned everything about the EBVchips products, so they can actively offer them. Control over the product and pricing remain with EBV: “We don’t want to get into a price war, we want to keep reasonable margins,” he explains.
When it comes to naming its products the distributor has now settled on a common theme. “We use the names of Greek and Roman gods – there are no trademark problems and there are plenty of names for the next five to 10 years.” Components which were already known by other names have been renamed by EBV: `SolexDrive’ became Minerva and `vTARIC’ is now Epona. Hermes and Titan bore their divine names right from the start.
The Roman goddess Minerva was the patron of workmen and trade as well as of poets and teachers. She was the goddess of wisdom, of tactical warfare, of art and shipbuilding and the guardian of knowledge. Epona is the Roman goddess of horses and cavalry.
Greek mythology featured giants in human form: the Titans are an entire race of gods with many representatives. In this mythology, Hermes, the messenger of the gods, is the protector of travellers, tradesmen and shepherds, as well as the god of art dealers, orators and gymnasts.
The Epona chip is a configurable piece of hardware for all kinds of automotive alternator. The programmable system-in-package (ASIC + MCU) supplied by STMicroelectronics for the control of 12 V and 24 V alternators supports various communication protocols and offers interfaces such as RVC, PWM, C-Term, Bit-Serial and LIN 2.1.
A special feature of this component is its flexibility, explains Dr. Voskamp, with its control loop, control of load behaviour, battery charging, fault diagnosis and the topology of the field coil. EBV delivers complete development tools including comprehensive software, GUI applications and development boards. The component is already available in sample batches of 1000 and will soon enter volume production.
“For training we have built our own testbed, on which an electric motor powers the alternator,” he reveals. “There is a quasi-identical testbed setup in Asia too, where we supply automobile manufacturers through our Avnet partners. The only difference is the alternator used, which comes from a local supplier.” With this testbed the EBV specialists in the Poing, Germany headquarters can replicate the identical situation any time if there are questions from Asia.
Hermes is a high-performance M-Bus slave transceiver optimised for low energy consumption for networked meter readings. Supplied by ON Semiconductor, the chip complies with EN 13757-2 and EN 1434-3 standards, communicates at up to 38 400 baud and powers six M-Bus loads.
Thanks to optimised low-power modes the component can also connect to wireless modules. The flexible system indicates power failures and can draw power from the bus or an external current supply. EBV is already mass producing this chip, which has become its most successful.
Minerva was developed jointly with Freescale Semiconductor and is an AEC-Q certified IC for the control of MOSFET pairs with versatile control options and optimised latency time. Four programmable sequencers including RAM are responsible for gate control, diagnosis and protection against external faults. Charge pump and pre-driver stages complement the range of functions.
Integration density, programmability and extensive diagnostic functions make Minerva the perfect solution for solenoids and automotive engine injection systems. With this, EBV delivers not only the component but a complete evaluation kit, as per a standard product.
Based on automotive quality standards, EBV and Sensata have developed a family of high-performance pressure sensors for industrial use with 4 – 20 mA output, named Titan. The ceramic sensor technology is sealed in Delphi Metri-pack connectors and terminals of galvanised steel.
The sensor module is suitable for pressure ranges of 0 to 46 bar and for various pressure media (gas, liquid). It is competitively priced and fulfils the precision and reliability requirements of industrial applications and is designed, amongst others, for HVAC applications.
Titan also demonstrates how EBV continues projects that might be regarded as completed. “We are currently working on a second variant with reverse-pinning, which is compatible with competitive products,” reports Voskamp. Demand for this came directly from EBV’s customers – just like completely new products.
At home with IP500
Together with its partners in the IP500 alliance, EBV is also working on a series of products for building management. The Poing-based company is handling worldwide sales and support for IP500 modules with a new EBVchip product bearing the divine name of Vesta.
Behind the IP500 network is a proprietary protocol stack so efficient that it can securely connect smoke detectors with other appliances like emergency window controls, exit doors, thermostats and smart meters. “With our investments in Vesta we are building on another milestone in the EBVchips programme,” declares Voskamp. “The module together with its software stack should receive VDS certification by the end of 2014. In mid-September we will be training thirty selected EBV FAEs and RF specialists on the new development kit for Vesta.”
Other EBVchips projects are in the product definition phase for applications in smart metering, wireless communication or hardware-software co-design. In addition there are ideas for subsequent roadmap products with existing EBVchips, for example in the automotive sector.
To keep on top of these projects the Poing-based company has installed planning software where customers and suppliers can login directly on the EBVchips microsite (www.ebv.com/chips). The software also provides the interfaces necessary for linking the planning programmes of the semiconductor manufacturers and EBV’s customers.
Voskamp discloses that anything that is not provided in this tool, is regarded as not made. This way he succeeds in keeping up with the project demand and also in bringing interesting products to market in the future.