BCD - The Most Interesting Process Technology You Haven't Heard Of

As a product marketing manager at ARM, I often have a unique and early vantage point to trends that are shaping the semiconductor market. One of the most interesting trends is the emergence of specialized process technologies especially the Bipolar CMOS DMOS (BCD) process technology, which is typically used to make products where high power or voltage ideally needs to be controlled by a digital controller BCD technology incorporates analog components (Bipolar), digital components (CMOS) and high-voltage transistors (DMOS) on the same die, and hence the name. By integrating three distinct types of components on a single die, this technology helps to reduce the number of components in the bill of materials (BoM). Fewer chip components in the BOM further reduces the area required on the board, thus driving down costs. The integration also helps reduce the parasitic losses than would typically be seen in a non-integrated solution.

BCD process technology has been around since the mid-eighties [1], but it was a niche technology that was offered by mostly by integrated design manufacturers (IDMs), which offered specialty process technologies as a differentiator. Since then, there has been phenomenal interest and growth in BCD technology, and I will attempt to provide perspective using the favorite staple of economists supply & demand.

  On the supply side the foundries started investing in and developing the BCD process technology in the last few years. From the foundries' perspective:

  • Being modular, BCD technology helps the foundries to develop this specialized process technology as modules on top of the baseline "generic" technology allows re-use of most of the equipment.
  • BCD technology is manufactured on 200mm wafers which allow foundries to keep their almost fully depreciated 200mm lines humming along.

This re-use helps the foundries to add significant value using existing equipment while reducing the investment needed, which extends the life and usefulness of the fabs, and ultimately reduces the cost for end customers. The investment by the foundries in BCD process has helped advance the roadmap rather aggressively with multiple technology nodes now available starting from 250nm to the state-of-the-art 130nm. Taking into account die-size, power density needs and wafer costs, customers have the option of targeting any of the multiple technology nodes to manufacture their SoCs. Generally though, 180nm BCD technology is a sweet spot for Power Management IC (PMICs) targeting the smartphone market, whereas PMICs for use in more complex electronic devices like tablets and mobile computing seem more suitable for 130nm.

  On the demand side, several fast-growing, large consumer markets have emerged fueling the growth of BCD process, while more traditional markets for BCD technology have continued to evolve.

  The primary driver of BCD technology growth has been the rise of smartphones and tablets in the last three years: The number of smartphones, tablets and mobile computing devices is exponentially increasing with more than a billion smartphones and hundreds of millions of tablets/mobile computing devices expected to be sold by 2015. Each of these devices has multiple functions inside it competing for power: the application processor, baseband processor, the large displays, etc. Every single one of them requires one or more PMIC chips to manage the power with minimal losses to ensure long battery life.

  The other evolving application highly suitable for BCD technology is motor-control, which is used in HDD to turn the spindles as well as in automobiles for mirror positioning, seat adjustment, etc. High-density BCD technology can be used along with a modern 32-bit microcontroller like the ARM Cortex™-M series to implement sophisticated motor-control SoCs that can run advanced algorithms to help motors deliver the same or greater output, but consume less power.

  To help take advantage of this technology, ARM has been working with our foundry partners to enable our mutual customers with IP enablement on BCD process technology. ARM has worked with TSMC and GLOBALFOUNDRIES to develop the physical IP platforms on a wide variety of technologies: TSMC 250BCD, TSMC 180 BCD2, GLOBALFOUNDRIES 130BCDLite and GLOBALFOUNDRIES 180BCDLite_IC. We are also working with our foundry partners to enable this technology on several other nodes. If there is something specific you are looking for, feel free to contact us and let us know.

  ARM offers the complete digital blocks that a customer may need on this platform, including logic libraries and memory compilers. ARM has made enhancements to the logic IP so that it can be used in a mixed-signal design environment. Some of this IP is already released on DesignStart while the rest will be released through 2012. I am fascinated by BCD process technology because to me it epitomizes the relentless innovation that drives the semiconductor industry on the application, design and process technology fronts. This technology has exploded on the scene driven by a market that did not exist 3 years ago. System designers love it since it reduces power losses, cost and board space; silicon partners love it because it helps them build better, more innovative products; and foundries love it because it helps them keep their 200mm fabs humming on near fully depreciated machines.

Now, isn't that fascinating?

[1] "Roadmap Differentiation and Emerging Trends in BCD Technology" Claudio Contiero, Antonio Andreini & Paola Galbiati