Hot off the manifold - WEBENCH® Automotive Design Tools

The exhibit at Florida’s Fort Myer’s airport, when I landed there last week, consisted of classic automobiles produced by Henry Ford. The antique Ford cars from almost a century ago were on display on the airport concourse. The cars looked majestic and classic, especially the iconic black Model-T. That shiny Model-T, with a life-size cutout of Henry Ford alongside, is a marvel of mechanical engineering genius. But that century old car did not have one thing we take for granted now—electronics.

In contrast to a century ago, cars today are chockfull of semiconductors. Billions of transistors on hundreds of integrated circuits are busy humming along to make vehicles of today very sophisticated pieces of engineering.

We often overlook the enormous amount of semiconductor content in a car, even when it is right in front of us:

  • Numerous microcontrollers making millions of floating point calculations to keep the vehicle running.
  • Sensors embedded all over the vehicle collecting and processing complex information.
  • Motor drivers are controlling motors in the car, which may number in dozens.
  • Radio-frequency chips are receiving and sensing signals to keep us connected, positioned and safe.
  • Audio electronics play our favorite songs and video keeps our kids riveted in the back seat.

As well, these sophisticated systems need to be powered at precision voltage and current levels. Our car is now less of a car, and more of a sophisticated network of electronics. There are, I read somewhere, about 10 billion transistors in a typical car today.

As the automobile industry is making strides, designers of automobile systems are faced with additional challenges. The automobile systems are complex and they need to be designed to exacting standards of safety and reliability.   Semiconductors in automobiles are subject to a very harsh operating environment, but are expected to perform at enhanced levels of reliability. Selecting automotive grade electronics from the millions of electronic components available today is not a trivial task.

At Texas Instruments, my job is to try to simplify the design process for all the engineers out there.  I think we have done a pretty good job with WEBENCH® so far, helping engineers to quickly get a 12V input to 3.3V output buck power supply out the door, to designing a complex multiple-rail FPGA system supply, for example.  But what we had not done yet was focus on designing WEBENCH tools just for automotive.  So I’ve devoted the last 14 months of work to enhancing our WEBENCH design tools for automotive applications. New today is “WEBENCH Automotive Designer,” that I think will help you rapidly design and prototype these systems. You get access to the same powerful suite of tools that WEBENCH has offered for commercial applications, but now you can focus on automotive electronics.  It’s easy as always (if it is not, please let me know!):

  • Visit www.ti.com/webenchautomotive and start from the WEBENCH Automotive Panel
  • Enter your criteria, such as 9V to 18 V input, 3.3 V output at 2 A of output current
  • Check the automotive box
  • Optimize for cost, size and efficiency
  • Select from a range of analysis

For you visual folks, I make my acting debut in a video here that shows you the process step-by-step. 

I’d like to think that portions of the next car I purchase might be designed using TI’s WEBENCH tools. I’d be pretty proud of that.  If you do incorporate WEBENCH in your next design, please share your experience here.  I enjoyed focusing in on automotive, and hope that you find it useful.

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