SiC muscles Rohm into auto biz – An article written by Junko Yoshida for EETimes

Rohm, a Japanese component maker whose business could be harmed by the steady decline in market share among the leaders of Japan’s consumer electronics industry — namely, Sony, Panasonic and Sharp — has good reason to sweat its own prospects.

“We worry our business, too, could start declining,” Katsumi Azuma, Rohm’s director of discrete & module production, told us during a recent interview with EE Times, held at the company’s headquarters in Kyoto. After all, it’s not just Rohm who might suffer. A ripple effect threatens suppliers of chips, parts and components, who have grown by riding the coattails of Japan’s once-dominant consumer system companies in segments like home entertainment, mobile devices and white goods. Rohm, however, is pursuing a clear growth strategy independent of this trend, said Azuma. The company has identified “power device, sensor network, optical device and synergy with LSI products [Lapis Semiconductor is Rohm’s subsidiary]” as the company’s “four growth engines.” Azuma explained that Rohm’s strengths in analog and power devices — combined with a focus on the automotive and in industrial markets — are making it more resilient in a rapidly changing global environment, compared with other Japanese semiconductor companies. Indeed, Akira Minamikawa, director of Semiconductor Value Chain at IHS Markit, told EE Times that discrete businesses — optoelectronics and power semiconductors in particular — are areas where Japan still remains globally competitive. Of the four growth engines, Rohm expects power devices to generate the biggest revenue — as much as 59.9 billion yen ($597 million) — in the current fiscal year ending March, 2017.

Tesla design win

Rohm produces a range of power devices, including MOSFET (metal-oxide semiconductor field effect transistors), IGBT (insulated gate bipolar transistors), FRD (fast recovery diodes) and SBD (schottky barrier diodes). But where Rohm differentiates itself from rivals is with silicon carbide (SiC) power devices, according to Azuma. Rohm says it is leading in the development of SiC power devices and modules for improved power savings. Applications range from high efficiency inverters in DC/AC converters for solar/wind power supplies and electric/hybrid vehicles to power inverters for industrial equipment and air conditioners. By investing early in the development and mass production of SiC devices, Azuma explained, Rohm has been able to stake a claim that appeals to many car OEMs — whose hearts are set on SiC technology. A case in point is Rohm’s SiC schottky barrier diode designed for EV power chargers. Bolstered by a big Tesla design win, Rohm today holds the lion’s share in SiC schottky barrier diodes for EV chargers — as much as 80 percent, according to the company….

“We’ve been successful in attracting interest in our power devices directly from car OEMs, largely because of the promise of our SiC technology,” said Azuma.
The auto industry’s high expectations for SiC power devices is premised on dramatic reductions in size and weight in various drive systems in hybrids, electric and fuel-cell vehicles.
“The capability to reduce losses and improve the form factor makes SiC a promising technology to defeat Silicon-base devices in power electronics,” Pierric Gueguen, Business Unit Manager at Yole Développement, told EE Times…. Full article on EETimes