24 March 2022
With strong growth in hybrid and electric vehicle production expected in the coming years, and the increasing need to extend their range, new power semiconductors are emerging. These include, in particular, SiC and GaN: silicon carbide and gallium nitride. These components require proficiency in new assembly technologies that are even more effective than those previously in use.
In this context, and in parallel with the R&D work of the automotive sector, a French manufacturing consortium composed of three electronic subcontractors (LACROIX, ACTIA and ALL Circuits) has decided to pool its skills. Coordinated by We Network, their objective is to meet market expectations within three years through the PoweR Electronic Manufacturing Services (PREMS) project.
Not all current electronic components meet the constraints of electric vehicle engines. The new SiC and GaN components are the only ones to achieve this to date. However, their performance levels are such that they have a significant impact on the entire electronic production chain, challenging the know-how previously acquired in terms of assembly.
This new generation of components supports a much higher operating temperature of up to 200°C, compared to 125°C for current components. Their range of use is therefore extended, requiring the development and industrialisation of new processes capable of offering all the qualities of electrical and thermal connections as well as resistance levels never previously attained in mechanical fasteners.
Consequently, the methods used until now to connect components onto printed circuit boards or busbars need to be even more effective. Firstly, they must have lower resistance to current flow while also complying with new insulation and thermal transfer constraints to ensure high efficiency of cooling systems and optimal operation. The materials currently used for crimping or screwing, for example, are therefore no longer suited to the needs of these new components.
At LACROIX, our expertise is also based on the quality of the support we offer our customers. Our expertise in Design For Manufacturing (DFM) allows us to guarantee a perfect match between their design choices and our current and future industrial assembly processes.
The European power electronics market for the automotive sector is forecast to be around €10 billion by 2030. The French assembly services sector is set to reach several billion euros by 2030, and hundreds of millions by as soon as 2025, not counting potential outlets in other sectors.
The performance of the new SiC and GaN components is such that, with the same operating power, product volumes are divided by five. Product weights follow at least the same ratio, as does the sizing of cooling systems, which in some cases are no longer even necessary.
These technological advances meet the fundamental challenges of electric vehicles, as well as those of flying machines such as drones or new-generation aircraft. The same applies to land-travel and seafaring equipment.
The benefits in terms of environmental and conservation challenges are considerable, since these advances offer significant impacts on:
Reduction in the use of materials, with unprecedented operating yields (due in particular to the five-fold reduction in product volumes at equal power); and
Lower levels of heat loss, thanks to fewer temperature increases, and at negligible levels compared to current systems.
These innovations will enable us to improve our industrial performance. This will also have an impact on our ‘traditional’ processes and will certainly open up new prospects for less powerful electronics systems. This PREMS project will be accompanied by an upskilling of our technicians and engineers. This is an additional asset for the future of our company and industry in France.
The challenge is twofold: to successfully industrialise these new assembly processes as early as possible and deliver design guides to automotive manufacturers and equipment makers. At the same time, it is necessary to meet applicable standards in terms of industrial production quality and the operating reliability of assembled products. This is a major challenge for our customers and their applications.
The launch of a French electronics consortium, We Network, with such a high level of cooperation and expertise among each of its members is a first in the sector. The three partners began by jointly undertaking a state-of-the-art review of their various assembly methods (alloys used, means of attachment, etc.) before addressing the other phases of the project.
We Network is a valuable ally in this project, coordinating steering committees between manufacturers. In addition, it provides us with a technical platform in Angers which allows us to avoid confidentiality issues by working together in a neutral space. We’re installing all our equipment and machines in this common space, facilitating our cooperation and simplifying the project.
With a budget of €2.25 million divided between the project partners, PREMS benefits from the support of the Power Electronics programme, coordinated by the PFA (Plateforme Automobile, bringing together the French automotive sector), and from funding from France Relance. Coordination and steering of the project are entrusted to the We Network Technical Centre, which has been leading cooperation projects in the electronic assembly sector in France since 2016.
Producing power electronics on an industrial scale entails a new field of competence. The PREMS project enables its members to forge strong relationships with automotive manufacturers and equipment producers facing similar technical challenges.
This is an initiative which is setting future standards in the field of power electronics. At the electronics sector level, the three partners are working on process innovation to achieve new objectives specific to the assembly of components and products related to power electronics.
We are working on the three fundamental connections in electronic assemblies, namely electrical, thermal and mechanical connections. And we are developing assembly processes such as sintering, which have never been used for electronic assemblies before.
Our work also involves mastering other techniques using lasers and composite materials made from new formulations based on compounds with high electrical and thermal conductivity, such as the very promising Graphene
Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) are no longer a business of execution but one of collaboration and process innovation. This in-depth transformation of the electronics sector represents a genuine challenge.
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