Japanese Parts Paralysis: Renesas Rations Chips For Toyota, Nissan And Honda
Yesterday’s good news from strategically important Japanese automotive chip maker Renesas did not last long. Now for the bad news: Their automotive microcontroller chips will be strictly rationed when they eventually ship. This being Japan, it is said more politely: Renesas is “thinking about the development of voluntary rules for major automakers,” as Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun puts it.
The paper expects a “severe shortage of electronic parts” fort this summer, especially in the area of engine and brake control. The shortage could “eventually spread to other industries as well.” Auto majors Toyota , Nissan and Honda will devise a system to share the limited supply of microcontrollers, says the Yomiuri.
Moving a whole corporation from Windows to Mac sounds trivial compared to switching automotive chip suppliers. “I see too many problems trying to replace these devices,” Matteo Fini, senior analyst at IHS Automotive, told CNET. Engine control units are designed to match the characteristics of a particular power train, Automakers use different programming languages, the computer chips have a different pin-out.
Who owns the designs for these chips? Switching to alternate devices in any timeframe that matters isn't going to happen, but as mentioned previously, switching fabs for the existing devices might be an option. Not trivial either, but as the lights look like they will be out for a while, probably sucks less than the other alternatives...
Changing a chip variant to another (same family) from the same vendor is very time consuming, even when pin-out and instruction set is compatible. You have to re-test everything, and that takes most of the time in developing a car ECU. Changing chip supplier is like creating a completely new ECU, is nightmare: you have to change almost all of your tools, compilers, etc (plus all the costs it involves). So no, changing chip supplier is not going to happen anytime soon. I'm a Software engineer for a mayor automotive ECU supplier, so I think what I'm talking about
I'm not suggesting changing to an alternate part, I'm suggesting making the same part at an alternate fab. I realize that this is not trivial, but it seems like less work than rebuilding Japan's shattered infrastructure. I expect the timeframe would be months, not years. While I don't expect anyone anticipated the disaster in Japan, I'm surprised that nobody considered the possibility of some of these plants being knocked out as part of their regular business continuity planning.