Driving GaN technology into automotive designs

June 07, 2018 //By Nick Flaherty
Driving GaN technology into automotive designs
The announcement of a deal with ROHM at this years PCIM exhibition put a lot of focus on US startup GaN System. Nick Flaherty talks to CEO Jim Witham.

The second source deal with ROHM, a leading automotive supplier, is a key step for the company which was founded in 2008 by serial entrepreneurs Girvan Patterson and John Roberts who retired in 2016,

“We’ve been at it for years and now the automotive customers are tackling us, not the other way around,” said Jim Witham, CEO. “Literally every company in the automotive space has GaN designs in the works right now – the weight and volume are really critical, to get longer range or use less batteries and GaN is more efficient than silicon or silicon carbide (SiC).”

Witham joined GaN Systems from Neoconix, a manufacturer of high density, miniature connectors after it was bought by Unimicron Technology. Prior to Neoconix, Witham was CEO of Fultec Semiconductor, where his team made circuit protection devices using high voltage silicon, silicon carbide and gallium nitride (GaN) transistors until it was acquired by circuit protection market leader Bourns.

He points to financial backing from BMW last year as a clear indicator of the demand. “They have voted not only with their engineering to use our devices for an onboard charger that’s a third the size and weight of a traditional silicon one but they have also voted with their investment dollars,” he said. “Another is Hella, the German tier one supplier, which have an onboard charger that’s one fifth the size of their previous versions.”

The on-board chargers are the starting point, and the same engineering teams also develop the traction systems.  “I can’t think of any case where the engineering team that do the traction and converter systems don’t do the charger,” he said. “The three most common applications are on-board chragers, dc-dc converter and traction inverter and that’s where most people are using the GaN devices, absolutely. If you can’t charge your car it won’t run so it’s a critical function.

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