Nieke Roos
7 October

Start-up Delft Semiconductor has designed the power management block for an automotive battery management IC developed by Datang NXP and is working on a current sense amplifier for one of the team’s former employers.

Chip design start-up Delft Semiconductor is finalizing its first projects, with two big customers no less. For Datang NXP Semiconductors, the Chinese-Dutch automotive semiconductor joint venture between Datang Telecom and NXP, it has developed a power management block as part of a battery management IC for electric vehicles. One of its former employers has commissioned the Delft team to design a next-gen current sense amplifier.

Nico van Rijn, Henk de Graaf and Ruud Eschauzier have really taken off with their start-up. Credit: Delft Semiconductor

Datang NXP is a fabless semiconductor company serving the automotive market from its headquarters in Nantong, China – near Shanghai – and offices in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. “They’ve developed a large chip for closely monitoring the status of an electric car battery so that it doesn’t overheat or short,” clarifies Henk de Graaf, one of Delft Semiconductor’s three co-founders. “We’ve designed the power management part that measures battery quality.”

The design work started in March and is now done, as is the layout. “Currently, the design is on its way for tapeout at the fab in China,” says De Graaf. “When the chip comes back, we’ll be involved in the evaluation and characterization. We expect it to be in an actual car on the road by 2021.”

Lasting impression

De Graaf founded Delft Semiconductor last year, together with Ruud Eschauzier and Nico van Rijn. The three have a long history together, having set up three earlier design centers in Delft: for National Semiconductor in 1999, for Maxim in 2007 and for Mellanox in 2015. After Maxim had very unexpectedly decided to close up their very successful shop, they already had the idea to start their own business but they didn’t have the courage to do so until Mellanox pulled the plug on them.

One of their former employers hadn’t forgotten about them, though. As this company’s top best-selling operational amplifiers were all designed by the Delft team, they’d apparently left a lasting impression. And so, shortly after Eschauzier, De Graaf and Van Rijn had kicked off their own business, the former employer came a-knocking. “We’d always kept in touch. Last year, we talked to them again and then, all of a sudden, they came up with new projects for us to do,” recounts De Graaf with pride and joy.

“They wanted us to design a next generation of the successful products we’d developed for them before,” De Graaf details. “The techniques we applied to get those operational amplifiers more precise, we’re now reusing to design more precise current sense amplifiers. This first project is about halfway. We expect to need another three months until tapeout.”

More work

Two additional projects are already in the works. Together with an unnamed scale-up from Eindhoven, Delft Semiconductor has reentered the realm of high-speed optical data communication. De Graaf: “They’re developing the optics, we’re working on the interface electronics. Currently, data centers are the main application area but cars are a promising avenue as well.”

When De Graaf and his two colleagues were with Mellanox, they built up quite some expertise in this area. “We worked on the readout electronics for the laser diode that’s inside an optical interconnect, so the conversion of optical into electrical signals, but also the other way around. It’s nice to revisit this.”

Recently, a Finnish company called on Delft Semiconductor for assistance. “They’ve developed a technology with which they can turn an existing chip design, typically a microprocessor, into an ultra-low-power design,” explains De Graaf. “They’ve asked us to create the analog circuitry that monitors the analog functionality their solution uses, eg for voltage and frequency scaling.”

With more work coming their way, the Delft team is looking to expand. “It’s currently still just the three of us,” concludes De Graaf, “but with all the existing and new projects, we’re definitely going to need more design resources.”