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Thomas Wischnack of Porsche Engineering is currently designing the high-power charging infrastructure that will go inside the next generation of automobiles. Thomas was a keynote speaker at AltiumLive 2017 in Munich, Germany. I met with him to learn more about Porsche’s hardware and circuit development and what Porsche does to continually bring new designers into the fold.
Barry Matties: Thomas, before we discuss the keynote you delivered here at AltiumLive 2017, please give our readers a little on your background.
Wischnack: Since 1993, I’ve dealt with electronics development, hardware and software development, which at that time meant 8-bit microcontrollers—everybody did it. During those years, speed has gone up, so frequencies are higher. Systems are getting more complicated. I started by developing multimedia systems and high-end audio systems, and now, it's high-power charging infrastructure.
Matties: How many years now have you been at Porsche Engineering?
Wischnack: Fifteen years.
Matties: Automobiles are arguably one of the harshest environment for boards to function in, correct?
Wischnack: That's true. The automotive environment is hard. Especially if you're dealing with these infotainment systems, because they are mounted in the dashboard and just 50 centimeters away is the antenna, which is giving the RF signal to the ECU unit and for a clean radio reception, there needs to be a very, very clean design not to disturb your cell phone. And this is very hard stuff.
Matties: And more and more with all the wireless technology onboard…
Wischnack: The wireless technology is not the big issue because normally you get a quite clean spectrum from this and frequencies are not disturbing each other. The bigger problem is if you have these high-speed systems, display systems, they give you this EMC fog, which is very broadband, and you cannot control it, and this gives a bad interference. Nowadays we have the new modulation technologies, DAD, and so on, so if you just have one peak from one system it doesn't hurt you. It just gets filtered out, but on the analog side it's very bad.
Matties: Now when you look at automobiles today, they're just rolling computers. The amount of electronics they contain is incredible.
Wischnack: Yeah, I think you can say it's a computing center with four wheels.
Matties: And our phone is no longer a phone.
Wischnack: Right, that's the same. And people always try to get more comfort electronics, everything they're used to having at home they try to have in the car. I remember very well when the iPod came along. Everybody wanted to have it in the car and needed a special iPod connector. And now, no one's talking anymore about this iPod connector, but in cars they're still present. So maybe sometimes it's good to think: What is the valuable part? Is it the iPod or the car in the end?
Matties: When you're designing for the automobile industry, what's your greatest challenge?
Wischnack: I think it’s the automobile industry itself because it's sometimes blocked by non-dynamic processes; everything must be approved and validated and so on, and the creativity is missing. If you want to do something the right way, sometimes you must leave the processes and go a little bit next off the beaten path. And to convince people just to leave the beaten path and do something that's not very common. That's a very challenging thing. It's not the technological side, that is straightforward, but getting things done is sometimes very hard.
Matties: In terms of the actual manufacturing onboard electronics that you had some references to, more fabricators and expectations and what you would look for, why don’t you just share some of your thoughts about that?
Wischnack: That’s a very interesting thing. Many of the things that developers do, they are required by these fabricators because they have done it the last 20 years, and there are only a few fabricators that really moved forward and accepted to get new technologies and get rid of old stuff they have done all along. You carefully must choose. So if you have a fabricator who says, “No, you can’t do this because I cannot do it. I cannot fabricate it,” you need a different fabricator. This morning we had a good session by Lee Ritchey and there was this question about the 15%. His answer was, “You need a different supplier. It’s the wrong supplier for you.” And that’s true. Give up your old suppliers if they don’t follow. If you’re faster than your supplier, you need a different supplier.
Matties: The other issue that we see in the design community is an aging population, and there aren’t a lot of young people moving into the design community. How does Porsche address that issue and attract young people to the industry?
Wischnack: We have a lot of trainees and a lot of students. We have a good relationship with many universities to get the students into our company. We try to get them very early so that they get familiar with the way we are working, so we can do some basic education. Not just teaching all the formulas and all this stuff at university, but also getting to, “What is real life? What can I do with all the stuff they teach me at the university?” And after they have been a trainee in our company, very often they get their final grade with some things they do in our company, and at the end they get employed. So many of my colleagues have been trainees around my laboratory, and meanwhile I know six or eight people just come from my department, who are now employees in the company. And there are many others who started as trainees. Getting young people in the company is the most beneficial thing you can do.
To read the rest of this interview, which appeared in the April 2018 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here or download the PDF of this issue here.