University of Bremen: ITEM develops know-how protection

Electronics are no longer developed and produced in one country and in one place, but in many stages around the globe. Who knows whether everything is going well, whether the quality is flawless and no hidden functions are built into the software and hardware? End customers and users expect exactly that: trustworthy electronic products. In order to be able to provide these in Germany, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding scientific projects to research and develop new methods for the design and manufacture of such components with the flagship initiative “Trustworthy Electronics”.

Chip functions distributed over several components
“The aim of VE-REWAL is to research methods and technologies for the implementation of platform solutions for trustworthy, multi-layered electronic systems. We rely on a new type of system partitioning and a new system packaging, ”explains Professor Steffen Paul, head of ITEM. The functions of individual chips are distributed over several simpler components – so-called chiplets. These are only put back together for the end product.

“To put it simply: We split up the electronic product for production and only assemble the individual parts at the end,” explains the electrical / microelectronic technician. “The advantage is that it obscures both the functionality and the intellectual property from third parties. The signal processing functions are distributed across different chips in such a way that individual chips are worthless to attackers. In this way, the entire system can be protected and different suppliers can be used at the same time. “

In the package, the signal processing chips are then combined with high-frequency circuits, manufactured using the mm-wave SiGe high-frequency technology from Infineon, and antennas. For this purpose, technologies of chip first or RDL 1st fan-out wafer-level packaging are examined for their suitability for high-frequency circuits and new process steps are developed.

New guidelines and concepts
In addition, new guidelines for electronic design as well as new concepts for integration and communication are being developed in the project. “The functionality of our developments should be demonstrated on a state-of-the-art radar system for the automotive industry,” explains Steffen Paul. “For example, we also rely on additional encryption of the communication between the chiplets to prevent data manipulation.” Comprehensive test methods are being developed for the overall concept. They are used both in the manufacturing process and in the operation of the system to detect any manipulation.

The modular approach also creates the basis for the emergence of a market for chiplet providers, such as small and medium-sized companies with special know-how. The use of open standards for communication between the chiplets and the use of open processor architectures create the basis for the broad use of the methods developed.

Close cooperation between business and science
Under the direction of ITEM, there is close cooperation between industrial and academic research partners in the research projects. Infineon Technologies AG and Fraunhofer IZM are working on improving wafer level packaging for the integration of high-frequency components that are being developed by the Ruhr University in Bochum. Fraunhofer FHR develops the radar signal processing, the partitioning and implementation of which on chips is carried out by the University of Bremen. PHYSEC GmbH advises on cryptographic security of communication. Viconnis Test Technologie GmbH provides new test methods. Conti Temic microelectronic GmbH and the Technical University of Ingolstadt are developing test and analysis concepts for the package.

The VE-REWAL project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the “Trustworthy Electronics” flagship initiative with around six million euros and will run until April 2024.

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