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Automotive Autonomy: A New Opportunity for Thermal Materials


The automotive market is trending towards greater levels of autonomy with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) becoming increasingly adopted to improve the safety of drivers and pedestrians or even just to make driving a more convenient experience. ADAS encompasses a huge variety of functions from automatic emergency braking all the way to fully autonomous driving.

Something that all ADAS features have in common is the need for high-quality sensors and the associated processing of their data. The quantity of sensors per vehicle also increases rapidly with greater levels of autonomy. These sensors and their evolution provide new markets for thermal management materials within the automotive industry. In fact, IDTechEx finds that the yearly market value for thermal interface materials (TIMs) in ADAS will increase 11-fold over the next 10 years.

What’s Changing with ADAS Components?

Cameras and radars are already ubiquitous in vehicles, but greater levels of autonomy will require larger sensor suites with greater capabilities in each sensor. IDTechEx is predicting that there will be more than a 6-fold increase in the yearly demand for automotive sensors including cameras, radars, and LiDARs by 2033. A key factor is integration, to fit more sensors to vehicles in an aesthetically pleasing fashion, the units will require smaller form factors leading to densification of components and hence thermal management challenges.

ADAS sensors are also often used in non-ideal environments for electronics requiring resistance to shock and vibration and, in certain cases, having to withstand heat from a combustion engine. For many sensor locations, active cooling will not be viable and in hot climates the temperatures of sensors could increase significantly whilst the vehicle is stationary.

Another factor to consider is data processing. More sensors and sensors with greater fidelity will generate more data that needs processing by the vehicle. Some parts of this will be done within the sensor units themselves, but a central computer or electronic control unit (ECU) will be required to communicate this information to the relevant vehicle controls. The greater data requirements lead to using more power-dense ICs (integrated circuits) and hence a greater thermal management requirement. We have already seen this with Tesla’s adoption of a liquid cooling circuit for their computer highlighting the heat generated.

What are the Material Trends?
Like any modern electronics component, ADAS sensors and computers require thermal interface materials (TIMs) to help spread heat from the heat generating element to a heat sink or unit enclosure. Cameras, radars, LiDARs, and ECUs all have their own TIM requirements and as their designs evolve, so too do their TIM needs. Whilst the average ECU now may use a fairly typical TIM with 3-4 W/m×K thermal conductivity, the increased processing power required for autonomous functions could see this rise significantly.

Many of the sensors spread throughout the vehicle will be relatively small and low power, hence not necessarily needing a high-performance TIM. However, the rapidly growing market for ADAS features means that the volume demands for TIMs will increase significantly. IDTechEx is forecasting an increase in TIM demand of 3 times in just the next 5 years for ADAS sensors.

Concluding Thoughts
The rapid adoption of ADAS features and autonomy in the automotive market presents great opportunities for thermal management material suppliers with sensor design evolving and a growing market for ADAS components.

Since 1999 IDTechEx has provided independent market research, business intelligence and events on emerging technology to clients in over 80 countries. Our clients use our insights to help make strategic business decisions and grow their organizations. IDTechEx is headquartered in Cambridge, UK with subsidiaries in Japan, Germany and the USA.