BCD technology: the Italian revolution in the world of electronics

When it comes to industries and technology, in the common imagination one immediately thinks of the famous industrial area of ​​the USA, or Silicon Valley. On the contrary, one of the most important inventions in the history of the sector has been attributed to an Italian laboratory of St-Microelectronics located in Agrate Brianza. It is a technology developed in 1984, called BCD (Bipolar-CMOS-DMOS), which in 2021 received the prestigious "Milestone" award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the largest community world science. St-Microelectronics, now with 46,000 employees worldwide, was then known as SGS Microelectronics and had assembled a multidisciplinary team to develop that project.

BCD technology: an Italian success story

Surely the team members at the time could not have imagined that they were going to change the world with their invention. Undoubtedly they had a lot of passion for the activity they were carrying out, a lot of interest and a great desire to do.

The designers' goal was to give an electrical power of hundreds of Watts under the control of a digital logic that could scale Moore 's law . On top of that, the devices would have to support precise analog functions while minimizing power consumption and eliminating the use of heatsinks.

The team thus created a new technology based on integrated silicon gates. BCD technology makes it possible to integrate diodes, linear bipolar devices, complex CMOS logic and multiple DMOS power functions with complex interconnections on a single chip.

What is BCD technology?

BCD technology combines the strengths of three different technologies on a single chip : bipolar technology for precise analog functions, CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) technology for digital design and DMOS (Double Diffused Metal Oxide Semiconductor) for elements power and high voltage.
In this way, BCD technology allows you to install three different components on a single piece of silicon to manage power levels, digital and analog signals. The whole electronic system can be thought of as a single component to acquire information from the outside, process it and give an output for further operations.

Cross-section of a chip in BCD technology. Credits: IEEE Xplore

One technology for a wide range of applications

BCD technology has become extremely popular with over 40 billion chips sold worldwide for applications ranging from automotive (engine control, airbag, abs, electric battery charging), to smartphones, to computing (printers, discs rigid, loudspeakers) to the medical field.

BCD technology has enabled the possibility of integrating all the functions of an electronic system into a single chip . The ability to acquire information from the outside world, to process it by reasoning like a brain, and finally to perform an action. BCD technology has resulted in smaller dimensions, more energy efficient systems and certainly more reliable systems; without these three things most likely the rise and spread of electronics would not have had the same rhythms.

A smartphone has at least a dozen BCD chips inside.

Today we are all surrounded by this technology . Just think of the smartphone we have in our pocket, there are at least a dozen BCDs in it. It requires the power of a 90's computer and powering everything effectively from a simple battery, efficiently managing the processor, memory, camera, and so on was a major challenge. All this was possible thanks to BCD technology.

Specifically, there are two types of BCDs , one with a high density and another with a high voltage. In the first case, more complex and diversified functions can be integrated in the same chip, guaranteeing high quality and reliability in all applications. The high voltage BCDs allow the coexistence in the same chip of low voltage control circuits and high voltage DMOS phases with values ​​up to 800V. BCD technology represents an Italian pride and will surely leave a mark in the present, in the past and in the times to come.

The article BCD Technology: the Italian revolution in the world of electronics was written on: Tech CuE | Close-up Engineering .