Renesas is undergoing a major transformation in which openness plays a key role. Here, we talked to Ryuji Omura about how this transformation is actually taking place. Mr. Omura is a Renesas executive with a leading role in establishing three "open" strategies based on information, platforms, and ecosystems. Renesas is at its best when set against a background of the convergence of control and IT, something that has come about as society becomes increasingly smarter and comprehensively customer-orientated. In the process, the article reveals a "Renesas reborn".
Deciding to open up information and taking the first step towards becoming open
— I understand that the changes in your business strategy have been on the scale of a complete transformation. Let's start with that background.
Omura:The origin of the transformation was the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Our production site was damaged in the earthquake and we were unable to supply products to our customers. Our customers provided enormous support in our recovery efforts and even went as far as investing their valuable workforce.
After the earthquake experience, Renesas committed to “zero supply interruptions” and we have established and implemented a BCP (Business Continuity Plan). The plan called for open information. We are already providing our customers with production site information that had not been shared in the past, and information on alternate production sites in the case of an emergency. In addition, we are in the process of decentralizing our production site (multi-fab), and have commenced collaboration with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), a world-leading IC foundry.
The TSMC collaboration goes beyond contract manufacturing. It is a fusion of Renesas' world-leading flash microcontroller MONOS technology and TSMC’s world-leading advanced process technology. We can now offer our customers a stable supply and new added value by combining the ecosystems of both companies.
— I have seen reports on the recovery that was achieved with the support of customers. Were there any subsequent influences?
Omura: The earthquake reminded us how important it is for our company to be responsible for supplying important parts for customer products. We also undertook a thorough investigation of this responsibility from the perspective of the customer, resulting in a more customer-focused mentality within the company, and giving birth to a wave of major transformations that completely changed our business strategy.
OPEN (2) The path to becoming a “platform provider”
— How did an increased focus on customers influence your business strategy?
Omura: In the past, Renesas addressed customer needs with individual devices, such as microcontrollers and microprocessors. However, when we became truly customer focused, we realized that what matters to the client is not only superior device performance and support, but also solutions that help achieve a system. We realized that Renesas should be fulfilling the important role of improving the value of solutions.
We reached the conclusion that the way to turn these ideas into actions was to further refine our job as a “product supplier” so that we can provide kit solutions centered around our existing microcontrollers and SoC + analog/power devices, and evolve into a “platform provider” that offers solutions for addressing the needs of our customers.
The business model of providing a platform for customers can be compared to a restaurant. Customers can choose to visit a French restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, or a Japanese restaurant, depending on what they like. At each restaurant, the chef uses cooking ware to prepare a meal based on the selected ingredients and provides hospitality. Our platform is based on the concept of serving customers with a spirit of hospitality [Omotenashi]. In the semiconductor business, the selected ingredients are superior IP core technologies. Superior core technologies are not only the technologies developed by our company, but also external technologies that have been integrated. The kitchen and cooking ware are the semiconductor design base. The chef performs system integration, including LSI integration and software. The French restaurant, Chinese restaurant, and Japanese restaurant that provide outstanding food as a “platform” adapted for customers in the various fields of application are the organizations in our field (figure 2). In addition, building an ecosystem with various partners around the world is important in order to receive outstanding food. This is the new Renesas “transformation into a platform provider.” It is the central role of the 1st Solution Business Unit.
Integrating controls and IT to achieve a smart car
— The transformation into a “ platform provider” is an extremely interesting topic. Let's discuss this in more detail.
Omura: The transformation into a platform provider is also largely driven by the need to respond to an increasingly smart society. The integration of control and IT is advancing in vehicles, manufacturing, and many other fields.
I will use vehicles as an example to explain the integration of control and IT. Microcontrollers and microprocessors play a major role in the basic functions (drive/stop/turning) of most of today's vehicles. A single vehicle is equipped with 50 to 100 microcontrollers or microprocessors. The market is demanding increased performance from microcontrollers and microprocessors to achieve better fuel efficiency and safer driving in vehicles. In addition, the need for safe driving support using cloud (IT) information and real-time image recognition continues to increase. The key to achieving a safe, secure, and comfortable car society is linkages between cloud (IT) information and vehicle control (figure 3). It is easy to imagine a navigation system that pulls traffic information from the cloud, checks the road conditions ahead using a built-in camera, and has an automatic emergency stop that is triggered when there is an accident. The integration of control and IT for smart cars is already well underway.
Renesas is proud to have an overwhelming share of the microcontrollers for vehicle control with more than 40% of the entire world market. Last year, we were successful in mass producing the world's first generation of 40 nm process microcontrollers for vehicle control, ahead of other companies. We are already leading the industry for vehicle microcontrollers with the world's best technology and results.
In cloud (IT) information services, Renesas is leading the industry with our LSI for vehicle information terminals. In March this year, we announced the “R-Car H2” which integrates high performance real-time recognition functions with high-performance navigation functions on one chip.
— Is it true that you are using an Arm® core in the processor for the R-Car?
Omura: Yes, that's right. We are using an Arm-type core in the processor core of the LSI “R-Car” series for the vehicle information terminal. We cannot insist on using only the Renesas core and being self-sufficient if we want to provide customers with the platform that they need.
Deployed big.LITTLE™ computing technology in the early stages throughout the world
—Is use of the Arm core a recent thing?
Omura: No, we have been using Arm core in LSIs for mobile and vehicle information devices and industrial equipment for a while. We have used more than 800 million cores. Renesas boasts greater success at integrating external processor cores compared to other companies. For R-Car H2 LSIs for vehicle information terminals, we have rapidly deployed big.LITTLE™ computing technology throughout the world. Arm advocates this technology, which enables both high performance and low power consumption in chips that integrate four Cortex-A15s and four Cortex-A7s. In addition, from this wealth of experience, we have been able to deliver superior integration that has resulted in achieving the highest performance on the world's smallest chip, even with the same Arm core and the same fine process rules (figure 4).
This is how Renesas has been able to achieve a “strong product” group, from utilization of a vehicle's cloud (IT) information, to real-time recognition and vehicle control that support safe driving, and the technology to achieve these things. And, we are using these as the core to provide platforms to support various elements of the vehicle, according to customer needs.
Integration of control and IT is advancing in the manufacturing industry
—What is happening outside of the automobile industry? For example, how about manufacturing?
Omura: In manufacturing, microcontrollers are controlling equipment that uses a range of sensing information. These individual pieces of equipment information are linked to the factory's overall IT information through a high-speed control network. This sort of integration of control and IT is advancing. Going forward, this will be the deciding factor in the advancement of factory productivity. Renesas is also pursuing platform proposals for the integration of control and IT in the manufacturing industry (figure 5).
— This means that factories are becoming smarter, just like the smart car.
Omura: Yes, that's right. Renesas will deliver solutions that provide the key to being smart in the manufacturing industry as well. We have the RL78 microcontroller for motor control with lower power consumption, the RX microcontroller for high-speed, real-time motor control, and in June we announced the RZ/A Series that is equipped with large storage capacity RAM and provides an advanced human machine interface. This was the first step towards the Arm core high-end processor RZ Family that will contribute to the advancement of human machine interfaces for production equipment.
While a variety of communication standards were used in FA (factory automation) in the past, we have pursued the use of Ethernet, which is widely used in information processing, for FA. Unlike the field of information processing, production equipment requires a high degree of real-time and immediate response, and high reliability. For this reason, industrial Ethernet for manufacturing is spreading at an accelerated pace. Renesas provides the R-IN, an industrial Ethernet communication LSI that offers high-speed real-time response at 5 to 10 times the speed of previous products by using a built in hardware accelerator. The consumed power has been reduced significantly and we have achieved secure communication control with low response fluctuations (processing time variations). In addition, we are supporting customers in conjunction with international associations for industrial Ethernet standards and the various protocol associations (figure 6).
Ecosystem: Increasing the value for customers by building an ecosystem with partners
—You are increasing the convenience for customers by adding the power of an ecosystem to the Renesas platform
Omura: Renesas aims to support “customer system development and optimization for a safe and secure smart society that is human and environment-friendly, and in which everything is linked.” Renesas can provide solutions, together with our various partners, to customers that are confronting the challenge of new systems for a smart society by incorporating the integration of IT with traditional control. For example, in addition to Arm, we are already partnering with Analog Devices, Inc., a company that has powerful analog technology, to provide customers with solutions that combine the powerful devices of both companies for a range of applications. We are also actively pursuing partnerships for LSI development with a range of partners, such as an IP vendor and an EDA vendor, based on the common design base resulting from collaboration with TSMC, the world leading foundry manufacturer, which was announced last year.
Renesas provides customers developing motor control systems with a platform of support tools for motor control design and starter kits. We also provide customer-focused solutions from our ecosystem partners. These links between Renesas and our partners help us resolve various customer concerns and contribute to reducing customer system development time. We believe this is the real value that Renesas can provide going forward.
Thorough customer-oriented investigation can translate into the world-class “ spirit of hospitality [Omotenashi] ” or “doing our best to please our customers” for which Japan is globally known. By opening up information, platforms, and ecosystems, and keeping a spirit of hospitality [Omotenashi] in our hearts, we will accomplish a transformation with our partners. You can look forward to what is to come.
—This concludes our discussion of a transformation that can be considered a major milestone in the history of Renesas. We wish the company much success.