In consideration of a hyphen
(an unexpected beginning)
I’m the newly-minted Editor-in-Chief of Power Systems Design’s North America edition and of www.powersystemsdesign.com—our English language website. I hadn’t planned to write an introductory editorial but, rather, expected that I would just launch right in to the technical reporting and technical editing central to my role. This, because it’s the information that Power Systems Design brings to you that is important, not who happens to be sitting in any particular chair; this one no exception.
And, were I to write an introductory piece, I’d have expected that it would be a useful—if high-level—observation, perhaps on our industry overall or, more likely, some noteworthy trend thereof. It certainly wouldn’t have as its motivating theme something so utterly outside of the technological realm as an element of punctuation! For, even though I purchase those little marks in case quantities from a reliable wholesaler, they remain only bits of the writing. In this regard, they are not entirely unlike the sprinkle of passive components on a system board or a pinch of salt in a dish: absolutely critical for proper function but never the function. A kindred spirit though I may be, I am not, after all, Lynne Truss.
So imagine my surprise (if not dismay) when I woke from sound sleep only one day in, to discover that a hyphen (or, more precisely, the lack of a hyphen) in our title’s title raised an ambiguity: Our name is Power Systems Design but are we Power-Systems Design or Power Systems-Design? That is to ask, is our focus the design of power systems or the power aspects of system design? The answer, as it turns out, is “Yes,” and thus we have the rare and unexpected case in which an ambiguity adds meaning and the lack of a punctuation mark adds precision.
Also unexpected, this year’s Design West (nee Embedded Systems Conference) underscored this duality of purpose despite its historic focus on bit banging in contrast to, say, Coulomb counting. For example, at one end of the spectrum, National Instruments, has evolved LabView from its origins as a measurement-automation platform to the basis for a sophisticated circuit-development environment for power-stage design in converter or machine-control applications.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Oxford Digital—nominally providers of audio-signal-processing IP and design services—have embraced the concept of energy-efficient design to such a degree that it influences aspects of their hardware architecture to the gate level. Their energy-efficient design practice doesn’t stop there, however, but informs also their compiler design and application-level GUI as well.
Test-equipment manufacturers such as Rohde & Schwarz, LeCroy, and Tektronix support power-stage designers, among others, with digital oscilloscopes featuring bandwidths of one-, two-, and even four-GHz and a variety of probing, signal-capture, processing, and display options. Not a big surprise when one considers that modern power-converter and motor-control subsystems make measurement demands every bit as stringent as do many signal-processing applications, but do so at tens or even hundreds of volts greater than typical signal amplitudes.
Of course, these are but a handful of the companies with whom I met at Design West. What they typify is the growing trend toward what I might awkwardly call energy awareness, be it in the power-management or functional implementation: It is clear that the energy cost of doing business is an increasingly important performance parameter.