Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America
The over $42 billion global power semiconductor market (according to a recent Research and Markets report) is seeing incremental growth in traditional silicon power semiconductors like rectifiers and diodes, TVS devices, silicon MOSFETS and IGBTs. In the wide bandgap (WBG) segment, silicon carbide (SiC) is relatively small and gallium nitride (GaN) is even smaller by comparison, although both are growing quickly. For example, the GaN power device market is expected to undergo the fastest growth, with a $61 million revenue, and 90.6% YoY increase, projected for 2021.
Much of the incremental growth in traditional power semiconductors is being driven by packaging innovations like new layout techniques to improve power density, reduce parasitic losses and increase thermal conductivity. These innovations are also apparent in the WBG segment.
To see where most of the innovation in power semiconductors is happening, one can simply follow the latest investments in semiconductor research and development; or else find where venture capital is being spent. Although I can call to mind several start-up power-related companies innovating in WBG semiconductors, I’m hard-pressed to find VC dollars being invested in silicon semiconductors. This isn’t to say innovation isn’t happening in this area, just that it’s typically coming from established silicon suppliers.
What I do see, is large amounts of R&D dollars being spent on functional integration of analog and power devices into innovative packaging and modules. This provides compelling solutions for both silicon and WBG power devices combined with drivers. Sometimes it also combines isolation, analog features and functionality and control, mixed-signal solutions, including the digital and analog blocks needed for efficient – and proven – functional, and often configurable, sections of power conversion systems. And sometimes these new solutions even include integrated PFC stages offered in innovative and thermally efficient, space-saving packaging. (Of course, the power module has been around for some time, but adding WBG semiconductors and these higher levels of functional integration is relatively new.)
All this innovation should also increase the overall reliability of the systems into which these new technologies are being incorporated. Also, if the system design and PCB layout are done properly, EMI and RFI will be lowered as loop sizes are reduced. With packages incorporating isolation, the module may have UL or other safety agency approvals on the isolation scheme built in, which also simplifies getting the overall product safety agency approvals.
With recent mergers and acquisitions recently taking an upward turn, we should see more economies of scale in R&D dollars invested into systems that need advanced power semiconductor technologies. At least, in theory, a large organization that can access the interdisciplinary technologies needed for packaging and mixed-signal innovation, will contribute to solutions benefiting the overall system.
This, of course, assumes that the different parts of the organization can bring together the needed solutions, seeing it as an opportunity – and not a threat. As always, when the focus is on serving the customer and advancing technology, everyone wins.