Power Moves

Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, Power Systems Design


Handling change in a developing industry

One way to look at change is to see it as the unfolding path we take on our journey to the future version of normal. Every trip brings us encounters we did not plan to meet, challenges we had not anticipated, and barriers we had to overcome. How we take those challenges on is part of how we are defined, an example of our character, insight, and determination. The power electronics is a mature industry challenged by the latest technical developments and how they are being applied to and by society. This challenge is one many industries have, and all industries will, face. Looking back on this year's Applied Power Electronics Conference (APEC) while looking forward to the upcoming Power Conversion and Intelligent Motion (PCIM) event, this industry is handling the challenges pretty well, considering what's going on in other disrupted industries. The big winds blowing at APEC are coming from a few interesting directions, most notably from exotic materials and advanced packaging. The former has had more of the cool buzz, but the latter will have a greater overall impact on the industry. Older packages are too large, inefficient, and often have very poor thermal characteristics. The newest highly-integrated chip packages will impact the performance power systems in every application at every power level. Considering materials, there was quite a buzz at APEC (and will undoubtedly also be at PCIM) around Silicon Carbide semiconductors, as well as Gallium Nitride on both Silicon Carbide and Silicon. This buzz is completely deserved, as they each have merits to offer the industry in performance and efficiency. There were around a dozen companies either talking enthusiastically or demonstrating amazingly about both GaN and SiC, and I would wager about half of them are hoping/expecting to be bought out by bigger players. It is interesting to note that TI has more drivers than devices in this space. The packaging evolution is following the rest of the industry on the convergence trail. Highly-integrated packages addressed device complexity and system integration, while smaller and more efficient packaging tackled the problems with legacy casings like the TO-220. A very good example can be found in the Infineon DrBlade chip-embedded package technology, which integrates the DC/DC driver and MOSFET VR power stage. One day every sub-system will be in its own (possibly standardized) sub-package that will either bond to one another or to some yet-determined substrate/scaffold infrastructure to form a device. APEC 2013 broke records for attendance, and considering the level of change going on in the industry, it would not be surprising to see PCIM do the same. The power electronics industry faces many challenges, from the board to the grid, but we will eventually get the future we seek if we apply ourselves to creating it. Power Systems Design