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DC power systems and units have evolved over the years to become highly reliable, efficient, and compact products. There is a growing demand for a wide range of high-voltage DC power to monitor and control units, as well as ultra-low voltage for remote, battery-operated devices, thus enhancing development at both ends of the energy scale. The future for system designers, engineers, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is being shaped by emerging applications, new power architectures, advanced materials, and energy-efficiency methods for DC power systems.
The DC-DC converters market continues its expansion, with an extensive range of emerging and sustainable applications in various industries: consumer electronics, IT and telecommunications, energy and power, infrastructure, and automotive. Contemporary data centers demand efficiency and high performance. DC-DC converters offer different voltage and power levels to GPUs, CPUs, SoCs, and ASICs used in diverse applications such as servers, data, and storage. Moreover, since the product is highly reliable and lightweight, it is also compatible with defense and aerospace industry requirements. In the consumer segment, new electronic gadgets and different electronic instruments drive the demand for DC-DC converters every day.
To meet market demands, DC power technology continuously improves the power conversion process. This article will trace the emerging trends and improvements in DC power technologies and how they import radical changes in different applications. The focus here is to provide the reader a way to reference, understand, and explore the DC power technology segment.
Trends Influencing the DC Power Market
Commercial considerations like higher energy efficiency, power density, ruggedness, and improved lifetime for end applications are paramount for DC Power technology. DC converters operate within required parameters, such as typical input voltage range, output voltage range, and maximum output current needed for a particular application. Technology advancements enable consumers to witness the ongoing struggle to reduce size, weight, power, and cost while simultaneously increasing efficiency, configurability, and optimization. Manufacturers and designers solve each limiting factor in parallel: reducing switch losses, improving package thermal performance, adopting innovative topologies and circuits and new semiconductor devices, and embracing greater passive integration. The DC power industry is currently going through a few significant transitions:
Evolving Power Architectures: Power architectures continue to evolve beyond the classic distributed power model, adapting to system makers' need for multiple voltage rails at lower voltages. Underlying these trends are new packaging designs with increased integration. Smaller packages mean more thermal issues, and companies are looking at ways to improve efficiency while managing heat dissipation. This has led to the development of a "Dynamic Bus Architecture (DBA)," which consists of board-mounted DC-DC converters or point-of-load (POL) regulators that communicate with a centralized power system host control via a digital communications bus (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Example of a Distributed Power Architecture
DC/DC converters serve as POL voltage regulators and provide the required step-down voltage to power various loads like microprocessors, FPGAs, DSPs, memories, logic, and other devices found on board. For example, Diodes Incorporated has introduced the AP62600, a synchronous DC-DC buck converter for general-purpose point-of-load conversion. The AP62600 converter IC can deliver up to 6A output with a supply voltage between 4.5V and 18V. It has a wide 0.6V to 7V output voltage range, and is designed with high side and low side MOSFETs with 36mΩ and 14mΩ resistance, respectively.
Increasing Efficiency through Advanced Materials: The quest for higher performance leads designers to look beyond silicon to other materials. Advanced materials, such as Silicon-carbide (SiC) and Gallium-Nitride (GaN), are slowly becoming more cost-effective in applications with high temperature and high power requirements (SiC), or high-performance Information and Communication Technology applications (GaN).
Wide Band Gap (WBG) of SiC and GaN offers lower on-resistance, higher breakdown voltage, superior reverse recovery characteristics, and higher switching frequencies. Higher switching frequencies allow for smaller capacitors, inductors, and transformers, with size, weight, and cost savings. There are electrical benefits, too, with up to 10% improvement in DC-DC conversion efficiency. For example, ON Semiconductor's SiC MOSFET NTBG015N065SC1 is based upon wide bandgap material that provides superior switching performance and improved thermals when compared to Silicon.
Power Management ICs (PMICs): A single PMIC can manage multiple external power sources, supply power to multiple loads, and shield against unsupported overvoltage and under-voltage conditions, over-currents, and thermal faults. PMICs are incredibly compact, cover reduced space, are superbly efficient, and consume minimal power. A PMIC solution significantly reduces both component count and overall solution size, reducing design time and cost. Power Management ICs are configurable and can be programmed. They are operated via firmware to work in diverse applications, eliminating the need for costly hardware circuitry changes. Qorvo, a provider of RF solutions, has introduced compact PMIC power management ICs that blend power management and power loss protection (PLP). The ACT85610 PMIC is an integrated, highly-configurable multiple output power management unit with fitted Power Loss Protection (PLP). The ACT85610 includes four high-efficiency Bucks that can supply 3x 4A and 1x 2A current, with the output as low as 0.6V. A Boost regulator with 12V output and a fixed output Buck is in place to provide power for the IC and supply power to the gate drivers in regulators.
New Package Concepts: While advancements in silicon technologies push the envelope of key performance parameters, new package concepts offering groundbreaking benefits are seldom seen. A source down technology has proven to offer more significant benefit on this issue. According to Infineon, in the Source-Down concept, the silicon die is placed inverted inside the MOSFET package. The source potential is attached to the lead frame instead of the drain potential. This new Source-Down footprint imports several benefits: improved RDS(on), optimized thermal management capabilities, and parallel operation. In addition, the OptiMOS Power MOSFET introduced by Infineon comes in an enhanced PQFN package in parallel optimized Source-Down Center-Gate and Source-Down versions. IQE006NE2LM5, IQE006NE2LM5CG, IQE013N04LM6CG, and IQE013N04LM6 are a few examples from Infineon's OptiMOS portfolio. All these are low-voltage power MOSFET and included in the PQFN 3.3x3.3 Source-Down package.
System Power Protection: System power protection ICs avert field failures and unanticipated downtime by diminishing the damaging consequences of reverse voltage, overcurrent, over-temperature, hot-swap, and overvoltage fault conditions often encountered in industrial, medical, e-mobility, and other environments. Integrated power protection ICs reduce BOM cost and design time. These ICs secure all voltage, temperature, and current faults within a single chip. For example, Maxim Integrated offers a diversity of system protection ICs integrated with back-to-back MOSFETs for rugged protection with nanosecond response times. Maxim's MAX17613 series IC is a compact, tough adjustable overcurrent and overvoltage protection device, perfect for shielding systems against positive and negative input voltage faults within the +60V and -65V range. It features low RDS (ON) FETs with an input overvoltage protection range from 5.5V to 60V and under-voltage protection range from 4.5V to 59V. The maximum programmable current-limit protection is 3A.
Enhanced Energy Storage Technologies: An energy-storage device stores energy by charging through an electrical power source and dispenses it to the loads by discharging itself. Most applications use two different power trains for charging and discharging, but a few applications, however, require a fast charge-to-discharge or fast discharge-to-charge transition. Such a rapid transition is accomplished by a single power train on-the-fly bidirectional DC-DC converter. A bidirectional DC-DC converter is a device to step-up or step-down the voltage level. It allows power to flow in both forward and backward directions. The converter also regulates DC bus voltage power flow in both directions. For example, Renesas has integrated bidirectional control into its latest controller, enabling easy implementation of on-the-fly, reverse-direction power flow and control. The ISL81801 is a bidirectional 4-switch synchronous buck-boost controller with peak and average current sensing and monitoring at both ends. It has four independent control loops for input and output voltages and currents.
The Way Forward
The preceding article discusses a few notable DC power industry trends. The competition offered by manufacturers and designers points towards significant market changes. Key manufacturers in the field (mentioned previously) are Infineon, ON Semiconductor, Renesas, Microchip, Maxim Integrated, NXP, Diodes Incorporated, TDK, Murata, and Qorvo, to name a few. To help the reader understand the DC power techniques in action and encourage engineering, Avnet has launched a Power Management Campaign. The campaign will cover many significant DC power technology trends, some already discussed in this article and more. Through this series, you’ll come to understand what the industry is doing and what it is thinking, through the vision of expert companies. The following is a list of the articles in this series on DC Power Technologies:
Blogs Back to Top
- The Benefits of Source Down MOSFETS
- What is The Augmented Switching Accelerated Development Kit for SiC Devices?
- Silicon Carbide MOSFETs for High Power and High Voltage Devices
- Selecting a Synchronous Buck Converter for a Point of Load (POL) Application
- The Benefits of DC-DC Converters for Isolated Gate Drive Power
- How system power protection ICs prevent field failures and unexpected downtime
- The Benefits of a Compact Power Management IC with Power Loss Protection
- How to integrate multiple PMICs to build customized power management and safety solutions for complex SoC
- The Benefits of Bidirectional Buck-Boost Controllers
- Improving Efficiency with Wide-Input Buck-Boost DC/DC Converters
Power management plays a major role in virtually every piece of electronic equipment. If you'd like to know more about how to approach power management in your designs or products, click here for more information.