Emerging high-voltage offline or dc-operated power-conversion markets consistently demand more convenience and more functionality from highly integrated electronic circuits, with higher reliability and longer operation times. Among the customer's concerns are more power at lower cost per watt (or ampere), lower component count, design simplicity, and flexibility plus ease of use. Bringing all of these features together requires more power integration at the silicon mixed-signal level.
For example, such emerging markets have the broad initiative to develop, improve, and implement new light sources based on high-brightness light-emitting diodes (LEDs). A variety of LED applications are emerging as replacements for traffic lights, active road marking systems, digital LCD multimedia projectors, general lighting (and replacement of luminescent and incandescent lamps), LCD backlighting, and many others. These promising new markets need new, highly integrated, mixed-signal semiconductor devices to be developed, and such developments require the use of high-voltage semiconductor process technologies in most cases.
Highly integrated mixed-signal ICs also are craved in the offline power-conversion industrial market. Many high-tech companies constantly call for silicon solutions that can reduce cost and cut design time. One example, the control IC that drives an ac-dc or dc-dc converter, should be able to get supply voltage directly from the line with no intermediaries. It's even better to integrate one or all power devices within itself. The message is clear, though. There's a continuing integration of control and power devices at high-voltage levels using mixed-signal technologies.
These challenges to the high-voltage silicon solution companies put enormous pressure on research and development. The market trend toward lowering cost while offering more "apples in the basket" means that the most innovative solutions will succeed, via simplicity and ease of use.
In the power-management arena, the most "invisible" product is the most successful. Why? Because the "best" power supply (or silicon) is one that functions seamlessly in its application for years and years, not causing blackouts, malfunctions, or worse, visible breakdowns.
Combining the "humble" nature of power-management silicon products with the challenges of high-voltage, mixed-signal technologies will be the industry's main objective for the coming years. As such, it will avoid a "visible" kind of problematic power silicon in our electronic products and assemblies.