Anything related to power—generation, consumption, dissipation, and efficiency—is a major concern, and that will continue. Without ignoring environmental issues, the bottom line of any electronic product and/or system is cost. Aside from initial price, how much a device will cost in power consumption over its lifespan is something to consider.
According to David Norton, vice president of marketing at TDK-Lambda, power OEMs will face a number of challenges in 2010. “Several supply manufacturers are financially unstable at the moment. Depending on the economic climate, they may survive. We see customers scramble to replace companies that are in difficulty,” he says.
“The trend is to develop Energy Star supplies, flat efficiency curves, and low off-load power. Also, LED lighting is taking off (Fig. 1), fanless products are eliminating forced-air cooling, and the new UL60950-1 will cause a wave of obsolescence,” Norton adds. “Some manufacturers are now realizing low-cost Asian products are failing early. The challenge is to educate users about real cost points,” Norton says. “For example, derating a constant-current supply is more difficult than a constant-voltage unit where one would select a 100-W supply for a 50-W application. A constant-current unit will deliver full current all the time. Therefore, conservative component ratings will be key for field reliability.”
How will power OEMs cope with these issues? “There was a tendency in the industry to move to commodity products, but we now see more specialization like with LED lighting,” Norton says. “Those OEMs with a large R&D budget will continue to thrive and offer a broad base of products.”
John Kelly, general manager of consumer & industrial circuit protection at Bourns Inc., takes a wider view. “Power is a broad topic with challenges ranging from Smart Grid initiatives to improving switch-mode supply reliability.” he says.
“In residential solar panels and wind generators, we see challenges in protecting small-signal and control wires from the larger power wires and surges caused by lightning and power switching,” Kelly adds.
Kelly also sees a number of trends and demands on the horizon. “The migration to switch-mode power supplies is almost complete. However, this approach can make applications more susceptible to disturbances on the ac line,” he notes.
“While they once competed on the basis of efficiency, OEMs now compete in part on robustness to lightning surges. There’s a push for them to double surge tolerance as defined by EC61000-4-5. It used to be good enough to meet the 6-kV surge level, but OEMs are looking to double this,” Kelly says (Fig. 2).
Kelly also believes powering server farms with dc distribution busses is likely to take off. “It’s a terrific way to interface wind generators, solar panels, and the ac grid to power large server installations efficiently,” he says. “Products that can interface with these server buses will be positioned to do well. Also, the drive for PFC and efficiency will continue.”
Avi Elmaleh, application engineer manager at ROHM Semiconductor USA LLC, foresees growth in several sectors including automotive (motor controller drivers), solar energy (d/a converters), LED lighting (power drivers and controllers), and consumer/mobile (intelligent smart battery chargers and power-management controllers). He says OEMs will be requiring high-voltage/current components with low power-dissipation as well as integrating digital control and multi-phase operation.
Amit Gattani, business unit director of Network Power for Akros Silicon Inc., agrees. “In the past, there has been increased awareness of environmental and energy conservation standards, and OEMs have addressed this first at a very high level. 2010 will be pivotal in product architectures as OEMs are starting to take a look at energy policies and standards compliance on a more fundamental level. This is driven by upcoming compliance requirements in the 2011 to 2014 range,” he says.
“For the OEMs to provide cost-effective, energy-friendly products, they will seek power ICs that provide proper efficiencies at each of the operation modes, are intelligent and interactive with their environment, and are easy to implement and cost-effective,” Gattani adds. “OEMs will make power system design an integral part of the system and software architectures, as opposed to the past practice of power-supply design being independent and unaware of the rest of the system design. Platform aware power system ICs will become necessary for power OEMs.”
So, what will be the “next big thing” in the power markets? “Network-based energy management capability,” says Gattani. “All devices are getting connected, whatever the medium, be it Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or other.”
With great confidence, David Norton says, “Digital control of power supplies (replacing analog control) will be the ‘next big thing.’ It may cause a slowdown of low-cost products into the U.S. and Europe as the technology is very new. Power engineers are going to have to get more involved in software.”
In terms of power-circuit protection, John Kelly believes, “We will continue to see ceramic-based protection technologies give way to silicon-based technologies. We are definitely in a race to silicon-based products in circuit protection.”
And summing up the silicon scenario, Avi Elmaleh expects new power MOSFETs with the ability to handle high temperatures to be in high demand, particularly for use in switch-mode supplies.
Though somewhat still a specialty, power harvesting is gaining momentum. Also known as energy scavenging, harvesting involves extracting energy from solar panels, heat, wind, etc., and storing it (Fig. 3).
“Lowering power consumption and using energy harvesting techniques have created new market opportunities for maintenance-free electronics. Batteries never need replacing, and products can be placed virtually anywhere without having to pull power cables,” says Graham Martin, chairman and CEO of the EnOcean Alliance.
LED AND OLED
For the end user, whether it’s in a television, computer monitor, digital photo frame, or an LCD in a cell phone or media player, a display is no more than a perfectly clear picture, moving or still. For the display maker, getting a perfect picture on that display involves countless technological choices and decisions.
In 2010, “LED backlighting for LCDs will continue to replace CCFLs (cold cathode fluorescent lamps) across consumer and industrial markets. Designing with LEDs presents various options and challenges, and the designer must balance a number of considerations, including display brightness, power consumption, part count, battery life, physical size, and expected product lifetime,” says Francis Nguyen, senior product marketing manager, LED products, for Osram Opto Semiconductors.
“The importance of each consideration varies according to the application. Small, medium-size, and large displays all have similar and varying key design factors to consider,” he says.
“In consumer electronics, using RGB LEDs instead of CCFLs or white LEDs provides a superior color gamut, but there is a two-times to 2.5-times higher cost for RGB LEDs as well as for the drive circuits to operate them,” Nguyen adds.
“White point generation with RGB LEDs requires relatively sophisticated color management hardware and software to compensate for time and color temperature shift. The color gamut of white LEDs is adequate for most viewing conditions,” he says.
“There are a few challenges display product OEMs will be facing in 2010. First, LED component manufacturing lead times are rapidly increasing across the board, in part due to material availability. Some products are going from a standard four to six-week lead time to 12 to 14 weeks. It’s going to be more and more challenging to get the product to customers as quickly as they need it,” says Roland Chapa, vice president of the assemblies business unit at Optek Technology.
“Second, LED technology continues to evolve, and there is a growing obsolescence issue. We are finding products developed only two years ago are now becoming obsolete, forcing customers to purchase the next generation of the product. Obsolescence at this speed is not typically seen in other electronic components except the PC or mobile device markets,” Chapa says.
With countless choices and options, it’s difficult to predict how display OEMs will broach these challenges in 2010 and beyond. “Having strategic relationships with suppliers that provide the components for the display and lighting products is critical, particularly when dealing with the challenge of technology and material availability,” Chapa says.
Leaning more on the design side of things, “Brightness requirements of LCDs are the most important criteria in LED selection and the design process. The higher the brightness, the more light will be needed from the LEDs. Higher-power LEDs can be used to reduce the LED count and costs in a backlight,” Nguyen says (Fig. 4).
“In moving toward the use of high-brightness LEDs, OEMs are beginning to recognize and effectively address key issues that affect LED performance such as thermal management and the need for a constant-current LED driver,” Nguyen says.
“For larger displays that can use hundreds of LEDs per panel, designers are evaluating a number of sophisticated LED drivers with multiple channels, each capable of driving a series of strings of LEDs. Besides the cost savings in driver circuits, they offer programmable PWM and current control and include energy conservation features such as load balancing between channels to compensate for varying forward voltage,” he adds.
With proliferating video sources on the Internet, HDTV, touchscreens, and interactive displays, there’s much room for innovation. So what can OEMs expect to be working on in 2010?
“Increasingly sophisticated touchscreen technology is making rapid advances, as is 3D technology. Touchscreen, both multitouch and gesture, will become the new attractions, especially with Windows 7 having these features built in,” Nguyen says.
“3D screens tend to need higher-brightness backlights, and this can be achieved with brighter LEDs and also new technology light guides for higher efficiency and uniformity. LED developers/manufacturers will continue to develop smaller, more efficient, and less expensive products and will work closely with the light guide makers to achieve maximum coupling efficiency,” he adds.
Roland Chapa says that organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) will become the focus of attention in 2010. “OLEDs are projected to be significantly more efficient and brighter versus traditional LEDs. Additionally, LED TVs are getting greater visibility for their better energy efficiency, lighter weight, and thinner configurations, so LED TVs are poised to replace many of the older technologies including plasma variations and LCD TVs,” he says.
“Additionally, LCD TVs backlit with LEDs are just one of the product applications driving the mass consumption of LEDs and thus contributing to extended lead times for the visible LED products,” Chapa adds.