Electronic Design

Companies Roll Out Their Best And Brightest At APEC 2008

IEEE’s APEC is the power industry’s premier tradeshow and convention. This year’s event, held in Austin, Texas from Feb. 24 to Feb. 28, was no exception. (APEC 2009 will be in Washington, D.C.) As a trade-press editor, I go to APEC to track trends and to learn about the dozens of new devices and ICs introduced there. Here’s a look at what I took away from the sessions and the tradeshow floor.

If you don’t get seduced by the many papers on the very fine points of circuit design, you can get a sense of larger currents in the industry from the names of sessions and the papers presented there. Of course, it’s impossible to attend them all, so I have a lot of reading ahead of me. Still, I’m going to try some crystal-balling from the titles of sessions and papers.

Tuesday morning’s Session 3 dealt with permanent-magnet (PM) motor drives, demonstrating the penetration of PM motors in appliances, now that they’re at price parity with synchronous motors. This is significant because there are vast design opportunities in controllers for appliance motors whose efficiency derives from the range of torque and speeds that’s possible to extract from PM motors.

“Fault Detection of Eccentricity and Bearing Damage in a PMSM by Means of Wavelet Transforms Decomposition of the Stator Current” represented the typical paper at the session. Separate sessions on Thursday concentrated on “Power Converters for Adjustable-Speed Motor Drives” and “Induction Motor Drives.”

Alas, for a trend-follower, Session 3 was competing with another session on photovoltaic power sources, where most of the papers focused on inverter design and power point tracking. Marketing folks on the show floor told me that many startups were lining up to get into the solar bonanza and coming to them for switching transistors for their inverters.

Several focused sessions on inverters took place on Wednesday and Thursday. Solar didn’t steal the show in terms of alternative energy, however. Five papers on wind generation had their own session, and another Thursday session called “PV and Wind Energy Systems” had five papers.

Of course, that Thursday session happened at the same time as another on fuel cells and electric transport, with papers exploring the design of systems in which fuel cells interact with advanced batteries and supercapacitors. Meanwhile, light-emitting diodes were an intriguing topic, with six papers in the session devoted to lighting control.

A Wednesday session on energy storage and high-frequency components included related papers: “An Energy Storage System Combining a 320-V, 12-F Electric Double Layer Capacitor Bank with a Bidirectional Isolated DC-DC Converter” and “Improvement of Engine Cold Start Capability Using Supercapacitor and Lead Acid Battery Hybrid.”

A Wednesday session on energy-efficient power conversion emphasized the continuing importance of squeezing the last drop of real usable energy out of the second law of thermodynamics. Representative paper topics included “Energy Efficiency, Its Benefits and Methods to Close the Efficiency Gap,” “How Low Can You Go? The Role of Power Electronics in Achieving Higher Levels of Efficiency for Desktop Computers,” “Opportunities, Challenges, and Recommendations to Measure and Improve Secondary Power Supply Efficiency,” and “Is the Power Market Ready for Advanced Telecommunications Computing Architecture Systems (ATCA)—Board-Level Power Considerations?”

I don’t know how much significance I should read into the fact that papers in various sessions on the digital control of isolated and non-isolated dc-dc and ac-dc converters were limited to actual digital control loops. At the same time, there were no papers on the ancillary benefits of digital control in terms of telemetry.

This is different than in years past, when PMBus was heralded as one of the keys to throttling energy use in data centers. That focus was blurred last fall when a jury supported Power-One’s patents on the digital control of point-of-load (POL) converters. This spring, companies that had been showing me cool POLs that used PMBus instead of Power-One’s Z-bus are now showing me products such as adaptive dc-dc controllers for laptop DRAM arrays and super-efficient ac-dc power adapters.

On the component side, this year yielded many, many new trench-FET switches. Amusingly, every company I visited had the “best” on-resistance and gate-charge characteristics in the industry. Well, of course they did. Each company was comparing its new FETs to the competition’s best devices of last year. They had yet to see what each other was bringing out here in Austin.

APEC 2008


TAGS: Components
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