It’s time to make some predictions about where the tech industry will be going in the upcoming year. For some experts, it’s an easy task thanks to economic forecasts. Depending on which source you want to believe, the economy is getting better, getting worse, recessed, inflated, deflated, or possibly deceased.
But rather than rely on the easy scapegoat, the economy, looking at some of the past year’s developments and how they might reflect on future innovations should be a somewhat more logical if not safer approach.
Some of the more notable developments in 2010, at least on the component side, were in capacitors, power sources, and, the most talked about and trumpeted, LEDs. Motors and motion control were successful as well, mainly because there may be quite a turn in those markets very soon.
Capacitors Keep Evolving
Capacitors, particularly the electrolytic variety, are constantly being compared to batteries and rightfully so. Like batteries, they store a charge voltage and are polarized. Capacitors discharge voltage quickly, though, recharge just as fast, and can repeat this pattern many times before failure.
With the introduction of ultracapacitors, components with values of a farad and higher, the distinction between batteries and caps started to fade. These higher-value components began providing alternatives to small cells in certain applications and are no strangers to numerous applications such as uninterruptible power supplies and flash chargers in cameras.
The next wave of capacitor evolution appears to be the hybrid ultracapacitor, which combines the characteristics of an ultracapacitor and a lithium-ion (Li-ion) cell in one package. For example, the Ioxus hybrid capacitors resemble Li-ion batteries (Fig. 1) but store charge at the electrode surface instead of within the electrodes.
According to Ioxus, its hybrids store 85% to 115% more energy than an ultracapacitor, i.e., an energy density of 12.8 Wh/L, 115% higher than standard electric double-layer capacitors. Their life cycle exceeds 20,000 charge/discharge cycles, and their operating temperature ranges from –25°C to 60°C.
At the low end of the range, the Ioxus hybrid capacitors lose only 5% of their energy while comparable battery energy loss would be 50% or more. Additionally, the Ioxus hybrid capacitors are 90% to 95% efficient.
Another hybrid ultracapacitor making its way into the world, one you’ll be seeing shipments of around April of this year, is Nippon Chemi-Con’s nano-hybrid capacitor. According to its creators, it employs a totally original electrode material consisting of nano-crystalline lithium titanate grafted on carbon nanofiber for the negative electrode.
Looking very much like generic radial- and axial-mount electrolytics, the component delivers up to three times more energy density than conventional electric double-layer capacitors (EDLCs), yet equaling their power density. In the spirit of competition, the company also claims its nano hybrid achieves 1.5 times higher power density than Li-ion capacitors while providing the same energy density as its Li-ion rivals.
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Of particular note, the Nippon hybrid capacitor provides low-temperature advantages over both EDLCs and Li-ion capacitors. They apparently demonstrate reliable performance (Fig. 2) in the cold temperature range between –20°C and –40°C.
In 2011 and beyond there should be even greater strides in the capacitor market. For ultracapacitors we can most likely expect higher operating voltages, higher capacitance capabilities, and possibly smaller packages, which may be quite a feat. In terms of hybrid capacitors, there will be further research and development, and perhaps the first complete battery-replacing cap may debut soon.
Future Of LEDs Both Bright And Dim
Much was written about LEDs last year, probably more than what actually developed tech-wise in the LED and lighting markets. Never has there been more ballyhoo and excitement over what may be described merely as mini light bulbs. Yes, LEDs and the promise of future solid-state lighting (SSL) and other miracles of light fantastique raise eyebrows and draw much interest.
Leading what it calls the lighting revolution, Cree’s flagship LED XLamp family breaks performance barriers with its single-die XLamp XM-L LEDs (Fig. 3) for very high-lumen applications such as high-bay and roadway lighting. The components deliver up to 1000 lumens at 100 lumens/W, making them the industry’s brightest, highest-performance lighting-class LEDs.
“An LED with this level of light output and this level of efficacy can accelerate the development of high-output commercial lighting products and could enable applications we haven’t even thought of yet,” says John Edmond, director of advanced optoelectronics at Cree.
Cool white (6500 K) XLamp XM-L LEDs deliver 1000 lumens with 100-lumen/W efficacy at 3 A. In a 5- by 5-mm footprint, they deliver a light output and efficacy of 160 lumens/W at 350 mA and up to 315 and 150 lumens/W 700 mA. This represents a 20% efficiency gain over existing XLamp XP-G LEDs.
Also accommodating future developments, Osram Opto’s PrevaLED, an LED directional light system, heralds the evolution of LED technology as a more seamless and sustainable process. Addressing not only the needs and limitations of the current SSL market, the system promises to pave the way in preparing for the transition to future advances in the SSL space.
Enabling manufacturers to create sustainable lighting solutions in lieu of the constant evolution of LED technology and efficiency, PrevaLED employs a modular, common form factor for its light engines. Features include a color-rendering index of more than 90 at both 3000K and 4000K color temperatures and active control of the light output to reduce visual variations between light engines.
A version consisting of 2-in. round modules will be available in a range of 800 to 3000 lumens and with multiple integrated reflector mounting options. Most importantly, end users will be able to upgrade to future energy-efficient light sources.
In terms of general lighting for the home and workplace, there will be further developments in brightness, efficiency, upgradability, and sustainability. Hopefully more research and development will be devoted to making emerging lighting products more human-eyes friendly, i.e., less harsh, yet not too mellow at the same time.
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More work needs to be done in bringing the price of LED lighting products down, but there is something a bit more critical LED makers need to address. To be truly accepted and trusted by the end user, SSL needs to be economically sound and safe on a consistent basis. This means that any monetary savings resulting from the use of LED components must be significant (high enough), permanent (not just a one-time lower electric bill), and safe from a plethora of extra fees.
Essentially, future developments in this market should see the lighting-product manufacturers sitting down with utilities companies to strike a fair balance in billing for energy. It would be bad business for anyone to invest heavily in efficient lighting products that use about a third of the power only to have the utility provider raise rates and fees to compensate for the difference.
There’s an alternative to a three-way compromise between OEMs, utilities, and end users—a very successful method used once before by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with regards to television broadcasting. Have the government mandate a forced migration to SSL. It will work without question, whether end users like it or not.
Where Are All The Motors?
Most electronic products these days rarely break down. That’s because many electronic devices are replaced or upgraded well before they fail. Also, there are few moving parts in most goods, if there are any at all, particularly in the consumer arena.
Media players have pretty much supplanted CD players, which rely on motors, gears, and perhaps a belt or two for operation. If media providers have their way, end users will be downloading movies and features as opposed to renting DVDs and other physical formats. And cloud computing will limit, if not obsolete, the CD-ROM software package, which relies on a motor-driven unit for installation. In essence, consumer products have become almost as sedentary as their users.
There was only a trickle of new product and technology announcements in 2010. The few murmurs of news consisted mainly of improvements to existing products. For example, Applimotion’s UTS series frameless (Fig. 4), direct-drive slot-less motors added models with 29- to 240-mm diameters and a thin radial length. They operate from industry-standard brushless dc or brushless ac drivers from 12 to 300 V and are available wound for low- or high-speed apps.
On the other side of the coin, forecasting the rapid development of new and unique custom closed-loop micro actuator modules, the Micro-Mechatronic Module (M3) (Fig. 5) from New Scale Technologies builds on the company’s miniature Squiggle motor and Tracker position sensor technology. It includes an SQL-RV-1.8 reduced-voltage Squiggle RV micromotor, an NSD-2101 motor driver, a Tracker NSE-5310 position sensor (encoder), and a microprocessor for proportional-integral-derivative (PID) control.
M3 users can develop a complete closed-loop actuator on a printed circuit board (PCB) of 12 by 30 mm or less. Modules exhibit low power consumption while operating with a 3.3-V input voltage, and no external control board is necessary. Simple serial commands drive an on-board PID controller using a standard I2C interface, serial peripheral interface (SPI), or universal synchronous-asynchronous receiver-transmitter (USART) interface.
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In terms of the motor and motion-control markets, there will be sustained demand from the appliance and industrial sectors. On the consumer end, we can safely foresee a gradual decline. However, motor and motion-control OEMs will find the most opportunities for future growth in two areas. First, there will be demand in robotics across a number of sectors, from hobbyists to industrial. And second, since world events strongly point to it, an upsurge in demand will be related to military applications.
The Versatile Power Supply
Power sources are probably the most versatile samples of the component population and the simplest to understand regardless of the complexity of some esoteric designs. Some power supplies output either ac or dc power to devices that operate on either ac or dc power. The supply unit does not really care what your application is, i.e., industrial, test and measurement, medical, or anything else. It only needs to know whether you need ac or dc power and how much.
After the basics come the refinements, or the art and complexity of the design, if you will. These include size requirements and any specs/standards the unit has to meet for the specific application. Therefore, it might be safe to say that whatever trends the tech market in general follows, the power OEMs will design products to support them.
The one trend that came, stayed, and keeps making ever more demands on power designers is efficiency, thanks to the increasing pressure to create environmentally friendly and pocketbook-friendly products. And demands of this nature will drive power market growth in 2011 and beyond.
“The power-supply industry’s robustness over the last 12 months should continue well into 2011. Market trends show steady growth for the S&P500 Equipment Manufacturers’ (Standard & Poor’s) categories of healthcare, technology, and industrial,” said James Peters, deputy chairman and founder of XP Power (see “Operational Efficiency Reigns Supreme For Power Supplies In 2011”).
“Efficiency is becoming the dominant concern as customers work to improve their ‘green’ credentials by reducing their products’ energy consumption,” Peters added. “For external power supplies, recently introduced European legislation limits the power consumed under no-load conditions for all products with annual sales of more than 200,000 units. This applies to a relatively limited number of products today, but we expect the legislation to expand to include lower-volume products and even internal power supplies in equipment.”
Power OEMs have been chasing and in some cases achieving the holy grail of efficiency. For example, TDK-Lambda’s DT100-C and DT150-C series (Fig. 6) external ac-dc power supplies satisfy tough energy requirements like EISA, CEC, and Energy Star EPS Version 2.0, Efficiency Level V.
The DT100-C and DT150-C series offer models rated from 100 to 150 W, respectively, and both series feature active power factor correction (PFC) meeting EN61000-3-2. Available output voltages include 12, 16, 19, 24, 36, and 48 V. Housed in lightweight, insulated enclosures measuring 3.35 by 6.7 by 1.73 in., other features include an operating temperature range from 0°C to 40°C with no derating, overvoltage and short-circuit protections, and, importantly, an off/no-load standby power consumption of less than 0.5 W.
Two major trends will concern power OEMs in 2011. First and already stated, efficiency, mandated or otherwise, will be a priority. We can probably expect 90% efficiency to become standard across the board.
Second, no-load and/or standby power consumption is and will be a big concern. There are a lot of units in the field, such as televisions and vending machines, that spend a lot of time in standby mode. Add them all up and that’s a lot of power down the drain.
Also of note is a trend toward versatile power units that can suit a wide range of applications. For example, XP Power is one company that creates power supplies that are viable for use in both industrial and medical applications. With a bit of imagination, the possibilities are virtually endless.