Irish research engineers have achieved a major technological breakthrough that could see companies based in Ireland taking an international lead in the worldwide ICT power supply market estimated to be worth $12 billion.
The new microfabricated technology, developed at NMRC, the National ICT Centre, was described as “spectacular” at a workshop on microprocessor power technology recently held in Cork.
Dr. Cian O’ Mathuna, assistant director, NMRC, who is leading the research, said that worldwide patent protection had been taken out for the microtechnology, which offers the potential to overcome a major bottleneck in the delivery of power to future microprocessor chips.
"The patent is the result of 10 years research in this area, funded by Enterprise Ireland through PEI Technologies. The technology will play a significant part in the miniaturization of electronic devices, such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and point-of-care devices for biomedical diagnosis, whether in the home or in the doctor’s surgery", said O’ Mathuna.
At the microprocessor power technology workshop, Ed Stanford, senior technologist, Materials Technology Operations, Intel, expressed his concerns that current power supply technologies cannot meet the requirements of microprocessors in the future.
According to Stanford, conventional technologies result in power supplies that are too big, too inefficient and run too hot. The microfabricated technology developed at NMRC offers a potential solution whereby micromagnetic components can be integrated onto the silicon power MOSFET or into the power package or the microprocessor motherboard, thereby presenting an improvement over state-of-the-art discrete and bulky power supplies.
Among other research initiatives at NMRC, Intel Ireland is currently engaged with NMRC researchers to investigate the feasibility of using this novel microtechnology in powering future processor products.
George Young, MD of Commergy, the Irish-owned company that has achieved worldwide success in the design, licensing and marketing of advanced power supply products, said the power supply industry could be transformed through the commercialization of the NMRC technology.
He added, "The power supply industry in Ireland benefited greatly from the close cooperation between it and Enterprise Ireland-funded research activities with the third level sector".
The power supply industry in Ireland has moved to the new industrial paradigm predicted by government and accommodated by Enterprise Ireland policies, emphasizing investment in R&D and export sales. Most of the power supply companies have moved the bulk of their manufacturing offshore and have retained in Ireland a concentration of higher value-added employment in strategic management, logistics, R&D, product design, and sales and marketing.
Commercializable technologies being researched in Ireland to meet the challenges facing the power supply were presented at the recent workshop by researchers from University College Cork, University of Limerick, NUI Galway and NMRC. This research, being funded by Enterprise Ireland, through PEI Technologies, also included the digital control of power supplies the development of advanced cooling technologies using mirofabricated fans and liquid microchannels.