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A Tour of the 2019 APEC Power Conference Show Floor

Power electronics components on display targeted every corner of industry, from consumer to industrial to automotive. Paul Rako got to meet up with a number of the movers and shakers in the power world.

The APEC power conference is both an educational conference and a vendor show. Traveling the show floor this past March 19th gave great assurance of the primacy, further underscoring the APEC conference as the premier power electronics event.

My press pass let me sneak into the show early, so I could get a few pictures of the EPC booth before it got busy (Figs. 1 and 2).

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1. The EPC booth at APEC 2019 had some great demonstrations and reference designs.

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2. A 3-kW, 48- to 12-V converter using EPC GaN transistors.

EPC is the company founded by former International Rectifier president Alex Lidow (Fig. 3). He set out to make a commercial, practical GaN (gallium nitride) high-speed transistor for power applications.

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3. Alex Lidow, a founder of EPC, explains the advantages of his GaN-on-silicon high-speed transistors.

To do this, Lidow used a silicon substrate for the GaN layers. This means that common silicon processing machinery can make the wafers. Added to that, Lidow felt it was crucial to make the GaN transistors enhancement type—that is to say, normally off. Depletion-mode devices are made by some companies, but Lidow felt that they are unfamiliar to most power engineers. Finally, Lidow decided to make his GaN devices work at moderate voltages, around 15 to 200 V. This does not try to compete with the high-voltage capability of SiC (silicon carbide) transistors, nor the very cheap low-voltage MOSFETs.

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4. Chris Giovanniello shows off his MEMS power relay.

Semiconductors are great, but sometimes physical switches are the best way to handle power. That’s why Menlo Micro developed a line of MEMS (microelectromechanical system) relays. MEMS have been used for decades in RF switching. They have low on resistance and very controlled impedance that are essential for RF. The power MEMS relay chips that Menlo Micro make are remarkable for their 8-A current rating and 120-V voltage rating. The chip is smaller than a fingernail. Chris Giovanniello, co-founder senior vice president of product development (Fig. 4), is rightfully proud of this achievement. One application is to replace solid-state relays in power applications (Fig. 5).

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5. MEMS relays from Menlo Micro can replace mechanical and solid-state relays (SSRs).

Companies of All Sizes

While all the big power semiconductor companies come to APEC, you can also see some smaller companies with interesting technology. Zahid Rahim, VP of Marketing at Silanna Semiconductor, was showing off their clamped flyback reference design (Fig. 6). They had the design at the show, hooked up to line voltage. There they could run efficiency measurements that showed a 2% improvement at typical loads. This is a really big deal, squeezing even 0.5% improvement out of a flyback supply is a great achievement. That reduced power loss likely means less EMI (electromagnetic interference,) easier cooling requirements, and lower electric bills for the consumer. A 2% improvement in a 90% efficient supply means losses are going from 10% to 8%, so think of it as a 20% improvement in what matters.

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6. Zahid Rahim from Silanna cradles his active-clamp flyback reference design in his palm.

I admire Cree, a great company from North Carolina. They have always led in wide-bandgap materials. While best known for its consumer LED lamps, the company is equally respected in RF transistors and other power devices. Now Greg Lowe, the new CEO, is selling off the lighting business and putting the emphasis on the semiconductor part of the company. Ironically, Cree created the Wolfspeed brand when a previous CEO wanted to sell the transistor business. That deal got nixed by the government, which was probably a blessing for Cree. Guy Moxey (Fig. 7) explained the great potential for Wolfspeed’s silicon-carbide (SiC) transistors in the fast-growing electric car, solar, wind, and industrial power applications.

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7. Guy Moxey from the Wolfspeed division of Cree next to a 60-kW SiC reference design.

The advent of practical long-range electric cars as well as mild hybrid-electric vehicles (mHEVs) is creating the need for practical systems to simulate and develop electric drive systems. At the dSPACE booth, Thorsten Oppermann (Fig. 8), account manager, displayed both the software and the hardware dSPACE offers to help vehicle and subsystem manufacturers (Fig. 9).

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8. Thorsten Oppermann from dSPACE explained their automotive simulation and test systems.

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9. This high-voltage electronic load from dSPACE can emulate a motor and battery in an electric vehicle.

Magnetic materials are a fundamental building block of power electric systems. Standex Electronics is a well-known producer of power magnetics, sensors, relays, and reed switches. Chris Riccardella, field application engineer, magnetics, was manning the Standex booth (Fig. 10).

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10. Chris Riccardella from Standex Magnetics explained the company’s broad product line.

Helix Semiconductors manufactures switched-capacitor charge-pump chips. These high-voltage charge pumps can make integral reduction ratios in rectified line voltage. Jeff Sorensen, senior principal applications engineer (Fig. 11), showed off Helix chips that can also provide the power for secondary-side feedback optocouplers as well as high-voltage line isolation via the use of X- or Y-rated capacitors.

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11. Jeff Sorensen of Helix Semiconductor was on hand with the company’s display of its line of high-voltage charge-pump ICs.

Microchip had a great booth at APEC (Fig. 12). The multiple stations at the booth shows how many power applications can incorporate Microchip products.

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12. The Microchip booth at APEC 2019 was packed all day.

Some interesting applications were motor-control systems (Fig. 13), a ripple-blocking LDO (low drop-out) voltage regulator (Fig. 14), and a 30-kW PFC (power factor correction) demonstration using Microchip’s SiC transistors (Fig. 15). I was astonished the company famous for the PIC microcontroller had power devices. Then Microchip marketing maven Nadine Castillo reminded me they bought Microsemi a few years ago.

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13. Patrick Heath revealed some of Microchip’s extensive motor-control hardware and firmware.

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14. Microchip’s ripple-blocking LDO can clean up the output of linear and switching regulators.

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15. Jason Chiang from Microchip demonstrates a 30-kW, 3-phase, power-factor-correction (PFC) reference design.

The APEC 2019 show floor was not just booths. There was a theater where interesting presentations happened all day. ROHM’s Mitch Van Ochten (Fig. 16). gave one on automotive-qualified SiC transistors hosted by the fine folks at Mouser Electronics.

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16. Mitch Van Ochten from ROHM gave a great presentation on SiC transistors at the Mouser show-floor theater.

Ametherm is another company that makes power electronics building blocks. The company’s booth had Mehdi Samii, VP of engineering (Fig. 17) showing off just a few of its many products (Fig. 18).

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17. Ametherm’s Mehdi Samii was representing the company’s line of negative-temperature-coefficient (NTC) inrush current limiters.

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18. Ametherm inrush limiters are a simple and reliable way to protect your power circuits.

Renesas is a huge name in the power electronics business and had a busy booth at APEC 2019 (Fig. 19). The company was showing off the motor-control system for a vacuum cleaner that uses a brushless dc (BLDC) motor to achieve remarkable efficiency improvements. In addition to motor control, Renesas has chips and devices for radiation-hardened (rad-hard) satellite GaN devices and down-to-Earth application for power management in industrial, server, and bidirectional battery systems. Renesas acquired Intersil, which only deepened its power and op-amp bench.

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19. The Renesas booth was packed with people checking out its power and motor-drive components.

The Tamura booth caught my eye for its clean design and logical layout (Fig. 20). Tamura manufactures power, switching, and pulse transformers. It also makes current-sense transformers, chokes, reactors, and panel assemblies.

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20. The Tamura booth was clear and inviting.

I finished the day at the Silicon Labs booth (Fig. 21). Brian Mirkin explained their isolated delta-sigma modulator that can take analog across high-voltage boundaries. He also presented a 20-kW LLC (inductor-inductor-capacitor) converter developed with distributor Arrow Electronics (Fig. 22). Arrow has championed reference designs for decades, and it’s great to see Silicon Labs contributing to these designs.

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21. Brian Mirkin of Silicon Labs with their isolated delta-sigma modulator reference design.

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22. Distributor Arrow Electronics worked with Silicon Labs to make this 20-kW LLC power-supply reference design.

On the way out of the show floor at APEC 2019, I came across a heartwarming scene of a dad with his son (Fig. 23). It was great to see a fellow who knew how important it is to keep up with power electronics, and to keep his children interested and educated. Don’t look to me for griping about “young people today.” As long as there are dads like this, young people will do just fine, exceeding all the achievements of us old dinosaurs.

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23. A dad with his young son gets some quality time in at APEC 2019.

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