Standards—Who Needs Them?

May 1, 2004
Siegfried Kreuzer explains why the SynQor and Tyco power alliance is more than just a marketing strategy.

The news that SynQor and Tyco Electronics Power Systems had formed an alliance to ensure future DC/DC product compatibility and standardisation may have appeared to some industry observers purely a marketing strategy. In fact, it is a direct response to customer demand for true second sourcing and to answer their reasonable criticisms that the DC/DC market is too fragmented and that there is an absolute necessity for greater standardisation.

But how important is second sourcing really and why? Well, in the telecomms and datacomms market it is very difficult to track down a company that is prepared to run with only one source for DC/DC converters. Some split the share equally between two suppliers on each project, or perhaps the split is 80/20. Other customers give 100% of the business on one particular model to one supplier and 100% of their requirement for a second product to an alternative vendor. The main reason for this is believed by many customers to be the need to encourage suppliers to be innovative and if they stick to one supplier only, they run the risk of missing out on technology advances. There can be little doubt, however, that customers also view competition as a means of keeping prices low and this is a major factor in favour of second sourcing.

Although it is true to say that DC/DC converters have generally followed the industry-standard brick format, with successive generations – half, quarter, eighth and the proposed sixteenth brick – delivering more power from smaller outlines, that is where standardisation stops. Pin outs may or may not be compatible between manufacturers and efficiencies and topologies can be very different. But even with products that have the same pin layout and similar performance specifications, differences in feature sets mean they are far from drop-in replacement options.

The feature set of a DC/DC converter covers functions such as external trim, remote sensing, remote on/off and current sharing. Each manufacturer takes a different approach to these issues and each requires different support circuitry.

That may mean many (in the mid 10s) additional passive components could be required. Not only will these be different values for different converters, but also a complete new board could be needed. For a contract manufacturer this is extremely costly – both in terms of design time and inventory.

Under the terms of the DOSA (DC/DC Open Standards Alliance) alliance SynQor and Tyco will independently develop DC/DC converters with pin for pin compatibility, identical form factors and functionally equivalent feature sets, thereby guaranteeing end users the benefits of true second sourcing options. The alliance will address products that recently began development as well as align future product roadmaps for both isolated and non-isolated (POL) converters.

Examples of anticipated agreements include high current quarter-brick pin out designs, output voltage sequencing for point-of-load modules in the SuperLynx form factors, a standard footprint/pin-out for the new 1/16 brick converter, as well as consensus for standards on surface-mount technology and lead-free initiatives.

This is the first time that there has been a genuinely open attempt to develop DC/DC converter standards across a full range of products, from POL devices up to half brick modules. DOSA covers electrical as well as mechanical standards and, in the future, may be extended to cover EMI and efficiency/temperature behaviour.

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