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More Growth and Specialization Loom Ahead for Power Semiconductors

Nov. 1, 2006
Over the next five years, the power semiconductor market will continue to experience steady growth, with no disruptive device technologies impacting the

Over the next five years, the power semiconductor market will continue to experience steady growth, with no disruptive device technologies impacting the market, but with continued reliance on specialized solutions to improve device performance. These were among the findings presented by Rob Lineback, senior market research analyst for IC Insights, at the recent Power Electronics Technology Conference in Long Beach, Calif.

Speaking in the Market Trends session, Lineback presented his organization's market projections for several power device categories with comparisons to the overall IC and discrete device markets providing different frames of reference. According to Lineback's data, during the latter half of this decade, power components such as IGBTs, analog voltage regulators and voltage reference ICs, power FET modules, and IGBT modules will experience double-digit growth exceeding that of the overall IC market. (See the “Market Size and Growth Rate Comparison” table below.

Lineback also presented market share data and growth projections for the discrete semiconductor market as a whole and for power transistors in particular. On the surface, this data might not seem significant since the discrete semiconductor market only accounted for about 7% of the entire $228 billion semiconductor market in 2005, according to Lineback. However, he pointed to the discrete semi market as a bellwether for the power business as a whole.

“About two-thirds of the [discrete semiconductor] products usually go into some kind of power application,” said Lineback. “So if you track the unit shipments, you have your finger on what's going on down in the trenches.”

Market share data presented by Lineback revealed that power transistors represented $7.7 billion in revenue, or about a 50% share of the 2005 discrete semiconductor market in 2005. Meanwhile, diodes ($2.2 billion) and rectifiers ($2.3 billion) each represented about 10% to 20% market share, while thyristors ($729 million) and other discretes ($375 million) each represented less than a 10% share of the discrete semi market.

The projected market growth in power semiconductor components is being driven by several factors, said Lineback. Among them are higher energy costs, greater energy usage, rising computer speeds, trends toward mobility (which demands battery management), competitive pressures and the overall increase in the number of systems.

Commenting on the last factor, Lineback said, “We're seeing developing countries go digital right off the bat, so we're seeing more and more systems shipped worldwide.”

Lineback also discussed the ongoing search in the power semiconductor industry for the so-called “ideal switch” — a device that blocks high voltages in the off state, exhibits zero resistance in the on state, and has unlimited switching speeds, low cost and other desirable characteristics. Though this device is unattainable, the pursuit of ideal performance has driven the industry to develop customized solutions for power components, creating a diverse and expanding marketplace.

Lineback also touched on two hot areas of development: digital power and silicon carbide. “The digital IC segment is about $170 million this year and growing at about 22% to 24% on a compound annual growth rate. So, we're definitely at the stage where this is starting to become a market that more semiconductor companies are going to be watching and we've had plenty playing in it already.” However, citing the findings of the Power Sources Manufacturers Association in its recent technology roadmapping efforts, Lineback observed that the adoption rates for digital power control and digital power management have been steady, but not “exponential.”

In his conference paper “Growth & Reshaping of Power Semiconductor Solutions” (coauthored by Lineback and Brian Matas of IC Insights), Lineback commented that “no disruptive technologies are anticipated in commercial power applications for at least four to five years.” Nevertheless, in his comments in the Market Trends session, he described silicon carbide technology as “perhaps one of the big disruptive changes out in the future.” Although the technology is only available now to a limited extent, it will take time for silicon carbide to enter the mainstream. A major limitation of the technology, said Lineback, is that it's built on wafers that are about half the size (3 in. to 4 in.) of conventional silicon components.

Although not disruptive technologies, several “significant improvements and new approaches to power electronics” could have an impact by the end of the decade. These improvements include smaller packaging as well as the use of System-in-Package (SiP) techniques for combining multiple die and passive components in a single device. SiP techniques, which were first used in other areas of electronics, are now being applied in power electronics. Lineback noted in his talk that SiPs are already making an impact on the dc-dc converter world. For more details, e-mail [email protected].

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