The future looks bright for Agilent Technologies' new Power and Energy Division, which addresses applications areas ranging from solar inverters to mobile consumer devices. Announced in May of 2013, the division hit the ground running with the biggest product launch in the history of Agilent last September.
Looking ahead to 2014, Kari Fauber, general manager of the new division, said in a phone interview in December, “From an overall market perspective we are seeing what I'm calling a slight recovery. The recession—if you would call it a recession—seems to have eased a bit.”
The situation remains dynamic, however. Nevertheless, she said, “From a power and energy perspective I see a continuing trend with growth at least double that of the overall test-and-measurement market worldwide.” The trend, she said, provides opportunities for Agilent to meet customer needs as those needs emerge, with PED focusing from a design perspective on power management and from a consumer perspective on power usage and power consumption.
Fauber said power and energy concerns are continuing to grow and are becoming more prevalent around the world. She said she had recently been in China and talked to customers about energy consumption in their factory. Such a conversation might be expected in Europe, in the Americas, or in Korea, she said, but she hadn't before heard such concerns raised in China. “I think the level of awareness around energy usage and power consumption is a trend that will just continue,” she said.
A goal for the new year will be to develop standard offerings based on customer requests. Fauber said she has a dedicated applications engineering and support group to help customers with specific requests, but she said her R&D team needs to be intimately involved. “Ideally what we are doing is developing an application solution that's leverageable beyond a single customer request, and therefore we need to really understand what the customer is trying to achieve and how we can leverage that to the market as a whole.”
But while PED will be pursuing new product offerings, it will also be providing proven technologies. For example, “We introduced an SMU battery-characterization product in 2010 that specifically focused on mobile devices,” Fauber said. “That technology is still unmatched in the market today.”
R&D engineers, Fauber explained, experiment with turning on and off subcircuits, turning them off when they are not in use and turning them on briefly when they are needed. The Agilent characterization tool, she said, gives them specifics on what current is being drained, and it provides visual feedback that can help them tweak their designs—for example, by making sure that power comes on quickly when needed, because slow a ramp-up would draw more current over time.
She said the battery characterization tool contains patented “seamless measurement technology that gives you the ability to capture from nanoamps to amps in a single sweep.” Other approaches she said, require multiple sweeps—for example, from nanoamps to microamps, from microamps to milliamps, and from milliamps to amps—that would have to be combined offline.
Fauber elaborated on Agilent's focus on green energy, saying, “If we look at it with a little more resolution around the different applications areas—solar power, wind power, water power, any type of green power—for us solar is of the most interest because that's where there are more electronics components.” With respect to regional influences, she said, “Europe really led the charge in the 2008 timeframe with a lot of government subsidies that were happening there. The Europeans have since backed off on a lot of the subsidies, but there is more of a cultural focus on environmental concerns and the need for green energy.” Europe, she said, was followed by the Americas in the early 2010 timeframe, but without or with very limited government subsidies the market in the Americas did not take off as quickly—the market is smaller than in Europe but is growing. “Asia,” she continued, “is more of a hotbed now than it was when the U.S. was starting out in the 2010s.” Asia, she added, had suffered from overcapacity in solar-panel manufacturing but has now stabilized as inverter manufacture begins to match solar-panel manufacture. “I'm seeing the solar inverter/converter worldwide market growing in the mid double digits with that growth projected to continue over the next three to five years,” she said.
Also of interest to PED is the electric-vehicle market, which, Fauber said, “is growing in the 20 to 30% range and is projected to continue to do so, particularly in the hybrid-vehicle and partial hybrid vehicle space. The pure electric-vehicle market is actually faster growth rate but is much smaller from a market acceptance perspective at this point.”
As 2014 progresses, PED will continue to work with other divisions within Agilent. “First of all, we have a division called NSSD, for Nanotechnologies Semiconductor Solutions Division,” she said. NSSD focuses on materials research and identifies trends in technologies from a materials science perspective. Those trends can in a few years affect leading-edge energy design companies. For PED, she said, NSSD can serve as a leading indicator.
“When it comes to test and measurement,” Fauber continued, “there are really three divisions that we collaborate with closely. One is the Hachioji Semiconductor Test Division (HSTD) in Japan.” That division, she said, offers semiconductor and parametric test solutions as well as source-measure (SMU) solutions. We collaborate with HSTD in the SMU space both from a technology perspective as well as a market-indicator perspective. They sell more into the semiconductor industry, while our focus with our SMU is more on power optimization.” HSTD has visibility into the power semiconductor space, she said, while PED sees power amplifiers and RFICs. “Together, we can see a picture of related design efforts around the world,” she said.
In addition, Fauber said, PED works with the Oscilloscope and Protocol Division (OPD) under vice president and general manager Jay Alexander. OPD, she said, focuses on oscilloscopes and protocol products and gets pulled into power design from a subassembly perspective. “Traditionally you would measure power consumption in design with a scope and a current shunt, but there were some limitations to that approach,” she said. “There have been some new very high-performance current probes that have been introduced by OPD over the last year and a half or so that are much more capable and then any previous current probes.”
However, she said, “Scopes still don't have the dynamic range of our battery-drain characterization products”—their resolution is commensurate with oscilloscopes, not power analyzers. “It's a matter of perspective,” she said. “Both tools are very useful for an R&D engineer—looking at the subcircuit level with a scope and a current probe or at the complete device under test or power-amplifier-component with the power analyzer and battery drain products.”
“The third division that we engage with is the Measurement Systems Division (MSD),” Fauber said. MSD provides complete systems to specific applications spaces—such as a solution for a hybrid-electric vehicle engine-control unit. PED's power products such as electronic loads are key components to the MSD system. MSD, said Fauber, “sees some demands from customers who want complete systems that I may not see, and vice versa, I will see some demands from customers that MSD may not see. So we share not only what are we seeing from a market-need and customer point of view, but we also work together with PED acting as an internal provider to MSD.”
Fauber is comfortable working with multiple divisions because of her diverse experience within Agilent. She joined Agilent (then Hewlett-Packard) in 1989 as an applications engineer supporting the launch of the HP3070 in-circuit test systems. She has held positions in test engineering, design validation, business development, product marketing, and R&D project management. She has also been responsible for marketing for general-purpose instrumentation including multimeters, power supplies, function generators, data-acquisition products, and counters.
Commenting on her experience, she said, “What I am finding is that I have the ability to look at the customer needs holistically rather than from a single-product perspective.”
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