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CEO interview: Vicor powers after higher volume applications

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By eeNews Europe

Vicor Corp. (Andover, Mass.) is looking to manufacture its power supply components in Asia, either by building its own factory or by licensing its technology and allowing another company to manufacture there. But most importantly the company wants to build out from the large numbers of high value, relatively low volume applications that have been its traditional home ground and into larger volume markets in computing, automotive and even consumer electronics.

 

 

So said CEO Patrizio Vinciarelli when eeNews Europe called to speak with him on the Vicor booth at the Electronica exhibition in Munich, earlier this month.

Patrizio Vinciarelli, president, CEO and chairman of Vicor Corp.

 

Vicor emerged in the 1980s with what was, at the time an innovative brick-like approach to high-efficiency switch-mode power conversion called zero current switching. Since then the company has expanded and enhanced its offering to cover a complete range of power products from the wall plug and ac/dc conversion via one or multiple dc/dc conversion stages to regulation at the point-of-load.

 

Vinciarelli who founded Vicor in 1981, has served as president, CEO and chairman of the board ever since. Having received a doctorate of physics from the University of Rome Vinciarelli worked at the European Organization for Nuclear Research known as CERN before becoming a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey from 1977 to 1980.

 

Vinciarelli told eeNews Europe that Vicor is in a transition phase as it seeks to build out from its origins in high efficiency, highly-featured power supplies for professional applications. While it wants to continue to serve, communications, defense, mil-aero and industrial applications it is making ground data center server racks, in automotive and other higher volume applications, said Vinciarelli.

Next: here comes VIA


 

Here comes the VIA form factor

 

However, the company is also in the process of introducing a new form factor for “front-end” power component at Electronica.

 

The VIA range for Vicor Integrated Adaptor package was on show at Electronica and builds on the established ChiP (Converter housed in package) approach (see Vicor extends “component power” concepts with VIA package) and have a standard width of 35.3mm and a height of 9.3mm. The units will come in lengths varying from 72mm to 141mm.

 

The VIA range combines multiple ChiP packages inside a machined metal housing and adds filtering, surge suppression, control, monitoring and bus interdace functions to create something that should be easy to design in. VIA will support a broad range of voltage I/O and power handling including isolated, non-isolated, ac-input and dc input, regulated and non-regulated. Vicor describes VIA as “an IC approach to higher power system integration and it will cover from 25W to 1kW and input operating voltages from 8V to over 420V. The first product, expected early in 2015, is likely to be a 400W, ac/dc input block. The VIA package is a machined metal housing that can be attached to heatsink or equipment cold wall.

The VIA family of power supply components with common height and width. Source: Vicor.

 

“We were an early innovator with ‘bricks’ in communications. It solved a problem in communications but it was not general purpose enough,” said Vinciarelli

 

Vinciarelli said that had then become important for Vicor to build out is range across the various levels of ac/dc conversion to 48V, 12V, 5V and dc/dc conversion from these dc voltages using standard component foot prints. That involves a wide range of input voltage ranges, output voltages and power conversion specifications along with variants on cased and board-mounted form factors, power-factor correction isolated, and non-isolated, regulated and telemetry and control functions. “You need all the complementary blocks. The approach becomes more powerful when you offer all the blocks for an end-to-end solution.”

 

“With VI-Chips we got close in high-end applications. Those applications included communications, defense and industrial applications,” he said referring to one of Vicor’s established product ranges but one that still needs a certain amount of designing in.

 

Vinciarelli makes the point that Vicor is moving in to larger markets such as computing and moving down on to the printed circuit board with smaller footprint and lower height power conversion systems in package.

 

With regard to power components for x86 server computers Vicor is already manufacturing in volume and meeting Intel server specifications. “We are doing very high volume – 15,000 units per week – that convert from 48V to 1.2V or 1.8V with isolation and current multiplication.

Next: Cultural battle


 

One of the ways Vicor achieves this within its smaller components is by using printed circuit board technology to create the transformer winding “The transformer structure is embedded in 14-layers of high-temperature PCB. Magnetic core assemblies are dropped into apertures within the PCB assembly,” said Vinciarelli. The company is also using ARM microcontrollers for command and control functions within some of its more fully featured converters, Vinciarelli said.

 

Cultural battle

 

With power supply manufacturer Vicor going on PCB and adding intelligence it seems likely that it is going to meet competition from power semiconductor companies coming in the other direction.

 

“We have a strategy. Semiconductor companies tend to have a different strategy. They tend to look at the low-end dc and be very application-specific. Power supply companies have the R&D background and can take a holistic view. We are saving companies the utility cost of energy,” said Vinciarelli, referring to the fact that the highest efficiency conversion may drive up component cost but also increases the electrical efficiency of equipment.

 

What about companies that are looking to do transformer topologies in the back-end of line of silicon? Is it something Vicor is researching?

 

“It can work. But does it make sense to do it? The big issue is efficiency and the problems of introducing magnetic materials in the back-end of line and finally I don’t think they can provide isolation. We can provide 10kV isolation,” said Vinciarelli. “So ingenuity on a very focused application might work. It may even lead to a successful company, but it is not a general-purpose solution,” he concluded.

 

Next: Asian manufacturing?

 


 

 

Investing in R&D

 

“We invest 16 or 17 percent of revenue into R&D. We are in an investment phase. Therefore new products are the result,” said Vinciarelli who also indicated that the company is looking to go to do more manufacturing to serve higher volumes in more cost-sensitive applications.

 

“Asia is growing substantially, Europe less so,” he said. “We have 250,000 square feet of automated manufacturing in Boston and we are looking to set up another facility, probably in Asia.”

 

However, the exact business model for how such an Asian factory would be funded is not yet fixed. “We do have talks with companies particularly interested in taking licenses to do their own manufacturing,” said Vinciarelli.

 

One possibility is that Vicor could use excess capacity at such a customer-owned facility for its own requirements while the customer ramps production for its own use. “Having that captive demand may help us,” Vinciarelli said while declining to name any potential licensees or locations.

 

Related links and articles:

 

www.vicorpower.com

 

News articles:

 

Vicor extends “component power” concepts with VIA package

 

Higher-density buck regulators offers I2C telemetry and programmability benefits

 

DC-DC converter module supports space saving industrial and aerospace applications

 


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