Power Integrations comes out of stealth mode with GaN

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Stealth mode is not just about startups worried about larger companies stealing their ideas. It also applies to larger ventures. Power Integration has been working on gallium nitride (GaN) technology for a decade on the quiet, and has now shipped over 1m GaN-based devices to Anker for consumer chargers.

Back in 2010, PI acquired Velox Semiconductor, a spin out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in the US, and used the research to create its PowiGaN technology. It has taken a different approach to some startups, integrating a GaN switch into its third generation of integrated InnoSwitch devices.

The InnoSwitch devices combine the primary power switch, primary and secondary control with safety isolated high speed link (FluxLink) in between, as well as the secondary SR driver and feedback circuits in a single surface-mounted package.

GaN supports a conversion higher frequency for power supplies, but the InnoSwitch devices run at the same frequency as the previous silicon versions. While this doesn’t give a dramatic increase in efficiency, GaN allows higher current with higher reliability in the same InSOP 24D surface mount package without a heatsink, reducing the size of a 65W or 100W consumer charger.

“It’s also making things manufacturable,” said Peter Rogerson, senior director at Power Integrations. “If you have to change a lot of things then the price point becomes hideous for the user and this is for a mass market. We’ve always been pushing the efficiency curve, but once you get over 95% it gets harder, but a one percent improvement in efficiency from 95 to 96 percent is a 20 percent reduction in loses which is remarkable.

“The power density you can achieve is an absolute game changer with USB Power Delivery (PD) up to 100W in tiny devices. We see GaN using in many of our markets and probably being the central technology. Because of this, we have the entire GaN process is inhouse – we developed the whole thing,” he said. The GaN transistor fabrication is done at existing silicon fab partners and the InnoSwitch3 Size 9 and 10 devices use the same assembly and test facilities as the silicon InnoSwitch3 parts. The GaN parts have been undergoing accelerated life testing and reliability testing for many years, which is what took the time to come to market two years ago.

Since then, PI has been shipping the $4 devices to Anker Innovations in Shenzhen for 65W power adapters using USB PD. Earlier this week, Power Integrations CEO Balu Balakrishnan presented the one-millionth GaN-based IC to Anker CEO Steven Yang (above).

“Anker is a world leader in compact charger design, and was the first high-volume customer for InnoSwitch3 products with PowiGaN. I’m pleased to recognize Anker’s foresight and technical excellence, and to thank Mr. Yang for his critical contribution to the first successful mass-market deployment of high-voltage GaN technology,” said Balakrishnan.

“By using PowiGaN-based InnoSwitch3 ICs we are able to offer USB PD chargers that are compact, lightweight, and capable of delivering high power output. We are excited to use this innovative new technology to help us achieve our goal to charge everything faster. We are confident this advancement will help us keep gaining positive market feedback and customer response,” said Yang.

There are now five new reference designs describing USB PD chargers from 60 W to 100 W as the company comes well and truly out of stealth mode.

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