Power trends: Size is everything

Interviews |
By Nick Flaherty

“Technology in general has always been a race, and today, at this time, it is the race to be the smallest in its class,” said Anil Telikepalli, executive director of business management at Maxim Integrated (below).

The reason he says that is that Maxim has launched the smallest point of load (PoL) in its class, which in this case is relatively low current for the 42V uSLIC module as processor and IC power management companions. This has been made possible by some key packaging technology that allows 3D stacking of commercial inductors, allowing Maxim to combine its Himalaya power management chips with all the other components needed.

“We see mixed signal as the next frontier and integration is the play in a big way as we have integrated not only diverse analogue blocks with digital and mixed signal so uSLIC is a key investment from the company and this type of technology allows us to get a lot closer to the user. We will continue to drive that technology as we have seen more demand for other things that customers want us to do,” he said. “Can we push the envelope further, absolutely.”

He sees at least a 3.3x improvement in the power density going forwards. “What we are building here is a base framework for a range of products,” he said. “Most of the power modules have been focussed at lower voltages as IC companions as there are a lot more point of loads voltages than high voltage and focussed on ease of use for customers that are not power supply experts – they want a module with pre-selected magnetics, compensation and a certain input, output and current.”

“We have several of these in a candy-bar style, plastic SIP module,” he said, “but now with this we have ventured into a sister set of modules that we call uSLIC. As we went out in the market there are a whole bunch of customers demanding modules that are small size for space constrained equipment where it is not just ease of use but space, and even power supply experts want a module for the small size. That is what this family addresses.”

The modules go from 4.5V to 42V to support 24V distribution and sensor systems. The aim is to provide the housekeeping supplies that come on first that are usually lower current and there has been an explosion of sensors in the data centre, he says.

“These are the smallest ones in its class,” said Telikepalli. “Other 5V and 12V modules have focussed on higher currents, and our first two parts are addressing 100mA and 300mA for lower current sensors, LAN, housekeeping supplies, industrial comms. We will expand this as we go on,” he said.

He points to the industrial market growing rapidly driven by the Industry 4.0 automation, with the voltage regulator market growing 17% a year.

The modules are based around the MAX 17532 with preselected components.  “We have taken the indictor and stacked it on the IC – that idea is that it is really current agnostic, but there is the heat challenge, there is the EMI challenge – we have conquered these to do this device,” he said.

“Our philosophy for the magnetics is to use off the shelf inductors, my belief is that exotic technologies all come with tradeoffs that are not attractive to customers,” he said. “There is no limit on the technology – as the material is mounted on top there are no constraints except for EMI and mechanical and we are testing it like a semiconductor component.” For example, the modules have been tested on flexible circuit boards, 2, 4 and 16 layer boards

“We expect to push the voltage and current higher. As we speak, we believe we can take this to much higher currents 10x higher,” he said.

The drive to higher voltages is also being driven by the PLC and motion control standards where the requirement is 60V, not 42V.  “At 60V the magnetics need to meet the current and voltage requirements – in addition to the 48V data centre we also see 60V as a must have for motion control and PLC in industrial automaton,” he said.

“For 48V even now there are a lot of different ways, you see from a processor standpoint, ARM clusters, GPU, FPGA, then you look at the sensor, there are some doing it from 48V some from 24V, these need a backup battery, and beyond 24V we see lithium stacks coming up with other voltages – I would argue that nothing is running solely at lower voltages as the sensors need backup and need to be available if something catastrophic has happened – we see that play very well into this.”

He also points to Wifi and its 200mA requirement that opens up a lot of IoT applications

The first modules are just the start of a family of stacked devices. “We believe we are now at the stage of scaling it and these technologies are just initial teasers on the things that we see ahead.”

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