This is partly because the telecoms and computing markets have seen significant cost pressure.
“We have divisions designing modules particularly in Japan and in Dallas that were more focussed on telecoms but now for the industrial medical segment, some are semi-rugged for transportation,2 he said. “The communications market is very highly commoditised in power terms. What you get with modules is commonality with drop in replacement which helps drive price commoditisation. Conventional supplies are less interchangeable.”
This standardisation of module footprint is driven by consortia such as the Distributed-power Open Standards Alliance (DSA) and more recently the Architects of Modern Power (AMP) consortium.
“We have participated in the DOSA consortium and those kind of de facto pinouts and brick sizes are very common and the communications market is advancing some of those things. We have done DOSA 2 designs to squeeze more out of the same footprint,” he said.
“Data centres are a very interesting segment of the market particularly when you talk about efficiency. That’s quite a unique market where you can design a product for higher efficiency at higher cost it’s a simple decision, whereas in most of our markets we are increasing efficiency but without adding cost. It’s harder for an equipment OEM to sell the energy saving to his customer, the equation is very different.
Whether new technologies such as GaN make a difference remains to be seen.
“We are using low voltage GaN in DC-DC converters already but high voltage GaN is a different beast. They are relatively expensive and it’s about understanding the benefits and whether it’s a cost effective product at this point in time or a few years down the road, probably the later. But it opens up more interesting opportunities in frequency and the opportunity to improve magnetics. TDK is a a major ferrite manufacturer so we can work closely in that area.
Having magnetics and ferrites in-house is definitely an advantage, particularly in the early stages of the design of a power supply, he says. Other manufacturers produce similar materials over time and eventually it commoditises but there are certain advantages in materials and topologies in automotive that can cross over into more commercial products.
“It’s still not an exact science, and we are always experimenting with more materials and seeing what the properties are,” he said. “It’s all about smaller, lower cost, quieter designs. There’s definitely more stress on improving the cost and size of the magnetics, and helping to improve efficiency. In terms of thermal cooling there’s a lot of new opportunities such as in LED lighting. This is using new materials for removing the heat and we are looking at how we could deploy them in new designs to get the heat away. No one likes fans and if they don’t have to use them they won’t, so customers are becoming more accepting of conduction cooling, so areas like that are interesting,” he said.