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Transition from analogue to digital power supplies

Posted: 13 Mar 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:digital power? analogue compensation loops?

It is almost impossible to have missed the digital revolution that is taking place in the power market. Engineering publications have been loaded with market analysts' comments on the technology's potential, and new digital power products from leading IC companies.

And whilst analysts argue about the digital power market's exact rate of growth, virtually all agree it will far outpace the rest of the market.

Who is driving this growth for digital power?
One of the current debates calls into question where the industry lies on the 'Technology Adoption Lifecycle' curve. Understanding the level of adoption drives how quickly the market will grow. If the market is still in its infancy, exponential growth will not see fruition for some time. However, if the market has moved through an early adopter phase, near term market acceptance is more likely.

Figure: Market adoptions graph.

Tier-one computing, storage, networking, and telecom OEMs dominate today's implementation of digital power. And since these companies drive a large percentage of sales, the semiconductor and power supply vendors in this market have, understandably, been driven to develop solutions to support their future requirements.

But, this early adoption by tier-one companies is leading to a significant problem. It is adding complexity and the required application design support has limited the ability for smaller, resource-constrained companies, such as Europe's industrial firms, to implement digital solutions.

In effect, it is creating a significant divide between the large companies that have resources to support such designs and those that do not.

Unfortunately, the power requirements of today's designs are common across all companies, regardless of size, and include power management; sequencing and ramp rates, monitoring, and margining; fault detection and response; greater densities in board design; thermal management; lower voltages and tighter tolerances; higher currents; shorter design cycles.

And while the same FPGAs, DSPs and ASSPs are being used by all companies, the available technical resources to solve those requirements are geared towards only a small portion of the market. In order for digital power to move along the technology adoption lifecycle and into the industrial arena, digital power companies must focus on 'ease of use'.

Digital power providers are already trying to focus on the concept of ease of use. They provide numerous documents to assist with component selection, board layout, and in depth compensation guidelines. These are in addition to numerous tools that support the design effort. And others offer a 4-day digital power design course to educate the end user.

But, products must be usable with minimal support for widespread adoption to occur. Engineers rarely have the time to attend 4-day classes or to scour through pages of documents looking for an answer. If the answer is not there, they need to get support from the vendor to solve the problem C a plug an play solution is needed.

Making digital power easier to use
Today's digital power solutions do not lack available features. It is the ease of implementing those features and prioritizing their use that has caused the biggest challenge for end users. Indeed, on the surface, it appears that the industry has been leaning more towards solving the 'would like to have' rather than focusing on what is truly needed.

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