Today is rife with opportunities and dangers for makers of dc-dc converters. The opportunities have narrowed as a result of the current economic downturn. The dangers have increased in the near term. But all the long-term trends continue to play out and the search for growth will intensify. New power architectures are driving the average wattages of isolated converters down. Makers of non-isolated point-of-load (POL) converters are also seeing their value-added opportunities reduced by new system powering architectures. New packaging options are emerging and will impact the opportunities for value-added. The sometimes hidden backdrop for these changes is the emergence and growing importance of various forms of digital power management. This report delves into these changes and identifies the most likely way forward for the dc-dc converter industry.
Throughout this discussion, power conversion efficiencies and digital power management will be lurking in various forms. Early on, the discussion will mention the impact of Power-Over-Ethernet (PoE) becoming a growth driver for the Communications power sector. PoE uses isolated dc-dc converters to replace ac-dc power supplies in various types of network equipment. The high growth of PoE and the associated 15W to 25W isolated dc-dc converters will contrast starkly with the 100W+ isolated dc-dc converters that have up to now dominated the Communications space. In the case of PoE, digital power management takes the form of the identification when PoE-powered devices are connected to the network and the level of power that each device requires.
The emergence of PoE is only one example of changing power architectures and the impact of digital power management on the markets for dc-dc converters. The “Power System Management Protocol specification” (PMBus™), introduced in March, 2005 has recently become the dominant power management protocol for board-mounted dc-dc converters. PMBus is also used for inter-board communications in some rack systems. The need for improved control of today’s dynamic power operating environments and the increasingly strident demand for increasing power system efficiencies are primary factors driving the use of digital power manage in general, and PMBus in particular.
Since the bursting of the communications bubble in 2001, this market has been in a constant state of flux. Prior to 2001, isolated dc-dc converters employed in conventional distributed power architectures (DPA) in telecommunications equipment dominated the market. Beginning in 2001, the dominance of isolated converters has been under continual attack, first from the intermediate bus architecture (IBA), and today from the centralized control architecture (CCA). One of the prime factors driving the new power architectures has been the growing number of power rails in a typical piece of electronic equipment. PCs provide a good case study of this trend, with the number of power rails in a PC increasing from 2 in the initial designs to 10 or more today. A typical circuit card in an Ethernet router may have 40 or more different voltage buses, each with its own dc-dc converter. A similar trend is found in every equipment category.
In addition, the development of digital power management, and more recently, digital power conversion technologies, has had a significant impact on the design and value-added opportunities for dc-dc module makers. Overall, these trends have had the impact of reducing the value-added contribution from dc-dc modules and moving value-added more and more toward semiconductor makers. Those trends are not expected to slow down for the next several years.
Initially, it was changing system architectures (moving from the DPA to the IBA and now the CCA) that were the prime factors in reducing the value-added in converter modules. More recently, semiconductor packaging developments such as power multi-chip modules (PMCM), power supply in package (PSiP) and power supply on chip (PSoC) have enabled semiconductor makers to capture even more value-added and reduce opportunities for dc-dc converter module makers.
Improved on-line design tools are another factor in the decline of modules. Semiconductor makers ranging from National Semiconductor and Intersil to Analog Devices offer on-line development tools and libraries of reference designs, making it easy for system designers to implement (lower-cost) embedded dc-dc converters. Some of these design tools have been on-line for 10 years and offer sophisticated simulation capabilities, optimization tools, and more. The resulting designs, while not as thoroughly optimized or sophisticated as state-of-the-art modules, are much better than earlier generations and are generally more than good enough for use in mainstream (but not necessarily leading-edge) system designs.
The growing importance of power management (primarily optimizing energy efficiency) compared with power conversion is another factor driving the value out of dc-dc converter modules. Power management began to take on increasing importance with the emergence of digital power technologies about five years ago. Today, digital power management (often implemented with the industry-standard PMBus™ protocol) is a requirement. PMBus is only one example of the emerging standards impacting dc-dc converter makers. System architecture standards such as the Advanced Telecommunications Architecture (ATCA) and the already-mentioned PoE are changing the demand characteristics of this market. Finally, there are emerging standards that go beyond the board or rack level and up to facilities power management that are propelling the adoption of digital power management.
In critical facilities, the new digital power management solutions can place useful information into the hands of data center operators and facility managers, enabling more informed and intelligent decision-making for energy optimization. It is claimed that, for the first time, data center managers have visibility that combines power consumption of IT computing resources such as servers and storage devices with energy-related events, power quality, historical trending and forecasting information. This information is said to offer customers greater precision in data center and facility management. Energy optimization is a critical need in data centers where annual energy costs usually exceed $10,000,000 and where cooling the equipment is becoming an almost unmanageable problem.
In the case of telecommunications sites, adaptive energy management is said to reduce consumption by nearly 60% at wireless sites and 40% at the central office. To put those numbers in perspective, Emerson states that estimates indicate the telecom industry was responsible for about 1% of the energy consumption of the planet last year. That equates to 15 million U.S. homes and matches the CO2 emissions of 29 million cars.
Topics Covered Include:
• Application Segment Trends
• Evolving Power System Architectures
• Advancing Power System Architectures
• Number of System Voltage Rails Growing
• Converter Choices Multiplying
• PsiP, PsoC and Non-Isolated Module Price/Performance
• Integrating Magnetics in PsiPs and PsoCs
• Impact of Silicon-Carbide and Gallium-Nitride Devices
• Packaging and Architecture Trends Are Complementary
• Converter Demand Trends
• Standards Landscape Is Evolving
• Digital Power Management
• Implications of Digital Power for the DC-DC Supply Chain
• System Designer’s Perspective on Digital DC-DC Converters
• Impact of Trends in Critical Facilities Power Management
• Report from the First International Workshop on Power Supply on Chip
• Fifth Annual Digital Power Forum
The market for dc-dc converters will continue to grow, but the rate and trajectory of that growth are being altered by numerous factors. In the near term, growth will slow as result of the current economic downturn. However, the impact of today’s economic troubles will vary widely from potentially devastating to hardly noticeable, depending on the specific market segment and product category being considered. One of the accomplishments of this current analysis is to identify the varying intensities of these changing economic dynamics. Critical and often subtle longer-term trends are also identified and discussed.