For the first time in a long while, I didn't get that burst of enthusiasm from my honored list of industry prognosticators in their yearly outlook for power. Their mixed signals tell me that 2005 will be fairly uneventful at the OEM designer level. But the big picture will look better. The industry is already focusing on such issues as a U.S. wrap for the lead (Pb)-free initiative. And planners in charge of the larger scale power systems are in hot pursuit of solar- and wind-based sources. Many of the welcome gifts are the result of jittery times that are reflected by tight economic indicators ranging from "far from great" to "not too bad," when those who live for near-term profits have to take a day off.
This season's first big conference for lead-free looks to be in February at IPC Printed Circuits Expo, with session organizers implying "this is the year." The rest of the world will wonder what's taken us so long. Our manufacturers haven't been unresponsive, but maybe there hasn't been unified cooperation, either. Economic slowdowns tend also to provide the opportunity to focus on what's important. A growing number of photovoltaic- and wind-based products also came on strong at the end of 2004. Unlike most other areas, however, the larger wind generators are meeting stiff resistance from anti-noise-pollution advocates, some of whom are on the anti-hydrogen bandwagon, too. It's a matter of compromise.
But there are revolutions to worry about. Military products and budgets are getting a thorough reevaluation, with the world digging in for the long haul. Despite our efforts to solidify a truly global economy, some of our previous cold-war enemies are striking their own military agreements. It's not good economic news for us, heaped atop a 15 to 20 percent cost-of-living increase in the four years since the recession.
Certainly there's a few optimists with some fairly busy road maps for the traditional power categories. The big topics include changing the face of power management, embodied in new-generation systems-on-a-chip (SOCs). Also expect to see continued advances in power-distribution architectures, and a fair amount of activity in power MOSFETs and in such applications as motor-drivers and automotives. But don't expect a memorable year for power overall in the context of what shareholders expect in a normal business environment. Don't despair, however; looking at the long term usually sets a good tone for better times to come. Happy New Year.
Vincent Biancomano covers power products for eeProductWeek. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author and should not be taken as an editorial position of EE Times or any of its other editors, publications or Web sites.