Very few conferences can go from "zero to 100" in one year, but the Second Annual Digital Power Forum in Boston (i.e., Wakefield, Mass.) on Sept. 12-14 may ultimately qualify. From last year’s maiden session, which set out to explore the general potential of digital control, this year’s gathering goes straight to some of the core design issues in digital power. One of the main issues, as underscored by the forum's rhetorical theme for its roundtable discussion "Digital Power—Ready for Prime Time?" includes the practical aspects of how to close the digital feedback loop in a DC/DC converter.
Indeed, ready or not, why should you attend? "There's an entire session on real applications," stresses Jeff Shepard, president of Darnell Group, which coordinates the event. "In addition, systems companies such as IBM are presenting papers for the first time, a strong indication that digital power is coming into the mainstream." Some of the attendees with a strong power base include Astec, International Rectifier, Power-One, TI, and Tyco, all of which are taking a hard look at the advantages of digital power. "And there are some new companies you haven’t seen, specializing in both the control side as well as power supplies," adds Shepard.
Two new seminars this year facilitate much of the "how to do" instruction. The first, at the macro level, approaches digital power from the aspect of external system control and power management via the PMBus. The second, at the "electron chasing" level, turns to the guts of the power supply and the ground rules for establishing the aforementioned architecture for the digital circuitry in various power conversion devices.
In fact, for more systems designers this second area—digital power conversion—defines digital power. As such, it’s a much more involved and complicated bag than system control via a bus. Which explains why digital power is not "a given" to everyone; that is, it's not automatic. "It’ll have its uses and we don‘t dispute it," says one industry source, echoed by others. "On the other hand, it may be limited. Is it worth the effort in our applications? A tightly integrated system can be a good solution—sometimes. In others, it can be constraining, it can actually limit your flexibility. Digital control of an external bus is one thing. Getting into a feedback loop with digital circuitry is something quite different, but most important, to us the issue of being better isn't really that clear cut."
Either way, it seems logical to ask whether some of the major claimed advantages for such systems (speed, accuracy, and time-to-market) will ultimately prove out. Which is why it’s in your best interest to find out what digital power could mean to you. The conference details are available at www.darnell.com/digitalpower/. For more information, contact Traci Shepard at 1-951-279-6684.
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.