Major gains in power will likely be architectural rather than technological next year, advancing a trend that’s the norm for a mature product area. Thus we’re likely to see significant development in digital power management, more alternative power, and further expansion of distributed power schemes. Indeed, it’s systems development, versus improvements in devices such as MOSFETs, that will catch more headlines next year.
In many ways, it’ll be sort of a segue from this year’s flat period, which we called pretty well (see Long view's the short of it for 2005). Truth be known, the transformation sank in about mid-year, not only in power, but for a few other product areas as well. That’s not to say this year’s products were devoid of innovation. Indeed, there were some notable advances in chips for integration and functionality, and I was never short of candidates in my search for Hot Products for our quarterly reviews. What did show up, though, didn’t in my mind have near the impact of corresponding products of past years. And that scenario is likely to continue. I’m not even getting much inspiration in chips/devices from my preliminary look at APEC 2006's conference sessions. Sure, there’ll be incremental gains in MOSFETs and such, but at this point I’m beginning to wonder, in terms of engineering design, what constitutes the law of diminishing returns when it comes to cutting a device's on-resistance or gate charge.
So system design seems more worth watching. Some of the things to watch for are companies that are into digital power management, which despite no clear definition has a real future. "Last year’s Digital Power Forum was an introduction, this year’s conference had applications and components and next year’s conference will highlight (commercially available) systems with digital power in them," said Jeff Shepard, president of the Darnell Group.
Power-over-Ethernet systems are also entering the high-power age. Also look to companies that provide backup power (e.g., UPSes) with alternative sources such as hydrogen fuel cells and even solar panels. American Power Conversion (APC), for instance, has gone beyond the initial work of MGE UPS Systems and believes fuel cells will make good economic sense next year. Another is the factorized power architecture from Vicor, as the company makes inroads on brick-type DC/DC converters, which dominated the news for several years but fell away after the sixteenth-brick failed to take off. As for other innovation, Flying Mole (Torrance, Calif.), with a loose connection to the traditional power supply area, is proposing a new way to send audio signals with DC for the length of a football field without degradation in audio quality, and over miles with suitable relays.
Vincent Biancomano covers power products for eeProductCenter. 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.