Power Electronics

Finding the Sizzle in Hot Power Issues

You probably remember the old Wendy's commercials in which a little old lady expressed her dissatisfaction with competitors' hamburgers by angrily inquiring, “Where's the beef?” Faster than you can say flame broiled, the line caught on as a popular catchphrase. Politicians, commentators and others repeated the question whenever they wanted to dismiss an idea that they believed lacked substance.

Lately, the “where's the beef” phrase has been popping into my head again, though not really with the meaning it had in the commercial. Recent events have caused me to wonder, “What are the real sources of heated controversy and discontent in the power electronics field?” Conversely, what topics seem controversial on the surface, but don't really inspire strong reactions among engineers?

In other words, what are the “beefs” engineers hold against the technologies and industry trends that affect their work? Although there clearly are some sources of controversy in this industry, I wonder whether any of these issues generate the level of intense emotion garnered by issues in other areas of electronics.

That thought struck me when I heard some of the reactions to a news story that ran in one of our sister publications. A particular article reported on the findings of a market research study on broadband over power lines (access BPL) technology (see “Broadband Powerline Communications Poised for Growth,” RF Design Bulletin, March 24, 2005).

This article was simply reporting the findings of a particular research firm and was not advocating support for access BPL. Nevertheless, merely publishing a summary of the findings was inflammatory, sparking a swift and angry response from engineers and amateur radio operators who assailed the report in particular and BPL in general. The merits — or demerits — of BPL aside, the reader reaction was what got my attention, although I can't say it surprised me given the vocal opposition to BPL in amateur radio circles. And as a fellow electronics editor/ham (AD2A) once told me, he never received so many letters as when he mentioned amateur radio in his articles.

Another article in this magazine may raise the specter of controversy. In this month's “Executive Viewpoint” on page 80, a representative of a prominent semiconductor company addresses the issue of second sourcing of board-mounted power modules. Because the author's company is a member of the Point of Load Alliance (POLA), this commentary examines the issue from the POLA perspective. Clearly, members of the Distributed-power Open Standards Alliance (DOSA) will have a different perspective on second sourcing, given their differing approach to standardization.

But outside these two groups, how do you as power supply and power system designers view the second sourcing issue? Does it strike a chord with you? If so, do the different supplier alliances benefit or hinder you in your work?

That's just one topic. There are other issues that currently generate some level of debate. For instance, the role of digital power management has become a popular topic for conference rap sessions in recent years. But does it inspire strong feelings in you as an engineer? How about energy efficiency — a theme that pervaded the keynote talks at the recent APEC meeting? Do you welcome the attention that the EPA and other regulatory groups are lavishing these days on power supply efficiency?

And how do you view other regulatory standards and initiatives? With the European Directive on the Restriction on Hazardous Substances scheduled to take effect next year, many electronic component suppliers are accelerating their efforts at compliance. Has their response sufficiently supported your efforts to develop compliant products?

Obviously, this discussion can be pointed in many directions, ranging from the technical (Are new component technologies overhyped?) to the professional (Do you fear outsourcing?) and beyond. Please email me at dmorrison@primediabusiness.com and state your “beefs” on these and other topics (but not BPL!). Although your opinions or concerns may not be as simple and as catchy as the famous question about the burger, your feedback may serve as healthy food for thought.

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