Power Electronics

Power Alliances: Friends or Foes?

How many times has a design engineer been forced to downgrade from a product that was leading-edge technology to some other part that was standard and able to be second sourced? Does moving toward second sourcing force engineers to use inferior products to protect the supply chain? We may find our answers by examining two power alliances that are touting themselves as the solution to second sourcing.

Two dominant power alliances in the industry today are the Distributed Power Open Standards Alliance (DOSA) and the Point of Load Alliance (POLA). These alliances have different approaches to second sourcing. DOSA offers both isolated and nonisolated power converters that meet the same basic specifications, such as footprint, pinout and trim equation. DOSA member companies design their products independently, with each converter having a different bill of materials (BOM) and different supply chain than similar converters designed by other vendors. Design flaws or supply problems in one power supply will not affect other suppliers' converters.

POLA offers a nonisolated line of products that is based on a single design for each part. From one POLA member to another, one module will operate identically to the other vendors' modules. Although the products may be purchased from different power supply companies, the BOMs are shared, leaving all POLA members equally vulnerable to supply chain risks.

While approaching second sourcing from different directions, both alliances are able to drive technology through their respective founding principles. In DOSA, certain design standards are voted on and adopted. Many member companies are working on their designs independently, yet simultaneously. This puts an emphasis on technology and time to market, making it imperative that the vendor's products outperform those of its competitors. This competition promotes newer and better technology, and drives companies to streamline their design processes and product development cycle.

In POLA, when one member designs a new high-power point-of-load device, the other members are also able to leverage that design. This benefits the member companies by enabling them to increase their product offering without any development effort. On the other hand, companies within the alliance have to accept the designing member's design, test, characterization and processes, which may not be as thorough as their own, and may or may not detect any design flaws or performance issues. This strategy allows companies within the alliance to focus on different designs, thereby potentially bringing products more quickly to the market.

Although POLA and DOSA both strive to offer second-source capability, there is a significant difference between technology advancement from both alliances. While POLA defines standards that every member company must meet identically, DOSA's charter embraces and encourages new technology development, allowing member companies to exceed the performance standards set by DOSA. By releasing a part that can outperform other members' capabilities, a single vendor is able to aggressively drive new standards.

These advanced technology products may initially only be used by niche companies that place a premium on technology and performance, but the benefits will become more usable by the general power industry as other DOSA members are able to match or exceed the performance of the product introduced by the pioneering power supply vendors. This effect drives down the time to market for newer and higher standards.

Some companies, such as PWM controller companies, achieve high margins on their chips because they are sole-sourced. Though commodity managers may try to reduce the price, will they get it if the controlled design is a unique, single-sourced device? By designing in products produced by members of an alliance, like DOSA, the customer can drive prices lower, while pushing performance higher.

Dr. Martin F. Schlecht is the founder and CEO/president of SynQor Inc. Previously, he was a professor of electrical engineering in the EECS department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rachel Deonier has held engineering, sales and marketing positions in OEM and power supply companies since graduating with the BSEE degree from the University of California, Berkeley. She joined SynQor in 2004.

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