Power Electronics

A Time to Preserve Technical Legacies

This special issue commemorates 30 years of publishing Power Electronics Technology magazine, from its earliest days as Solid-State Power Conversion to its years as Power Conversion and Intelligent Motion and later PCIM/Power Electronic Systems. Although the name has changed through the years, the magazine's mission of informing engineers about the latest design techniques, components and technological trends in power electronics has remained essentially the same.

This continuity of purpose served us well when it came to researching our anniversary articles. Reflecting on developments that were described in our very first issues, we've been able to put some perspective on the current state of the art. Such was the case in the “Then & Now” and component history articles that we ran in the July through October issues. In this anniversary issue, we take our 30-year retrospective to another level with articles that highlight achievements in both engineering and the business of power electronics.

In Randy Frank's “Top 30 Companies,” we pay tribute to many of the key suppliers who have driven technical innovation and fueled the growth of the industry. The difficulty of limiting our company list to the anniversary-inspired number is compounded by our desire to recognize vendors in such diverse areas as semiconductors, magnetics, passives, packaging, motion control and power systems.

Also complicating the company selection process is the history of mergers and acquisitions that have changed the corporate landscape over the years. Since the article focuses on present day companies, some important names from the past like RCA and General Electric don't appear in “Top 30 Companies.” Then too, there are some significant names like Unitrode and Harris, which only appear as part of an existing manufacturer's genealogy.

We faced another daunting task in identifying a set of landmark technical developments. In Frank's “Top 30 Milestones and Products” feature, we have built a timeline that cites 30 of the technical breakthroughs and commercial product milestones in the power electronics field. In this timeline, we've tried to identify those developments that have had a lasting and pervasive impact on the design of power supply, power system and motion control applications. And in citing particular technologies, we've tended to identify their emergence with the first commercial product introductions.

Part of the difficulty in documenting the technical landmarks in our timeline was finding good sources of information. Commenting on his efforts to research the “Top 30” articles, Frank observed, “Those who pioneered and created the technology and their associates are getting difficult to find due to retirement, new job assignments, new companies and other reasons. I was surprised that I had a better idea of many companies' accomplishments than the people I contacted. It turns out the history of many companies is already lost. And, as George Santayana said, ‘Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.’ This can be costly when prior art exists and engineers think they are in the inventing mode.”

Ironically, Frank's sentiments about our losing touch with the industry's past were echoed in the “Looking Into the Future of Power Components” article. In this feature, Gene Heftman, Steve Grossman and John Day explore what lies ahead in different component technologies. In writing about magnetics technology, Heftman discusses how the existing knowledge of magnetics design is being lost as its masters retire and are not replaced.

With this special issue, we take a small step in preserving the history of development and entrepreneurship in the power electronics industry. But clearly, much more needs to be done. Power component and power supply companies need to recognize the value of their own contributions, document those contributions thoroughly, and then share that information through their websites and printed materials. They also should work with outside organizations — trade groups, universities and museums — to create programs and exhibits that can record and publicize their achievements. These types of activities will not only preserve the legacy of innovation in the power electronics field, but strengthen the industry for future generations.

TAGS: Companies
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