Power Electronics

Semiconductor Vendors Turn to Modules

In the next few years, semiconductor suppliers will play a more pivotal role in the future of power. This role definition is driven by a number of factors. The demand for energy continues to accelerate, but the supply of energy is growing at a slower pace. Oil supplies and battery technologies cannot support this burgeoning need without large investment. The consumer adoption of electronics in regions such as China will be exponential and consumers expect smaller, lighter electronics with more power-hungry features.

Given these forces, the industry needs to rely on the semiconductor supplier to produce more power density per volume, and develop solutions that take up less space and consume less power, while delivering the functionalities and high performance consumers are asking for. These driving factors can be seen in white goods, computing, communications, consumer and automotive applications.

Today's designers must both energize new features to differentiate their products in the market, as well as offer consumers applications that conserve energy to meet the existing and emerging regulations that are mandating power efficiency. This is a formidable challenge. Semiconductor suppliers are engineering creative ways to miniaturize the total footprint on the printed circuit board (PCB), while packing high-performance (and often times high-voltage) features into a package that can handle the thermal environment.

In white goods, we see this creativity in the emergence of smart modules that provide efficient motor control for energy-restricted home appliances such as washing machines and air conditioners. An example of one of these modules is Fairchild's motion-SPM, which integrates six fast recovery MOSFETs and three half-bridge ICs in a thermally efficient DIP package. Such modules offer increased energy efficiency, improved ruggedness and higher reliability, while saving PCB space.

In automotive applications, there are several forces driving innovation. Mechanical systems continue to move to solid state, ignition has moved from mechanical to electrical and the engine itself is moving to electrical. As these elements drive more dc applications, there is the need for more electronics and more power expertise. As many designers acknowledge, traditional “smart-power” monolithic technologies are reaching their limits in terms of power-density capability.

These monolithic technologies have a higher specific on-resistance, higher interconnect resistances and limited signal and power isolation than multichip solutions. Compared to multichip solutions, monolithic solutions typically have longer design cycles and costlier silicon technology due to complex fabrication processes that slow time to market. Having a modular solution that integrates sense transistors, diodes, resistors, MOSFETs and IGBTs into small and innovative packaging can address key performance and design issues.

In automotive applications, heat removal in small spaces is a key issue. Modules, such as Smart Power Switch technology, can address this concern by using the lowest power-loss (heat-generating) devices that the board space defines. An added advantage of the module solution versus a monolithic approach is the reduction of design cycle time and improved time to market.

From a performance perspective, automotive designers must reduce noise and have an accurate sensing of load conditions in automotive modules. When an automotive system reads a low amplitude signal, any noise confuses the system. With a module solution, a Kelvin connection can ensure that the measurement paths are not in line with signal paths. By co-packaging a power IC and a control IC, a designer can read these low signals without adding noise within the system.

In all of these markets, semiconductor suppliers continue to contribute technology and expertise to support consumer demand for high-performance, smaller and more energy-efficient products. By forging strong partnerships with customers, semiconductor suppliers are integral in the quest to provide design-efficient solutions for electronic appliances with severe power budgets and size constraints to meet the burgeoning consumer demand.

Izak Bencuya is responsible for growing Fairchild's Functional Power group and has spent more than 24 years in various roles focused on power discrete devices. He earned a BSEE degree from Bosphorous University in Istanbul, Turkey, a MBA degree from the University of California-Berkeley and a doctorate in engineering and applied science from Yale University. He is a recipient of the IBM Fellowship, the Thomas Alva Edison Fellowship and the Charles Deere Wiman Fellowship.

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