Power Electronics

Digital Power Breaks Through Bit-by-Bit

This year’s Power System’s World Technical Conference, held Oct. 24-26 in Long Beach Calif., provided a venue for power designers to address one of the hottest topics of the day—digital power control. This topic was given a special emphasis at the conference with a dedicated session titled, “Digital Power Conversion”. At this session, several speakers articulated the benefits, challenges, design architectures and product examples of digital power control. The documents that accompanied these talks are posted on Power Electronics Technology’s “Spotlight on Digital Power” .

In the first presentation, “True Digital Solutions Simplify Full Featured Cost Effective Buck Converters”, by Deepak Savadatti of Primarion, the misconceptions and advantages of digital power were discussed. In this talk, emphasis was placed on the fact that digital power control solutions are field proven. It also encouraged designers to approach digital power as a means to provide new capabilities and features beyond what can be accomplished in power systems based on analog technology having the same cost. This includes concepts such as remote monitoring of a power supply in a piece of fielded equipment by an OEM. The talk concluded with Primarion’s Di-POL family of digital power controllers.

In the next talk, “CLOZD Loop Technology Advances Digital Power Control”, David Caldwell of Flextek Electronics observed that the common elements of many applications are power, control and customization. This can be provided with Flextek’s CLOZD loop technology. The presentation that followed by Dr. Shmuel Ben-Yaakov of Systel was entitled “Design and Applications of a Universal Power Management Mixed-Signal SoC Controller (UPMC) Platform.” This device has Control, Interface and CPU sections, and provides a complete migration path from pure analog control technology to mixed signal digital control.

Similar to methods used in high performance FPGAs in other areas of electronics, both of these talks discuss the advantages of implementing digital control functionality as dedicated hardware blocks to achieve significant performance gains over digital control implemented with DSPs. A programmable interface to these dedicated circuits enables programmability in the high-performance digital controllers based on this architecture.

Hardware technology as well as hardware design enables the fundamental capabilities of digital power control. Besides the obvious trend of shrinking CMOS geometries, increasing the operating frequency of discrete components within the control loop is another effort that will lead to improved performance. In “Implementing High Speed Isolation Barriers”, the final presentation by Keith Coffey of Silicon Laboratories, the mature technology of optocouplers was shown to be lacking compared to three other emerging isolation barrier technologies based on RF or magnetic coupling techniques.

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