From the perspective of a power supply company I see several obstacles standing in the way of a rapid adoption and deployment of digital power technology. Although some of these obstacles relate to market demands such as low-cost products or the need for interoperable solutions, many of the roadblocks stem simply from a lack of familiarity with the technology and what it offers.
Perhaps the most basic problem is a reluctance on the part of users and developers to take a chance on digital. Digital power control is probably the biggest discontinuity in the power industry since switch-mode power came onto the scene more than twenty years ago. Like then, today users and developers must separate myth from reality and focus on the great advantages that digital control brings to the users. After enjoying music on CDs and portable MP-3 players would anyone go back to LPs? Of course not!
The second issue is the need to get new a skill mix in the engineering departments. We need more power engineers that feel comfortable with DSP algorithms, embedded microprocessor design, programming in C++ and writing Verilog. Training, continuous education, online courses and new curriculums are all needed so we can all migrate to the digital power world quickly and comfortably.
Unfounded concerns about reliability and performance represent another obstacle. Actually, digital power control gives more opportunity to build-in more precise protection mechanisms and also be able to do online diagnostics and monitoring of the power systems.
The semiconductor suppliers need to do their part by developing more cost effective parts, spending more time understanding the applications, and tailoring their devices to specific applications so we don’t have over-specified parts that are too costly or difficult to use. Simulators and easy-to-use development tools are also a critical part of the offering that we would expect from leading semiconductor suppliers. A balance between flexibility, cost, and ease of use should all be considered for new control devices.
One communications standard is also necessary (although digital communications doesn’t mean that we have a digital power system). It is time for the whole industry to line-up behind PMBus and stop bickering, or trying to “invent” another standard. Adopting a communications standard will help customers, expand the market, increase system reliability and drive overall costs down.
Just like in the early days of switch-mode power supplies, we are at the dawn of a new era for power. This is a great opportunity to innovate and create value for our customers and end users. For all of us in the industry we should include in our new year’s resolution the commitment to learn something new about digital power and embrace the change.
In June of 2005, Dan Artusi joined ColdWatt, a provider of high-efficiency power supplies for the communications and computer industry. Prior to that, Artusi was president and CEO of Silicon Laboratories, a designer and manufacturer of mixed-signal integrated circuits, having joined the company as COO in 2001. Artusi held various positions at Motorola from 1977 to 2001 including corporate vice president and general manager of Motorola's Networking and Computing Systems Group; vice president and general manager of Motorola's Wireless Infrastructure Division; and general manager of Motorola's RF Products Division. Artusi is also a member of the board of directors of Atheros Communications and Powerwave Technologies.