Power Electronics

Bringing ASICs and IPs to Power Supplies

To stay ahead in the game, especially in times when the economy is slow and uncertainty is in the market growth, power supply manufacturers are tapping every resource to increase their market share. Hence, it's not surprising that some have taken the silicon route to develop application-specific ICs (ASICs) and intellectual properties (IPs) to distinguish their products from those of the competitors. Besides gaining a new forte to enhance their products, this strategy is giving traditional power supply manufacturers a chance to expand into new territories.

Concurrently, that change is also being driven by power semiconductor suppliers, who are packing more functions on-chip with higher power capability to deliver as complete a solution as possible. In fact, a number of them are also offering complete modules so users don't have to look for additional components to complete the solution. And some others are helping users solve their system level power management needs using online tools. In addition, a few are helping designers to exploit the advances of digital signal processing and change the direction of power supply design from analog to digital control.

Recently, Power-One and Vicor Corp. unveiled integrated dc-dc converters for point-of-load (POL) and distributed bus architecture based on their respective ASICs. And power-over-Ethernet (PoE) supplier PowerDsine announced a strategic partnership with smart power giant Motorola Semiconductor. In working with Motorola and exploiting SMARTMOS8 process, PowerDsine is planning to create an ASIC which combines power, analog, and logic functions on a single chip for the emerging PoE market.

For Power-One, it's a significant shift in its strategy. To offer its new line of integrated multichip-module (MCM) for POL application, it had to adopt a fabless semiconductor business model. For that, the maker has inked partnership with outside foundry and packaging service providers, as well as it has formed a new Silicon Power Systems division. Traditionally, Power-One has been a supplier of high performance bricks and subsystems using off-the-shelf devices from traditional semiconductor players. With this approach, Power-One enters into a new market segment, the silicon based power conversion and management. And goes head on against power semiconductor vendors who have been serving its needs.

Similarly, Andover, Mass.-based Vicor Corp. has crafted custom control ICs, based on its proprietary zero-voltage, zero-current switched topology, for use in its latest building blocks called pre-regulator module (PRM) and a voltage transformation module (VTM). These modules, encased in BGA packages, are employed in the new power architecture. For Vicor this approach is not new. To keep itself apart, it has been designing semi-custom control chips, based on its proprietary topology, for its power supplies since inception in 1983. This strategy has worked, prompting the maker to continue on this path for nearly two decades. Vicor also taps an outside foundry for its custom/semicustom chips.

As time goes on, analysts believe more traditional power supply makers will take the silicon route to bring uniqueness and IPs into their products. Obviously, more partnerships will exist between power supply manufacturers and foundry service providers, packaging houses, or semiconductor players. It's at least a sign that power supply designers are getting aggressive and don't want to be left behind.

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