Clearly, silicon will continue to dominate power system designs for the near- and even medium-term future. But increasingly, growth will be in new materials such as SiC and GaN, enabling new solutions including power supply on chip (PSoC) and power supply in package (PSiP) approaches. The development of PSoC and PSiP will be complemented and enabled by the emergence of 3D printing technologies. Along a separate line of development will be the emergence of integrated wireless connectivity in power converters and even batteries.
3D packaging will enable 3D printing to have a significant impact. 2D printed electronics is already here. Printed sensors are an existing market and are projected to reach $8 billion in sales within 10 years. 3D printing is only now beginning to emerge. On example of the emergence of 3D printed electronics ca be seen in the partnership announced between EoPlex and MCT to develop 3D packaging for electronic systems.
"3D printing technology has the potential to disrupt and change high volume manufacturing as we know it," with "marked improvements in electrical and thermal performance," commented Robert Bagheri, EoPlex COO.
Last week, Nano Dimension announced that its subsidiary, Nano Dimension Technologies, has developed a technology for the printing of 3D objects using multiple materials, which includes electronic conductors. The company has developed an innovative approach to print objects in 3D that contain conductive traces.
Commenting on an earlier announcement, Amit Dror, Nano Dimension Co-founder and CEO said: "Multilayer, 3D inkjet PCB printing is an entirely new category of 3D printing designed specifically for the production of professional multilayer PCBs, and it eliminates the negative issues associated with outside manufacturing facilities. With Nano Dimension's DragonFly 2020 3D Printer a world's first for printing multilayer circuit boards, users can build functional prototypes in-house (including the interconnections between layers) in a matter of hours."
If that's possible today, how far will 3D printing advance in the next decade? Higher production speeds, finer dimensional control and lower-costs are just three areas in which 3D printing is expected to advance in the future. Those developments could have a substantial impact on distribution channels for "standard products."
It's possible to imagine a future scenario where system designers pay to download a file with all the information for printing a specific PSiP design, then using 3D printers integrated into a production line to produce the desired power converter. Maybe the file will include a license to print a specific number of PSiP packages (which may also include passive components such as magnetics, capacitors, connectors, antennas, etc). Those packages would be populated with active semiconductor devices using advanced 3D pick and place equipment.
The higher operating frequencies enabled by SiC and GaN would be a complementary and enabling capability In this future scenario. And 3D printing may not be just for low-power systems. Last September, the Department of Energy awarded $22 million for the development of wide-band-gap (WBG) technology in high-wattage (MW-class) industrial power converters. The aim is toh double industrial energy productivity. WBG devices can operate at higher voltages, temperatures and frequencies compared with silicon devices.
Turning to another area of power converter design, it is already common to include communications capabilities in many designs using I2C and other bus architectures and standards have been established such as PMBus. The anticipated growth of the internet of things (IoT), the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and the emergence of the smart grid are driving wireless connectivity.
How long will it be before wireless connectivity supplements or replaces wired methods such as I2C? Power converters may be in the best position in the system architecture to monitor power and wirelessly report energy consumption and other operational parameters. Such converters could receive and deliver data. And they will present new opportunities for value-added.
For example, last September Roost, Inc. announced its Series A investment round of $5.5 Million for a "smart" 9V battery for smoke alarms. According to the announcement, "The patented Roost Smart Battery, and free mobile app, transforms existing home smoke and CO alarms into smart alarms. Easy to install in less than five minutes, Roost's IoT innovation comes in a familiar 9V battery form factor. Among its Smart features, the Roost Smart Battery finally eliminates those pesky 3:00 a.m. chirps by notifying you when the battery needs to be replaced. It also sends you notifications on your smartphone whenever your smoke alarm sounds, even while you are away." What innovations will be possible in other electronic equipment with the addition of a smart battery or power converter?
Also last year, JuiceBox Energy, Inc. announced availability of their new 8.6kWh Li-ion energy storage system for solar energy storage and smart home connectivity. With this product release, JuiceBox enters the rapidly growing residential energy storage market with a safe and reliable, web-connected product that can be installed on new and existing solar energy installations.
Finally, last October, Real-Time Innovations (RTI) announced its communications software will be incorporated into Alencon Systems‘ next-generation energy systems. The RTI Connext® Platform allows unprecedented connectivity, scalability and reliability, enabling Alencon to provide more advanced power conversion architecture.
Alencon provides high-efficiency inverter technology targeted at large-scale photovoltaic systems. A key component of these systems is collecting vast amounts of data such as the quality of the power grid, testing for abnormalities, and testing the system controller. Once this data is collected, the system is analyzed to improve its maintainability. With the emergence of smart grid technology and efforts to modernize the power grid, there will be even more data available, requiring a data-centric connectivity solution. Rather than building a communications protocol in-house, Alencon Systems has integrated RTI’s real-time communications software, saving time and engineering resources.
In the coming decade, new materials such as SiC and GaN, will enable new packaging solutions including power supply on chip (PSoC) and power supply in package (PSiP) approaches. The development of PSoC and PSiP will in turn be complemented and enabled by the emergence of 3D printing technologies. At the same time, along a separate line of development will be the emergence of integrated wireless connectivity in power converters and even batteries. Collectively, these developments promise to disrupt existing business models while presenting new opportunities for increased value-added for power converter and power system makers.