Posted on 17 July 2019

Effective Battery Charging and Management

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This can save the environment while improving customer experience

The awareness of environmental impact has extended to the segment of portable electronics. Consumers increasingly demand better performance and “sexy” industrial designs. At the same time, they expect products to minimize any negative impact on the environment.

By George Paparrizos, Director, Product Marketing, Summit Microelectronics, Inc.


The electronics industry has been shifting to more environmentally friendly material for some time now, and new industry initiatives and standards that affect power efficiency, charging methodology and power sources are accelerating the trend for “Green” consumer electronics. While new market requirements pose design challenges in new system designs, they also provide avenues for product differentiation among the myriad portable devices. This article discusses some of the new industry trends, their impact and their benefits for system designs. Battery charging and power management solutions that address these “Green” initiatives are also being introduced.

The environmental impact of portable consumer electronics can be split into a few different categories. One of the most important ones is the use of material – including battery, casing, printed circuit board (PCB) and chips – that has little or no effect on the environment. The big breakthrough with batteries already took place a few years ago with the transition from NiCd (highly toxic) and NiMH to Li-Ion battery technology. Furthermore, the widely accepted Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), which was initiated in the European Union, led to a gradual transition toward lead-free chips over the last few years. The RoHS directive went into effect on July 1st 2006, requiring each EU member country to enforce it and make it law. It was also very quickly adopted by all developing countries as the new standard for the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.

Though not as obvious as batteries and material, incompatibility in the device physical connectivity has also had a great environmental impact in the form of electronic waste. Many of the makers of smart phones and other portable gadgets have been using a variety of different connector types - or industry-standard connectors with a proprietary detection algorithm - making device interoperability impossible. This is the reason each one of us has a drawer at home full of unused wall (charging) adapters. Making things even more complicated is the fact that manufacturers have been introducing different connector types from one model to the next. Various initiatives over the last two years demonstrate the industry’s determination to standardize on a single physical connector, thereby enabling true universal charging and minimizing unnecessary electronic waste, currently estimated at thousands of tons. A list of such initiatives is shown below:

• Memorandum of Understanding for Harmonization of Charging Capability for Mobile Phones (European Union)
• Universal Serial Bus Charging Specification (USB Implementer’s Forum)
• Technical Requirements and Test Method of Power Adapter and Interface for Mobile Telecommunication Terminal Equipment (Ministry of Information Industry, PRC)
• National Communications Commission (Taiwan)
• Common Charging and Local Data Connectivity (Open Mobile Terminal Platform)

Power efficiency is another critical factor in environmental conservation. While power consumption during operation is inevitably increasing due to the increase in functionality and processing power (transition from voice-phone to smart-phone), many new designs are implementing more efficient power conversion methods during operation and during battery charging. As an example, most of the new smartphones are utilizing switch-mode battery charging that allows both faster battery charging and reduced “wall” power requirements. Additionally, this transition has had the positive effect of significant reduction in power dissipation (reduced temperature rise inside the portable device), thereby allowing slimmer industrial designs that increase consumer satisfaction and also require fewer materials! Looking further up the energy chain, many new regulations over the last few years have also driven higher efficiency of wall adapters (AC/DC conversion), both during operation and during idle mode (Phantom energy).

Like in many other market segments, the newer electronics industry initiatives that are targeting the reduction of the environmental impact require some minimal investment and increased development costs in the short term. However, the benefits for both consumers and manufacturers significantly outweigh the short-term challenges. As an example, the standardization of the charging physical interface to a USB connector allows consumers to use the same standard “USB” wall adapter (and/or cable) for many electronic devices, or as they transition to new cell phone models and types. This significantly improves ease-of-use and consumer satisfaction: no need to bring four different adapters when traveling! At the same time, manufacturers can also benefit from this standardization by eliminating the wall adapter from the “box,” thereby reducing total product cost. Furthermore, industry-standard connectors, such as the USB one, have a very high adoption rate, thereby providing economies of scale for all parties.

No new change comes easy, hence the industry’s transition to some of the new “Green” requirements brought many challenges for the entire electronics supply chain. For example, the adoption of leadfree components introduced many issues in the various sales chan- nels and in procurement and quality departments for ensuring traceability, backwards compatibility and attractive cost structure for the RoHS-compliant material. The promotion and adoption of universal “USB” charging has also introduced many challenges in new system designs, some of which are being addressed by new industry specifications while others are being addressed by innovative chips. Examples of such system design issues include the differentiation of a wall adapter vs. a computer USB port, the power compatibility between the various wall adapters and electronic devices as well as the implementation of the newly required intelligence when the system is off (low-battery conditions).

Power Reduction with Switch-mode Battery Charging

The SMB137B demonstrates a charging implementation that supports USB universal charging and the need for reduced power consumption, while addressing some of the new system design challenges. The SMB137B can differentiate between a USB port and a USB wall charger, thereby allowing support for USB2.0 but also enabling faster charging times when the input power source is a wall adapter. Furthermore, this product is utilizing a high-efficiency, switch-mode architecture, which together with the proprietary TurboCharge ™ mode, minimizes the power required from the “Grid” during battery charging. Both these features allow significantly shorter charging times, which increases customer satisfaction and portable device value.

The SMB137B addresses additional system challenges, common in many USB-based portable designs. When powered by a wall adapter that provides an output current level that is lower than what the portable device is expecting for charging, the SMB137B will reduce the system’s charging current requirements to ensure stable charging. Without this functionality and given the variety of “USB” wall adapters and their current capability on the market, the probability of over-loading the adapter is very high. Such a scenario would result in suspension of charging, frustrated consumers, costly service calls and damage in OEM reputation.

Innovative Charging Implementation with Automatic Power Source Detection and Low Battery Recovery Mode ™

Another common case of consumer frustration is the prolonged charging time during low-battery conditions, when the input power source is a USB port. In this situation, system may be off without the capability for the device to enumerate and to enable higher input and charge current levels. A solution to this problem is the utilization of a CurrentPath™ architecture that allows the system to power-up instantly, thereby allowing the transition to USB5, while adhering to all the requirements of USB compliancy. Even in extreme cases in which the system needs higher current levels to power up for enumeration, the SMB137B incorporates a proprietary mode that allows battery power to temporarily be steered towards the system in order for the portable device to exit this “battery trap” condition.

As demonstrated in the above paragraphs, the electronics industry has made great progress in reducing its impact on the environment. A variety of industry initiatives have already been put in place to significantly increase power efficiency and reduce electronic waste. While the transition to the new standards has introduced some challenges, innovative solutions and services have once again surfaced to address these issues in a cost-effective and easy-to-implement manner. The support for the new regulations and initiatives has yielded portable devices with a significantly reduced environmental impact and a great deal of benefits for the consumers, while maintaining and in most cases reducing system and product cost.






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