Posted on 01 June 2019

Interview on Power Management Technology

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with Dave Freeman, System Engineering Manager, Texas Instruments

By Bodo Arlt, Editor BPS


Bodo Arlt: What end markets will drive TI for power management technology?

Dave Freeman: TI’s power management business is divided into several power product development units, focused on batterypowered and line-power system end-equipment designs. For example, we have groups focused on portable markets with developments of simple-to-use, high-frequency controllers, multiple rail-managed controllers, battery chargers, notebook system power controllers, and a complete line of LDOs. Other business units focus on line-powered equipment providing innovative PFC controllers, as well as isolated DC/DC controllers. On the other side of the isolation boundary, business units are developing products for very high-current, low-voltage controllers that address the need for improved efficiency, high density and load response in the server and networking markets. Lastly, TI has a power product unit focused on digital power development which today focuses on POL applications for most infrastructure spaces.

Bodo Arlt: What is TI’s position besides the wide range of ICs?

Dave Freeman: We understand that the power marketplace requires more than a wide offering of power solutions. We need to make it very easy to do business with TI. We have many programs that can be tailored to offer various support services from complete application notes and EVMs to reference design solutions. We also offer various industry seminars such as the Power Supply Design Seminar Series, Portable Power Seminar Series, and later this year TI will begin a Digital Power Design Seminar series. TI has invested in a very experienced team of power field application engineers so that customers can depend on local support for the power solution development. Making TI power ICs easier to design with is a major focus at TI.

Bodo Arlt: What are the technologies that can offer innovation for leadership?

Dave Freeman: Power IC solutions more and more are becoming mixed signal devices with higher digital content. TI continues to develop IC processes that provide high-density analog along with dense digital circuits. Analog IC designers know that their processes do not scale at the rates of digital. However, there is continued improvement. The 20V analog devices shrink at about 17 percent per year. At this pace, the 20V device area is cut in half in a little more than three years. The higher voltage analog devices shrink at a slower rate. For example, 50V analog devices take nearly five years of process development to achieve a half-size reduction. Using mixed signal processes, greater levels of complex power management can be addressed. Moreover, power solutions are beginning to have more manufacturing and run-time configuration requirements. This leads to having non-volatile memory as one of the circuit components. An industry-standard power interface also enables greater power system management, which enables innovation in efficiency improvements and real-time diagnostics.

Bodo Arlt: What impact has digital power within TI?

Dave Freeman: Digital power has been a part of TI for more than 10 years. Complex power applications like large UPS and threephase power conversion has been addressed using our DSP products. Complex power has moved from the very high power space to commercial and consumer end equipment. Today’s systems have many more rails, very dynamic power requirements, and much lower voltages. This leads to the need for solutions that address greater levels of complexity. However, the power designer is also faced with a very tight budget. To address these seemingly opposing requirements of very high performance, functionality as well as low cost, TI has made a major investment in developing digital power solutions. We have continued to develop our DSP solutions to address power specific applications while also developing application-specific digital power solutions for general power use. Our recently announced UCD9240 is one example. This device allows for dynamic management and control for multiple rails and multiple phase, and is configured over PMBus. Today’s digital power development in many ways mimics the analog power building blocks. I think digital power will continue to evolve, and companies that have developed strong digital signal processing expertise will be in the driver’s seat for future solutions. Just like motor control, audio, and cell phone technology, power management will become primarily digital, but analog will continue to be needed at the input and the output.

Bodo Arlt: Is TI’s advantage more in silicon, or is it also part of packaging technology?

Dave Freeman: When we ask our customers what is important for tomorrow’s power solution, they almost always give a similar response: efficiency, density, and reliability. Of course, cost needs to be inline with value. Improving efficiency certainly will help density, but they want more. The density issue comes from the desire to add more features to the same size printed circuit board – so they look at squeezing the power solution area. TI continues to innovate in power packaging solutions. The challenge in making any power solution smaller is getting the heat out. Our power pad and metallization solutions continue to improve, putting more power in a smaller space. This is a key advantage at TI.

Bodo Arlt: What makes TI different from traditional IC suppliers?

Dave Freeman: TI is a company that develops a very broad range of integrated circuits for end applications. For example, we develop ASICs used in servers, networking, and portable applications like cell phones. This development allows greater visibility of power requirements for these types of applications. TI is also a company of diverse abilities such as developments in processing, packaging, integrated circuits and solutions. This allows TI to address the whole problem, not just a piece. The results are an integrated solution where the components are complimentary.

Bodo Arlt: How much is TI involved in the end customer’s application?

Dave Freeman: TI actively seeks to understand the end customer’s application. We also strive to develop an understanding of the values of our customer’s customer. This is not an easy task. When TI Power visits a customer, we typically talk to the customer’s power group. This is usually where many other power suppliers stop. However, at TI we will most likely be supplying other components for the end equipment solution. So, we will have additional insight into the challenges and opportunities for power. We find this insight is appreciated by our customer’s power groups. In the early days of battery management, the battery management IC supplier became part of a three-member team: the battery pack supplier, the end equipment company, and the IC supplier. This cooperation greatly improved the timely success of a solution. It is very likely that as power becomes a more integral part of the end equipment, this type of relationship will also continue to develop for power designs.

Bodo Arlt: What will be the target to introduce new products?

Dave Freeman: There are two targets for power: the tactical, and the strategic. The tactical target is determined by closely working with customers to have the power solutions when they need them. This is a continuous effort where products are developed and released on a regular basis. The strategic target is to develop power solutions that enable new applications or new degrees of functionality. An example of this is digital power. Today, we have very successful analog solutions. However, tomorrow may require a more symbiotic relationship between the application and the power solution, and digital power addresses this. One of the most power-managed devices is the cell phone. If every application focused on power management to this degree, it is very likely that we would greatly reduce our global power demands.

Bodo Arlt: Do we expect more monolithic solutions in power, including ICs and Switches?

Dave Freeman: Yes, products like integrated drivers and FETs have been on the market for a couple of years. The initial benefit was the size and part count reduction due to integration. Today, the benefit is focused on efficiency. This integration can help reduce the parasitics that reduce the overall efficiency. The challenge is that FET development has been the play ground of the discrete semiconductor companies, and the drivers have been developed mostly by the IC companies. The winning solution needs to use the best from both worlds, and this is being done today. The outlook is that these integrated products will continue rapid deployment while integrating more components such as controllers, protection and sensor devices.

Bodo Arlt: Do we expect to see more high voltage IC technology in the line voltage range?

Dave Freeman: The high-voltage IC technology continues to develop through various isolating process technologies. However, the development is quite slow. There are certainly companies that have made this territory their space. There is also quite a bit of IP tied up in this area, so many companies look elsewhere for product development.

Bodo Arlt: Thank you, Dave, for your time. We look forward to a successful future for power solutions.


Dave Freeman

Dave Freeman

Dave Freeman is an Engineering Manager in System Power Products at Texas Instruments. In this position, he manages systems engineering as well as being a core member of TI’s digital power team. Dave has 16 years experience in power-related areas with a strong focus in portable power management. He has 18 patents related to power and battery management. His current concentration is in the digital power development area where he specializes on microcontroller peripherals that are optimized for power applications. In addition, Dave presently contributes a monthly opinion column in Portable Design magazine. Prior to joining the semiconductor industry, he spent 15 years in petroleum research developing measurement methods and equipment for fluid, electrical and mineralogical properties. Dave is a Texas Instruments Fellow.



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