Posted on 10 July 2019

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The Novum Digital family has focused on ease of use

It is nearly impossible to miss an article about the growing digital power market. Engineering publications are loaded with market analysts’ comments on the potential of digital power and announcements regarding new digital power products from leading IC companies. These serve to highlight the intense interest in the marketplace and the optimism for the future of digital power.

By Mark Adams, VP of Worldwide Sales CUI Inc.


Analysts collectively agree that the market is growing, to what level, however, is debatable. For example, the Darnell Group in August 2009 announced that the digital power IC market would experience market growth of 19.8% compounded annually from 2009 and 2014. The Petrov Group, on the other hand, six months later announced that the same market would grow 34% compounded over that same period of time. Regardless of which report you read, it is clear that digital power will far outpace the rest of the market.

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Who is driving this growth for digital power?

One of the current debates calls into question where the industry lies on the “Technology Adoption Lifecycle” curve. Understanding the level of adoption drives how quickly the market will grow. If the market is still in its infancy, exponential growth will not see fruition for some time. However, if the market has moved through an early adopter phase, near term market acceptance is more likely.

Market adoptions

Today’s implementation of digital power is dominated by the Tier One computing, storage, networking, and telecom Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). These large OEMs see the additional value of digital power and have set their future directions accordingly. Some of these OEMs even claim that the vast majority of all new designs going forward will utilize digital power. Since these companies drive a large percentage of sales, the semiconductor and power supply vendors in this market have been driven to develop solutions to support their future requirements.

These OEMs have pushed the IC market to include a wide variety of features in their digital product offerings, and with that complexity comes the difficult task of implementation. This push by the Tier One’s has caused a clear divide between the large companies that have resources to support these designs and those that do not. The required application design support has limited the ability for smaller, resource-constrained companies to implement digital solutions. Due to the amount of business from the Tier One companies, the IC and power supply vendors typically provide dedicated support teams for their products. These resources are in addition to the dedicated power designers that these OEMs already have internally on staff.

 Unfortunately, the power requirements of today’s designs are not tied to just the large OEMs. Similar design issues are common across all companies, regardless of size. These include:
• Power management
• Sequencing and ramp rates, monitoring, and margining
• Fault detection and response
• Greater densities in board design
• Thermal management
• Lower voltages and tighter tolerances
• Higher currents
• Shorter design cycles

The same FPGAs, DSPs, and ASSPs are being used by all companies. However, the available technical resources to solve those requirements are geared towards only a portion of the market.

Distributed Power Architecture

In order for digital power to move along the technology adoption lifecycle, the industry must therefore focus on “ease of use”. Products must be usable with minimal support in order for widespread adoption to occur. Digital power providers are already trying to focus on the concept of ease of use. They provide numerous documents to assist with component selection, board layout, and in depth compensation guidelines. These are in addition to numerous tools that support the design effort. Others offer a 4-Day Digital Power Design course to educate the end user. Since ease of use is defined differently by all companies, the true definition in the end will actually come from the customer.

What is Ease of Use?

Today’s digital power solutions do not lack available features. It is the ease of implementing those features and prioritizing their use that has caused the biggest challenge for end users. There is always a fine line between required features and those that are optional in a solution. On the surface, it appears that the industry has been leaning more towards solving the “would like to have” rather than focusing on what is truly needed.

There is one basic fundamental that always needs to be kept in mind; the reward for change must be significantly greater than the learning curve to implement something new, otherwise the change is not worth it.

With the shift to digital, software tools have become a part of the design process, and the ease of using these tools must be taken into consideration. The FPGA and Microcontroller companies learned long ago that design tools can win or lose designs regardless of the feature set within the silicon solution. If it takes too much time to implement the features, then the reward to the customer is not worth the effort. These vendors have thus developed tools and support for all levels of customers within their respective markets. Engineers don’t necessarily have the time to attend 4-Day classes or to scour through pages of documents looking for an answer. If the answer is not there, they need to get support from the vendor to solve the problem.

Smart Grid Platforms

Power is the necessary evil

When speaking with engineers and managers at companies outside of the largest OEMs, a common theme continues to surface: “Power is a necessary evil.” Engineers are leveraged on the IP they create for their company, not necessarily for the power supply design. The reduction in engineering staffs has forced engineers to not only create company IP, but to then figure out how to power the design. Because of this and the continuously shortening design cycles, the power architecture is one of the last items to be addressed. Unfortunately, time to market is even more crucial for smaller OEMs, as this can make or break a product and even potentially a company. Today’s design engineers need a solution that can be truly “cut and paste” to solve the continually shifting demands of power.

Simple Digital

CUI’s Novum Digital Family is targeted directly at the engineer that needs to solve today’s issues in a simple plug and play manner.

The fundamental philosophy of this product family is “simple digital.” It is built around Powervation’s Auto-controlTM technology and an intuitive, easy to use design tool. Auto-control greatly simplifies what was once the time consuming “black art” of designing analog compensation loops. These control loops were suboptimal by necessity and designed for worst-case conditions. The automatic compensation feature gives an engineer the ability to layout the circuit and then let the module perform its own compensation calculations. It essentially eliminates the 20+ page compensation application notes and tools from other vendors and incorporates the compensation into the IC directly. In addition, Auto-control will continue to compensate the circuit throughout the life of the product on a cycle-by-cycle basis so the circuit is always in an optimal state. This feature dramatically reduces the design cycle and increases the reliability of the circuit when compared to an analog solution.

As the first pure play module vendor to sign a license agreement with Power One, it has been CUI’s intent to remove the barriers to digital power implementation for all customers. The easy to use VInfinity Intelligent Center (VIC) is a push button driven design tool that allows you to dynamically set output voltage, timing parameters, margining limits, and fault parameters—all the must haves in a digital module.

The first two products in the Novum Digital family include 12A and 25A modules that are footprint compatible for greater overall solution flexibility. Even though the Novum Digital family has focused on ease of use, the modules also provide a smaller overall board footprint and outstanding efficiencies and transient response compared to other solutions on the market.

The 25A module comes in a compact 0.50” x 1.07” package and provides excellent efficiency and superior transient response. Figure 4 above shows the 25A module operating with a load step of 5-15-5. The recovery time is 150uS, with a undershoot of +35mV and overshoot of -33mV, giving a peak-to-peak of only 78mV. This performance is achieved with only 470uF of ceramic capacitance on the output, thus reducing your total board space and solution cost. The efficiency of the 25A is 90% @ 12Vin/2.5Vout, full load.The Novum Digital Power family is currently sampling to select customers and will be in full production in Q2 2010. Complete demo boards will be also available through Digi-Key beginning in Q2.

Transient Response 25A Module


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