GaN Dominates the Conversation at Leading Power Electronics Show – Key Takeaways from Applied Power Electronics Conference & Exposition (APEC) 2018

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The who’s who in the power electronics industry descended in San Antonio, Texas recently for the annual Applied Power Electronics Conference & Exposition (APEC). For those unfamiliar with APEC, it is one of the leading events of the power electronics industry, bringing together professionals from all sectors from around the world – designers, engineers, manufacturers, suppliers, academia, and media. The conference provides a forum to exchange technical knowledge and to discover the latest developments in power electronics technologies and products.

In my opinion, this year’s conference was one of the best and most exciting. There was an increased collective enthusiasm about the technology advancements in high-power, high-efficiency power systems designed to meet the demands from every industry sector you can think of – from automotive to consumer electronics to data centers to renewable energy.

GaN was at the center of many discussions at the conference. For myself and my GaN Systems’ colleagues, the industry momentum is exciting. Here are my key takeaways from APEC 2018 and how I believe GaN is changing how we live, work and play:

  • Achieving Highest Power Density and Diminishing Size

We demonstrated the highest density on board charger (OBC), resulting in a 3X increase in power density at 4kW per liter, compared to a silicon-based charger at 1.3 kW per liter. High power density with GaN plays an important role in many additional sectors, such as consumer electronics, more specifically power adapters, which are more efficient, smaller, lighter and sleeker. For instance – and as noticed by many conference attendees – our reference designs reduce the size and weight of laptop chargers to one-third of those made with silicon transistors.

  • Powering up Wireless Charging

We are moving to a wireless society – one where our devices no longer need to be tethered with cable connected to them. Industry has successfully removed the telephone cord with the mobile phone. Next came Wifi and the elimination of the Ethernet cable. The last cable to cut is the power cord. We’re now transferring power and charging devices wirelessly. In many applications this means we need higher power and higher efficiency power systems.

And here is one of the key applications that garnered a lot of attention and interest from conference attendees – GaN’s use in wireless power transfer, additionally known as wireless charging, depending on the application. For this application, we demonstrated GaN’s capability to reach power levels much higher than what wireless charging has traditionally achieved. As an example, wireless charging is most well-known for charging cell phones and laptops – these are low power applications. But with our GaN transistors, we showed applications from 100W up to 1.5kW.

  • Increasing Server Power

GaN enables data centers to realize energy savings and increase power density – significantly reducing OPEX, CAPEX and TCO expenses, as we demonstrated with a customer’s 3kW power supply. Using GaN, we achieved 50% increase in power density in the same size power supply, increasing a standard Intel CPRS form factor output power from 2kW with silicon transistors to 3kW with GaN. This application of GaN generated great interest from many power supply designers.

The week at APEC 2018 was a banner one for GaN Systems. We renewed old friendships, made new industry connections, showcased our customers and partners, and announced new and innovative products.  With GaN power transistors, we are watching our customers favorably impact their bottom line and long-term business competitiveness. Furthermore, the improvement of new engineering designs and products undoubtedly have a global environmental impact.

For more information on GaN Systems, visit www.gansystems.com.

Data Centers and Energy Efficiency

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“The Conversation” is a video series in which GaN Systems’ executives engage in conversation with leaders in industries that are being revolutionized as a result of changes in power technologies. Change for these companies is not limited to their bottom line, but extends out to issues around technology’s impact on global energy consumption.  Industries explored include data centers, automotive, consumer electronics, renewable energy, and industrial.

In this episode of ‘The Conversation,’ Jim Witham, CEO of GaN Systems (a leading GaN power semiconductor company) joins Stefan Heck, CEO of NAUTO (an autonomous vehicle technology company using an artificial intelligence-powered connected camera network.)  The topic: As the flow of data continues to grow exponentially and the data center becomes a cornerstone of the global economy, how do data center executives need to think more expansively about power efficiency? With global data center use of energy tracking to reach 5-10% of world-wide consumption in a few years, how do we ensure that the better world we seek to create through data is not offset by the data centers’ insatiable demands for energy?

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Jim:

There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity for change in data centers – especially around power efficiency. The number one expense in data centers is the energy to run the servers. It can be as much as 40% of total cost.  Those servers typically waste about 5-10% of that energy.  With new power semiconductors, they would be able to cut those losses to maybe a percent or two, save a lot of energy, and tremendous amounts of money for the data center.

 

Stefan:

I’ve been amazed that with data centers you pay for the energy twice. On the in-bound side you pay to power the servers, and then for the AC to cool then.  That’s a double whammy.

 

Jim:

Like in the auto industry where you can make the electronics smaller, if you can make the server power supplies smaller, you can use less space for power conversion and put more servers in the same space. If you put more servers in the same space that means that you’re using your assets better. For a data center manager, they’re getting more TB/square meter. And with 10X growth we’ve been seeing in data centers, you could also delay actually spending money to build new data center.

 

Stefan:

Data centers are similar to the auto industry in that there are multiple steps in power conversion. The incoming high voltage power is converted 3 times before it gets to an actual server at the 3 or 5 volt level.

 

Jim:

Exactly.  You’re going from very high voltage AC down to a volt in electrons for the microprocessors.  And you don’t want to throw those away. Here’s an example of what can be done around power efficiency and density in data centers.

 

Take a server rack that typically has 40 total spaces for servers and power supplies.  With smaller power supplies, a data center manager is able to put 4 more servers into a rack.  At first glance that may not sound like a lot. When you multiple that by the thousands and thousands of racks in the data center, the numbers become huge. It could be a billion dollars more in revenue that is achieved, just by being more efficient with how servers get into the racks

 

Stefan:

It’s exciting when you’re talking about power electronics and the kind of productivity shift available either because the system is more efficient, or smaller in size. You get more use out of it, and that’s a double win. It adds to the bottom, but at the same time you’re reducing energy, reducing materials, and reducing your environmental footprint.  So the bottom line and the environment are longer at odds. They go hand in hand in this case. Efficiency in saving energy and improving power electronics is a great win that way.

 

Jim:

We’ve talked a lot about technology and about how hardware and software can change things. I think another important element of this equation is people.  We’ve got to get data center executives to change their mindset, and change their thinking in order to not only change their business, but change the world.

 

Stefan:

I agree.  A lot of these system changes that can come from the new power architecture means that executives have to rethink what service their data center is providing. Business leaders have to get involved in a whole new way of doing business. It isn’t just about incremental engineering change that’s going to happen automatically down in their procurement department or their engineering organization.

 

Jim:

We’re talking about fundamental change here and that needs to get down to the C-Suite.  People have to show the leadership here’s some new ideas make sense; these can fundamentally change the business.  Then they have to organize the teams to make sure it happens. It’s about taking some risks and chances. It’s about doing some pilots and field trials. Then get to work on it to show what can be done.

 

Stefan:

That’s right.  I think both you and I are working with industries – data centers and in automotive – that have a lot of expertise and have been successful for a long time. But they are facing disruption and need to revisit what product they’re offering.  They need to question how they’re building it, how they’re designing it. Look closely at these disruptive power technologies. Because sometimes it isn’t just a 10% improvement; It’s a 50% step change. And that means you’ve got to rethink your architecture.

 

Jim:

Exactly.  Not an easy job, but one that has a lot of benefits if the company does it right.

 

Stefan:

Huge return .  And frankly if you miss it – There’s huge risk,  if you fall behind.

 

Jim:

Exactly.

 

Stefan:

You have to look forward and embrace change.  There’s a lot of good about it, but it does take leadership as you said.

 

Jim:

Excellent.  Thanks for the discussion Stefan.

 

Stefan:

Sure, my pleasure. Great to talk to you.

Power Technologies and the Future of the Auto Industry

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“The Conversation” is a video series in which GaN Systems’ executives engage in conversation with leaders in industries that are being revolutionized as a result of changes in power technologies. Change for these companies is not limited to their bottom line, but extends out to issues around technology’s impact on global energy consumption.  Industries explored include data centers, automotive, consumer electronics, renewable energy, and industrial.

In this episode of ‘The Conversation,’ Jim Witham, CEO of GaN Systems (a leading GaN power semiconductor company) joins Stefan Heck, CEO of NAUTO (an autonomous vehicle technology company using an AI-powered connected camera network.) The topic: How power semiconductors are playing a significant role in driving change in the electric (EVs) and autonomous vehicle industry – both in the design of vehicles, but also in the impact on the data centers required to address and analyze the data that they generate.

 

Watch on YouTube >

A transcript of the video conversation follows: 

Jim: Stefan – It’s great to see you here at your offices at NAUTO.  We’ve spent some time talking in the past about power technologies and I know that you’ve written and talked extensively about the subject. I thought it would be great to talk about this and share a few thoughts with our audience

Stefan: Power technologies are a huge trend for the world – electrifying all kinds of devices.

Power technologies first changed our world 100 years ago, but were now on the cusp of another whole round of change just like that.

Jim: At GaN Systems were seeing a lot of companies who are really interested in saving energy but also in saving materials. The size, weight, and the cost of those materials in their power systems are important.  Two of the markets where we see a lot of change happening are automotive/transportation and also data centers. At Nauto your focus is in the area of the transportation network. How do you see the power and transportation markets colliding and changing?

Stefan: As we talk about ground transportation (a space both of our companies are in now), there’s a massive shift happening over the next decade toward what I called ACES – autonomous, connected, electrified, shared.  This is what I mean by that: Autonomous vehicles need to be recharged, and if they are shared they can be used all day all the time – very efficiently.  And as electric vehicles, they don’t have any emissions as they go around the city, so we reduce urban pollution and have a lower cost per mile.

Jim: We’ve seen three major areas where power electronics are making an impact in the transportation marketplace:

  1. Charging electric cars,
  2. Power distribution system, the DC to DC converters to get power to your seats and dashboard,
  3. The electric motor itself

Stefan: I think those are right.

Today if you look at an internal combustion car, it is horribly inefficient. The overall efficiency of the motor and drive train is down in the low 30%. The electric motor is typically 85-90% efficient; sometimes even more if its highly optimized

Jim: Big difference.

Stefan: Huge difference.  Almost triple.  That’s triggering a whole change in car architecture.  And with autonomy coming in we’re about to add even more sensors – LIDAR and SONAR and RADAR.  So there’s a lot more electronics in the car both for the compute and for the sensors.

Jim: I think that power semiconductors are going to play a big role in this transformation that you’re talking about.

With some of the new devices that are out there you can dramatically increase the switching speed.  That means that all of the components in the power system can get smaller, because as frequencies go up, size goes down.

You can take the magnetics and the capacitors and make them tiny compared to what they are today. You can also increase the efficiency of the system tremendously, so heat sinks get smaller. You take metal out of the system. And when you do all that, it makes systems that are 3-4 times lighter in weight, 3-4 times smaller in size, and less expensive, because you’ve taken all of those materials away.

All of that really enables the electric vehicle.

Stefan: That’s really important. Not only does it get smaller and less expensive, but suddenly new opportunities open up.  Once I’ve got an electric car with the power train much smaller and lighter I can make the vehicle more flexible.

Jim: Big changes in the car industry.

Stefan: Huge changes. It will soon be unrecognizable.  We have new entrants coming in, and we’ve got pieces disaggregating.  There are a lot of new components coming in, so for an OEM its an exciting time. You can completely reinvent how a car is designed, and conceived now with a flexible power electronics architecture.

Jim: Stefan I read the other day that every autonomous car will put out 4 TB of information every day. If that’s the case, aren’t we looking at a tremendous amount of data coming onto our systems that we are going to have to deal with?

Stefan: The data part is growing massively.  But the volume of cars actually won’t grow that much.  In developed countries, the total car pool is expected to shrink. Were at about a billion cars today.  The developed world will drop to 2/3 or maybe half of that.  The emerging markets are still growing.

Jim: It’s interesting to see that auto manufacturers like BMW, Ford, and Toyota are all starting to really pay attention to data. In the past decade, I think that data centers were using about 1% of all electricity in the world.  That has kicked up to about 3% today.  People are talking about that going upwards to 10%, and it could be even higher with the data used by cars.

Stefan: Autonomous electric cars and shared cars are going to reduce the amount of energy consumed in transportation.  But near term, they’re gong to increase the amount of data center usage.  So unless we make those data centers more efficient, we just transfer the heat so to speak.

We really have to do something about the data centers too.  Otherwise we are just shifting power consumption from one area to another.

SiC vs GaN Head-to-Head Performance Comparison

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A lot of engineers don’t have a good feel for how gallium-nitride FETs perform compared to silicon-carbide equivalents. So GaN Systems devised two 650-V, 15-A switching supplies using SiC and GaN to see how they compared. In an interview conducted by WTWH Media’s Lee Teschler, Jim Witham explains the differences that emerged in this head-to-head study.

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PSDtv – GaN Systems on Customer’s Applications of GaN Transistors

In this episode of PSDtv from PCIM Europe 2017, Jim Witham, CEO of GaN Systems discusses benefits of wired and wireless charging using GaN transistors. Jim discusses a wired charger for notebook computers that generates a power density of 35 W/cubic inch…which is 3x the normal charger power density. Also shown is a wireless charger that produces 70 W of power. This device can be placed under a conference table or in a hotel room, and is capable of charging a notebook computer or fast-charging multiple cell phones.

Watch on YouTube >

PSDtv – GaN Systems on Customer’s Applications of GaN Transistors

In this episode of PSDtv from PCIM Europe 2017, Jim Witham, CEO of GaN Systems discusses benefits of wired and wireless charging using GaN transistors. Jim discusses a wired charger for notebook computers that generates a power density of 35 W/cubic inch…which is 3x the normal charger power density. Also shown is a wireless charger that produces 70 W of power. This device can be placed under a conference table or in a hotel room, and is capable of charging a notebook computer or fast-charging multiple cell phones.

Watch on YouTube >

Customer Products on Display at PCIM 2017

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This video, originally published on Electronics Products Magazine’s YouTube channel, was recorded at PCIM 2017. GaN Systems’ CEO, Jim Witham, talks with Alix Paultre about the adoption of GaN technology and describes some of the 30+ customer products displayed at PCIM that are performance-optimized by GaN transistors.

Watch on YouTube >

Customer Products on Display at PCIM 2017

This video, originally published on Electronics Products Magazine’s YouTube channel, was recorded at PCIM 2017. GaN Systems’ CEO, Jim Witham, talks with Alix Paultre about the adoption of GaN technology and describes some of the 30+ customer products displayed at PCIM that are performance-optimized by GaN transistors.

Watch on YouTube >

Wireless Charging Using GaN Transistors

Charge pads can now charge multiple wireless devices simultaneously thanks to gallium-nitride FETs. In this short demo, WTWH Media’s Lee Teschler interviews GaN Systems’ Jim Witham who described a 70-W charging pad built by Gill Electronics to the AirFuel standard that has a two-inch throw. This feat is made possible only through the use of GaN semiconductors able to switch at AirFuel’s 6.78 MHz frequency standard.

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How GaN Enhancement-mode HEMT devices improve the performance of Power Systems

This video was produced by Aspencore and posted to Electronics Know-how.

Power system companies continue adopting gallium nitride (GaN) transistors in place of silicon IGBTs and MOSFETs. By designing GaN into power systems and modules, customers have launched a stream of smaller, lighter and less costly electronic systems into the market. These products exhibit dramatic performance improvements that typically include 80% reductions in size and 5X increases in power density. At electronica GaN presented an array of new power systems designed by GaN Systems’ customers that incorporate GaN Enhancement-mode HEMT (E-HEMT) devices, and that target automotive, energy storage, wireless charging, consumer and industrial applications.

Watch on Vimeo >