GaN Is the Key to Unlocking Power Possibilities: Myths Dispelled!
Join us as we tackle misconceptions about gallium nitride (GaN) power semiconductors. We’ll dispel the mistaken belief that GaN systems are unproven and therefore inappropriate for widespread use. We will put these concerns to rest and discuss the benefits and opportunities of using GaN.
Once considered an afterthought, power system design has become a top priority for product developers in emerging market segments such as data centers,renewable energy,wireless charging, and automotive electronics. By utilizing GaN semiconductors, development teams are differentiating their products based on higher energy efficiency, smaller form factors, and lower system costs. By taking advantage of these benefits, GaN adopters are achieving greater market share, higher profitability, and paving the way to continued success as power systems continue to evolve.
A growing number of knowledgeable designers is taking advantage of the expanding GaN industry ecosystem, consisting of complementary driver and controller suppliers, highly-tuned magnetics, and market-specific system developers. This has made it easier to apply GaN transistors to overcome the most severe power system challenges. At the same time, GaN suppliers are offering an array of design tools to reduce the difficulty, cost, and development time associated with the benefits of GaN semiconductors. Many analysts are witnessing that, as designers move up the learning curve and explore the growing number of building block and support options, GaN power devices are becoming the technology choice to supplant traditional silicon MOSFETs.
The choice of a power topology, and hence semiconductor technology, is one of the most important decisions that senior management must make. This decision plays a big role in determining the system’s features and performance, as well as end-user experience. Ultimately, the success or failure of electronic systems, and even of technology companies, can hinge on this choice. For example, at its beginning, Google made the critical decision to use low-cost processing technologies to speed up web searches, instead of relying on software. This was a key factor in their ability to completely dominate the internet search space.
GaN transistors can play a similarly important role in the advancement of power system design that could lead to major breakthoughs in how industries use, manage, and conserve power.
Most power systems rely on silicon MOSFETs. Designers are extremely knowledgeable about these devices’ characteristics and application requirements, and about power system design techniques. Moreover, there is a large infrastructure of design consultants, component suppliers, and ecosystem products to support silicon MOSFET use.
A few industry executives have said there are still barriers to the widespread adoption of GaN transistors. Richard Eden, a senior analyst at IHS Markit Technology, said in Semiconductor Engineering in an October 24, 2016 article that “the biggest challenges are price, acceptance of the technology, and (the need for more) education/support.”
Since then, the use of high-volume manufacturing has made GaN devices affordable and a growing number of system designers acknowledge the value of GaN technology. Moreover, system designers are accessing the large breadth of knowledge, tools, and infrastructure now available to debunk the myth that GaN is too difficult to use.
1. KNOWLEDGE SAVES POWER
Since the first GaN transistors arrived on the market in 2010, educational and training activities have shifted from discussing topics such as device physics and process characterization to system design and applications. Technical managers and design teams are learning from a variety of sources — conference sessions, industry publications, academic research, reference designs — how to best take advantage of the promise of GaN technology as new devices set records for efficiency, size, and performance.
Semiconductor Suppliers Lead the Way: Like their silicon MOSFET predecessors, GaN suppliers are offering application notes, reference designs, and tools, and collaborating with customer design teams and members of the ecosystem. The result is that GaN suppliers have nearly closed the customer knowledge gap.
Conferences Focus on GaN: Power system design has long been a staple of industry conference agendas. But now, the impact of GaN in emerging market segments has led to its domination of topics in lecture-room sessions and hallway talk at conferences such as the Applied Power Electronics Conference (APEC), which is dedicated to power system design. Interest in GaN is also driving the development of conferences with agendas more narrowly focused on GaN products and applications. Moreover, GaN is now a focus of discussion at vertical market conferences covering electronic vehicles or power conversion efficiency for data centers. This demonstrates that both management and technical staff realize GaN can readily solve many power challenges.
Academics Emphasize GaN Research: Looking toward future careers, engineering students are showing off their GaN design prowess throughout the world. The China Power Supply Society (CPSS) design competition attracts top teams from leading universities throughout China to compete in the annual GaN Systems Cup. In the UK, post-graduate students compete in the GaN Systems Geoff Haynes Future Power Challenge held with the support of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centre for Power Electronics. Entries cover a diverse array of disciplines and designs.
2. GROWING INFRASTRUCTURE SUPPORTS GROWING GaN ADOPTION
It takes an ecosystem to spur the adoption of a new technology. The compelling case for GaN has driven the growth of a supporting infrastructure, composed of many disciplines and several parts. The first part spans high-power system building blocks, device packaging, and other components or materials. The second part transfers the knowledge and skills needed to create power systems, including design tools and reference designs. The third part consists of the system developers that create application designs. And the fourth part comprises the distribution channels that ensure there is an adequate supply of everything needed to turn a design into a product.
Building Block Approach: Many chipmakers such as Broadcom, Silicon Labs, and pSemi are expanding the availability of designed-for-GaN gate drivers, controllers and other building blocks to provide a variety of options. Companies are taking these basic building blocks and developing the best new designs. Creativity is flourishing. Designers are setting new records for power density, efficiency, or for the smallest system ever built. These designs benefit from the ability to blend the best components to create the best design or topology for a specific application.
Development Partners: GaN Systems collaborates with system designers to maximize efficiency in an expanding variety of market segments. At Ricardo, a UK based engineering consultancy, automotive electronic experts are using GaN transistors to develop compact designs for laser sensors and audio amplifiers along with 48-volt control modules for use in powertrains that boost the performance of hybrid cars.
Specialty Supply Channels: GaN Systems entered into a supply and support agreement that established aerospace/defense specialist e2v as a global supplier of 100V and 650V hi-rel GaN transistor products. They will dedicate its resources and experience to simplify the design-in of GaN devices into critical aerospace and defense applications that have severe efficiency, size, and weight demands.
Design Tools: There are comprehensive suites of design tools that enable designers to capture the benefits of using GaN semiconductors in the design process, including application notes, reference designs, evaluation boards, SPICE models, and circuit simulation tools.
Technical management, and design engineers have proven the value of GaN technology in achieving the major goal of saving energy, minimizing system size, and solving specific power challenges in systems such as:
Affordable and scalable renewable energy systems that can more efficiently convert and store power from sources such as solar and wind..
Electric cars with more efficient power electronics that can extend driving range.
In spite of the contribution of GaN to meet these types of power system design challenges, there is a myth that GaN may be difficult to use and system engineering teams do not have the support and knowledge to implement the technology. C-level executive don’t have to worry. Implementing GaN is straightforward. There is now an industry-wide ecosystem that rivals that of widely used silicon MOSFET technologies. It includes a growing number of chip suppliers that provide a variety of building blocks and system options and an infrastructure of developers, suppliers, and up-to-date knowledge sources.