Interview: Navitas on Design Simplicity - GaN Power ICs with iDrive


Gene Sheridan, Co-Founder and CEO at Navitas

Gene Sheridan

Navitas Semiconductor was formed in 2013 to enable a high-speed revolution in power electronics with the invention of the industry’s first GaN power ICs which deliver up to a 100x increase in switching speeds while increasing energy savings by 40% or more. 

Mr. Sheridan, Navitas Semiconductor was founded in 2013. What were the most important facts for the founders to go ahead?

Major disruptions in a given technology domain only present themselves maybe once every two or three decades; GaN power ICs is one of those disruptive opportunities to change the landscape of a $30B power electronics market.

Navitas seems to only bet on the GaN technology. What makes you so sure?

GaN offers a 10-100x improvement for a large percentage of the power semiconductor market; only recently has the industry solved fundamental manufacturing and reliability challenges for this technology. Navitas, with its industry-first power IC, has solved the remaining system level issues so there are no remaining barriers to a large scale adoption.

Figure 1: In power conversion, fast switching combined with high efficiency enables small size, low weight and lower system cost.

Do you think of other basic materials as well? Maybe later?

It’s a question of applying the right materials and device structures to various power and voltage levels. In lower voltages below 100V, silicon continues to be very compelling with significant performance and integration developments. In medium voltages between 100V to 1,000V, GaN lateral device (on a low-cost silicon substrate) is a clear choice to enable higher performance, higher density and lower cost systems. Above 1,000V, SiC vertical devices are the likely choice for these high powered systems for the best cost/performance advantage.

Regarding GaN Power ICs: How do you manage this triangle of high frequency, high efficiency and reduced costs?

GaN power ICs enable all three simultaneously through the high level of integration that is achieved. By integrating power with analog and digital circuits, we are (1) eliminating parasitics between these circuits thereby increasing frequency and efficiency, (2) leveraging GaN for these circuits which is fundamentally faster and more efficient than their silicon counter parts and (3) reducing cost by eliminating the multiple packages and die area as compared with silicon discrete components and by reducing the cost of passive components that is reduced through the higher frequency operation of GaN power ICs. The perfect trifecta!

In February you introduced the "world’s first half-bridge GaN Power ICs". Why did you choose this type of IC?

The half-bridge circuit is the most popular circuit used in power electronics, applied in over 70% of all power systems in one form or another. To enable a half-bridge circuit to operate at high frequency and high efficiency, the integration of hi-speed circuits including driver, level shifter, boot strap, UVLO and shoot-through protection are all very critical. In addition, eliminating the circuit parasitics, such as source loop inductance, is essential for high speed operation. All of these goals are accomplished simultaneously with our half-bridge GaN power IC.

Your website says: GaN Power ICs with iDrive are the ultimate in circuit design simplicity. Please give us some more details.

To drive silicon or GaN discrete devices at high-speed with high efficiency requires a very careful component selection and layout optimization. All circuits such as driver, level-shifter, boot-strap, UVLO, gate protection and shoot-through protection are critical and if not designed or laid out perfectly can lead to poor circuit efficiency, excessive heat dissipation or even reliability risks. With AllGaN power ICs, all of these circuits are pre-designed and perfectly matched to each other. Only a simple, layout-insensitive digital input is needed and high-speed and high-efficiency power is enabled effortlessly.

Figure 2: Switching waveforms exhibit a true “text book” feeling with very clean rising and falling edges and no ringing.

Please explain your AllGaN process design kit. Do customers have access to this kit regarding custom designs?

This PDK includes an extensive and growing library of GaN devices, circuits and models.  It is proprietary to Navitas developed over the past three years. While not open to customers, it is the key enabler that allows Navitas to innovate new power, analog and mixed-signal circuits with unprecedented efficiency and frequencies for our customers addressing a broad range of applications.

Figure 3: The industry’s first integrated half-bridge Gallium Nitride (GaN) Power IC

Getting into worldwide markets - will you use established distribution companies?

Yes, we plan to offer our GaN power ICs broadly available through many traditional and new sales channels later in 2017.

What can the electronics industry expect from Navitas in the upcoming two years?

We are initially targeting mobile and consumer adapter applications – in these segments, we are enabling a 3x increase in faster charging and higher density power adapters with lower bill-of-material costs. This will have a major impact on these industries. Within the next two years, we will expand in to data centers, LED lighting and solar inverters in which we will enable a 5-10x increase in power density and 3-5x improvement in energy savings. Fun times ahead!!

Biography of Gene Sheridan, Co-Founder and CEO of Navitas Semiconductor

Gene Sheridan brings over 25 years of experience in power management and semiconductors with an impressive track record in creating, leading and scaling businesses that have enjoyed excellent value creation, growth and profitability.

Most recently, Gene served as CEO of the VC-backed semiconductor start-up BridgeCo that captured 80% market share in the wireless audio market before a successful sale to Standard Microsystems Corporation (SMSC).

Prior to BridgeCo, Gene served as VP & GM at International Rectifier where he managed a business unit with a team of over 100 employees and $600M annual revenues.

At IRF, Gene held several positions that spanned engineering, manufacturing, sales & marketing including the creation of a $70M/yr start-up. Gene holds a BSEE from Clarkson University.
 

Source: Bodo's Power Systems, August 2017