Artificial Intelligence in Power ElectronicsNovember 15, 2019 by Jose Molina
Next Generation of Magnetic Components As an electronics engineer, I don´t work for the earnings but for seeing the circuits working. In this article,
Next Generation of Magnetic Components
As an electronics engineer, I don´t work for the earnings but for seeing the circuits working. In this article, I'll explain the story of Frenetic.
Everything Has a Beginning
A few years ago, I developed a product for accelerating the design process in hardware electronic systems. I was excited to create a company and a product (SpCard, Figure 1) that was used in the European Space Agency. Nevertheless, the space to find an intersection between a product and a disruption in the market has a lot of dimensions and it is important to travel without fear and to listen to the signals along the road. During my journey, I found Rafael Jimenez, now a friend of mine, who was the trigger for starting to focus on the future of the company on magnetic design. He saw some skills in my team, that I hadn’t. Then, I called Alfonso Martínez, a friend of mine with a lot of skills in programming from an electronics point of view and without fear of anything.
The design of electronic components (especially magnetics) has traditionally been a very manual task.
Engineers have been using analytical software to help them during the process but they still have to decide between several materials, shapes, combinations…
I have always felt a passion for other technologies, especially software technologies that can be applied in my field, electronics. In one of my trips to Silicon Valley, during networking conversations, something clicked in my mind. “Design optimal magnetics, designing the optimal shape” and we patented that idea and we created software for it.
The idea started with the goal of printing the magnetics with a 3D printer and our own materials.
This was the first step, but it wasn’t enough, because the designs were expensive, however it was very important for understanding the next step. During the following months, I was focused on a solution for the big market and after some conversations in APEC (Applied Power Electronics Conference), a new idea came to my mind. “Teach a software how to design the best magnetics, using current materials, giving feedback to it” From that point onwards, we started focusing on the idea and reviewing actual technologies. We realized that current materials and shapes have a lot of potential if we could combine them properly. We didn’t want a classical software, but rather we wanted something capable of learning from its results. Therefore, the answer was easy, why don´t we use Artificial Intelligence?
A Magnetic Company's Goal
Before continuing to talk about our road to becoming the most innovative company in magnetics, I think it is important to explain which parameters differentiate the magnetic companies.
The quality of a magnetics manufacturer is a summary of different aspects and skills:
- Accuracy of the design losses predictions
- Manufacturing repeatability
- Delivery time
- Capabilities and certifications
The users of the magnetics are focused on the quality of their products quality and their provider selection often changes from one product to another
Solving Hardware Problems with Software
Coming back to how we solve the magnetic design problem. The application of Artificial Intelligence techniques for designing an electronic system is the main contribution of Frenetic. Basically, we are “solving hardware problems with software”.
The main problems are:
- Accuracy of the calculation of models developed for general cases
- Materials parameter for different shapes and conditions
- Iterations needed for the appropriate design
The classic design techniques, as been discussed previously, are far from being optimal, since there are too many parameters to be considered by a human brain. However, when we apply AI to this field this is not apparent because of the complexity of getting data with enough quality. There are several sources of data for the Frenetic technology but the main one comes from measurements from the laboratory. Over the last 2 years, Lucas Nicieza, manager of the hardware team, has been creating a Laboratory for acquiring the data needed for the AI.
The lab, located in the center of Madrid (Spain), has been the witness of test products from companies like Porsche, HP, Airbus or Lear, with more than 25 new products alone in 2019. The first year of Frenetic has shown us the main problems with the Frenetic predictions and as a result, we have created the Advanced Magnetic Laboratory, including all the setups we have built before and new experiments which allow Frenetic to learn rapidly. I will come back to the lab later.
It Should be Easy
The next step was; we need to give people a good interface for using our technology without losing information but in a straight forward manner, taking less than 5 minutes of their time. We started working on our web platform (improving it each week), a place where you can interact with Frenetic, obtain your designs in record time and order samples with customized designs. You can also discover the cost of potential manufacturing and the delivery time estimation. Since Frenetic has evolved very quickly, the web is still one of the main working lines to improve the users experience with the AI.
Sometimes users think we are an online simulator and get disappointed, however Frenetic is much more than that.
Advanced Magnetic Laboratory
We are now back on at the hardware side. The investment from VCs from Germany, Portugal, and Spain has allowed us to create the most Advanced Magnetic Laboratory in the world. This Lab allows Frenetic to increase the accuracy of its predictions, achieve higher power ratios and start testing its new internal technology, which is still confidential (every year we have an internal confidential project) and will be revealed in the next FreneticCon 2020.
The Lab is a magical place where we work on new ideas of how to estimate losses in magnetics, measure magnetic fields and look at where the dark side of the magnetic fields hide their effects.
Our legacy to science will be this Lab, a place where engineers want to work. A place for dreaming of applied technologies and helping the field of electronics to break down the barriers established over the last 20 years. If I were a young engineer, I would want to work here.
Every design presents a challenge for our team. The motivation is always the same. The design should be the best, not only with respect to our competitors but with respect to the previous release of Frenetic. But our motivations are not only technical because it is the case with everyone in the race to provide high power density results, but we can also fail and it is at that moment, where you should show what you are really made of. It is here where our technical team opens a technical investigation together with the customer to evaluate the results and propose a solution as quickly as possible.
At the beginning of the article, I explained what makes a magnetic company better. In the next article, I will publish results on our accuracy. Here, I will show a comparative example of a design, where the customer already had a design and we improved it.
As is seen in Figure 5, using Frenetic software, we could create a design in 2 hours, easy to manufacturer and decreasing the cost up to 50%. Evidently, this result is not enough for evaluating all the parameters of a magnetic design company, however, in the next article, I will try to talk about our results.
Companies with magnetic components in their products have been suffering from the difficulties of getting the right designs in the allotted time due to a lack of communication and understanding. The idea of a Holistic Service for magnetics was developed in Frenetic together with certain TIER1 companies.
The holistic process shown in Figure 6 is divided into six phases:
- Design: Frenetic provides a solution from electrical specifications.
- Sample and Test: The technical team builds and test a sample in the Advanced Magnetics Laboratory under real power conditions. This process is repeated until every spec is achieved.
- Manufacturing documents: Once the sample is validated, manufacturing instructions are described for manufacturing purposes. At this stage, an approximated cost could be calculated.
- Providers agreements: With the clear BOM and requirements for manufacturing, the most suitable providers are asked for a quotation and a deliverable estimation.
- Plant preparation: The Frenetic team helps in the process of preparing the plant, overseeing the procedures and adjusting the potential gaps for a smooth and repeatable manufacturing process.
- Quality control: To establish the process for evaluating the results automatically and to create the guides for future modifications.
About the Author
Dr. Jose Molina graduated Industrial Technical Engineering in the Field of Study Industrial Electronics at Castilla-La Mancha University, and proceed master's and doctorate degrees. He received his master's and doctorate degree (Ph.D.) at Polytechnic University of Madrid. He is the Chief Engineer at Frenetic that is a power electronics company focused on magnetic components. We design transformers and inductors with our own technology, and afterward, we can build samples in our Laboratory and even help you integrate them into your circuits.