Market Insights

Digital Power Growth Changes Trajectory

October 07, 2014 by Richard Ruiz

Digital power is no longer an emerging technology, but it is still far from maturity. It is safe to say that in the past 24 months, the digital power market

Digital power is no longer an emerging technology, but it is still far from maturity. It is safe to say that in the past 24 months, the digital power market has entered a new phase and is on a new growth path. It is growing faster than the power conversion or power electronics market in general and is projected to grow from $2.1 billion in 2014 to $9.3 billion in 2019, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.7%.

Darnell Group, the pioneer in analyzing the markets for digital power, recently released its fifth-edition report on “Trends in Digital Power Electronics.” The digital power conversion market will experience substantial growth over the next several years as users demand more advanced features and functions in their products. This growth will be led by a surge in 2014 and settle down into a pattern of rapid growth for the next five years.

Growth will be driven across a number of sectors including communications, computers, solid-state lighting and a growing smart grid/energy management segment. The new growth pattern for digital power can be seen in two facts. First, the market for digital power converters is growing faster than the market for digital ICs. And second, the market for digital dc-dc converters is growing more slowly than the market for digital ac-dc power supplies. Both of these facts point to important changes.

Over the past seven years, the market for digital ICs has been growing at about 12%, while over the same period the market for digital power converters has been growing by over 50%. The faster growth for digital power converters is a reflection of the fact that that market is in an earlier stage of its maturity.

It was not until the second- or third-generation of digital ICs was available that the market for digital power converters began to grow more rapidly. At that point, the digital IC market was significantly more mature, entering its fourth+ generations of products.

The relative maturity of the digital power IC market is visible in several ways. For example, the recent announcement by Texas Instruments, Inc. (TI) of an enhanced a third-party ecosystem of digital power hardware and software tools as well as development services. This ecosystem allows digital power design engineers who use TI’s broad portfolio of C2000™ microcontrollers (MCUs) to develop their systems quickly and easily.

The members of the ecosystem include Altair Engineering, Inc., MathWorks and Powersim. Each company has demonstrated its digital power offerings on one or more of TI’s C2000 MCU solutions, enabling applications such as inverter control, power factor correction and power conversion. This ecosystem is open to additional member companies.

In the announcement, TI noted that manufacturers need proven hardware and software to help them easily develop digital power systems and accelerate time to market. The ecosystem enables manufacturers developing on TI’s C2000 MCUs to find the best digital power offering to meet their unique needs, get the most out of their TI MCU solutions and create differentiated products. Members of TI’s digital power ecosystem offer services to meet the growing needs of the digital power market, including faster time to market, increased efficiency and more reliable control.

Another example of the relative maturity of digital power ICs was the recent announcement by STMicroelectronics, Inc. of market-first sub-dollar Cortex-M4 devices with FPU in volume production, the new STM32F301 access product line brings 32KBytes to 64KBytes on-chip Flash and 16KByte of SRAM, offering an easy step into ARM Cortex -M4-core-based MCU development. The STM32F302 and STM32F303 offer extended Flash density from 32KBytes to 256KBytes. Additional STM32F3 devices with up to 512KBytes of Flash will be introduced later this year.

The new sub-30ns analog comparators combined with 5Msample/s 12-bit ADC, the fastest ADC in any ARM Cortex-based MCU, offer ultra-fast reaction time for control-sensitive applications such as digital power, sonar, motor control, lighting, or wireless chargers. This ultra-fast ADC, with support of oversampling to allow 16-bit resolution at 20ksamples/s and 18-bit at 1.2ksamples/s, enhances precision, making these devices ideal for applications such as sensor data processing, healthcare, power meters, and instrumentation. In the new STM32F302/303 devices, the USB-LPM (Link Power Management) mode reduces connectivity power consumption.

Within the market for digital power converters, the digital dc-dc converter segment was the first significant adopter of the new technology, particularly for distributed power architectures in enterprise-scale systems where power management is more complex and the demand for improvements in efficiency is strong.

For example, Murata Power Solutions and Ericsson Power Modules AB announced that they have entered into a technical collaboration agreement with the goal of accelerating the adoption of digital power products. Under the terms of this agreement each company will introduce a range of standardized digital power modules. This will result in the availability of multiple product sources to manufacturers that are considering migrating designs from analog to digitally monitored and controlled units.

“We believe this joint initiative will encourage manufacturers to speed up their adoption of digitally controlled power systems. Initially, the benefits of using digitally controlled power sources were considered not to be worth the extra price. However, customers now can see the advantages digital control and monitoring can bring to their end application, so we believe that by introducing a second-source route of Ericsson’s products we will speed the development of this market,” commented Tatsuo Bizen, CEO and President of Murata Power Solutions.

Murata Power Solutions joins CUI, Inc. in a cooperative digital power activity with Ericsson. This activity is starting to take on the form of an “alliance” similar in some ways with the POLA and DOSA alliances. It is expected to include a common PMBus interface and may extend to both isolated and non-isolated dc-dc converters. Additional companies may be expected to join this effort in the future.

And while the maturity of the market for digital dc-dc converters is evidenced by the growth of alliances and second-sourcing, digital power is also beginning to appear in new classes of ac-output power supplies. For example, Westinghouse Electric Corp. has expanded its generator series with new digital inverter generators, which feature a simple plug-and-play system and are more compact, quiet and lightweight than traditional portable and full-frame generators.

Westinghouse’s WH1000i and WH2000i Series generators utilize smart digital inverter technology to automatically regulate their power output based on the number of appliances connected to them. This enables the generators to run more quietly than other portable generators, conserve fuel and provide clean, stable power, similar to that of a utility generator, all at pricing attractive in the consumer market.

The value of digital power has always been the functions it can provide, and that functionality has become more defined and focused over the past several years as users demand a number of specific features and operations such as auto-compensation, PMBus capabilities, loop control, monitoring and reporting, parameter setting, OTP memory capability, etc.

Although these features and functions vary by industry, there are a number of common requirements identified. Among these, auto-compensation was cited as one of the of the more desired features of digital power as it eliminates a substantial burden from the power supply design and results in a more robust power supply for the life of the power supply.

Applications have already been identified that favor digital control, and products have been developed that meet those requirements or offer certain features that are critical to updated system designs. These are the so-called “legacy” applications for digital power management and control. They are large markets that will keep the traditional distributed power architectures in use for many years, with many of them incorporating digital control at some level. In contrast, new power architectures identified in this report incorporate digital power right from the beginning, and that makes them different from the legacy architectures.

These are just a few highlights of the trends that are detailed in Darnell’s its fifth-edition report on “Trends in Digital Power Electronics.” Over 35 tables and graphs are presented in this report covering the external ac-dc power supply market, the embedded ac-dc power supply market and the dc-dc converter module power supply market. This comprehensive analysis provides decision-makers with a detailed and insightful look at the current and future opportunities available in the digital power supply market.


About the Author

Richard Ruiz is a Research Analyst at Darnell Group. Mr. Ruiz is a regular contributor to Darnell in Depth, EDN Power Technology Magazine, Bodos Power Systems and several other publications.