High-Power Solutions for Critical Applications
I had the chance to talk to Vito Savino from ABB Power Conversion about their recently introduced series of high- and low-power DC/DC converters.
Bodo: What is your area within ABB and then can you tell me about your history back to AT&T Bell Lab?
Vito: Sure. Currently, I lead the data center and wireline segment for ABB Power Conversion, which is a division underneath the ABB Electrification umbrella. Our business has a long-established history centered on our telecom-based, mission-critical expertise. This includes back when we were part of Bell Labs, where we helped to power the infrastructure needs of AT&T. I actually started my career in this field in 1988, at AT&T Bell Labs Power Systems division before the Lucent Technologies spin-off. And while we remain grounded in our telecom roots, we’re now also designing, developing, and delivering power products, solutions, and services across a broad range of industries, including communications, networking, and transportation infrastructure, as well as industrial applications such as advanced manufacturing, electric utilities, and process industries. Regardless of industry or application, our mission is to provide high-quality, reliable, and efficient power that meets our customers’ evolving needs.
Bodo: We are talking about widely used quarter brick power converters. Is there a DOSA standard for these quarter-brick DC/DC power converters?
Vito: Yes, our Barracuda-series converters comply with Digital Open Standard Alliance’s (DOSA’S) guidelines. Although the organization has been inactive for close to a decade now, its guidelines are still the industry standard, and we recognize the value of maintaining those baseline requirements.
Bodo: Can you give us a more detailed overview of the target applications for your product and the specific requirements you want to meet with it?
Vito: Our high-power Barracuda-series converters are designed to be used for computer servers, data network equipment, 5G wireless infrastructure, robotics, test equipment, and other industrial applications. To facilitate these applications, we ensure our converters feature high efficiencies and high power densities.
Bodo: You also talk about critical applications. What exactly do you mean by critical?
Vito: When we talk about “critical applications,” we’re really talking about any use case for which downtime or repairs would be very costly or impactful. It’s things like wireless communications and internet infrastructure, data centers that keep servers online, supercomputers, and automated testing solutions in factories.
Bodo: What classifications do these products meet? Do you do medical-grade supplies?
Vito: Our high-power Barracuda-series converters meet IPC 9592B Class II Category 2 standards and are EMI Class B. They comply with RoHS Directive 2011/65/EU, amended Directive (EU) 2015/863, and REACH Directive (EC) No 1907/2006. They also have some external filtering, meet global safety standards, and support PMBus deployments. While these converters are not medical grade, we do have other products that adhere to those specifications.
Bodo: Can you point out the main differences between the high-power and low-power versions of the Barracuda products?
Vito: input-voltage range of our Barracuda isolated bus converters is loosely centered around 48VDC — for example, 36-75V for telecom deployments or 40-60V for computing. Our high-power line includes eighth- and quarter-brick versions, which can deliver between 150 and 1500W at 10.4-12VDC out, with optional PMBus capabilities for digital communications. Our low-power Barracuda line delivers from 15 to 120W at 12, 5, or 3.3V outputs. The low-power versions are also available in smaller footprints, including 1x1-inch, DOSA sixteenth-brick modules as well as eighth-brick converters.
Bodo: You offer analog and digital solutions. Can you specify the applications for each?
Vito: Most of our products have digital controls, but we give system designers a choice to better meet their needs. It’s not so much about specific applications as it is about the client’s preferences. For example, we offer digital controls for PMBus deployments that use a serial communications bus for supervision. Similarly, some high-end original equipment manager (OEM) products, such as servers and network switches, include system controllers that monitor and control individual power supplies. Other applications use a simple “analog” interface for each power supply. These analog options typically include an on/off switch, trim, and remote-output-voltage sensors.
Bodo: Wide bandgap devices are serving for higher efficiency. What are your plans?
Vito: We’re continuing to explore and experiment with wide bandgap solutions for future products. While these solutions make some significant performance improvements possible, they cost more and their availability can be limited. Of course, there are cases where silicon may be a better choice at this time and for current applications. Still, the improvements enabled by wide bandgap technology are certainly enticing. We’re working to evaluate where the performance gains outweigh potential barriers.
Bodo: A not-so-serious question: ABB’s isolated, regulated board-mounted power converters all have names like species of fish. What’s the idea?
Vito: Yes—and some dangerous fish at that! Those names—Barracuda, Hammerhead, Orca, and so on—were chosen long ago. I couldn’t tell you what the thought process was at the time, but I like to think they are intended to showcase the reliability and power of ABB Power Conversion’s products.
Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF]
Vito Savino is the data center and wireline segment leader for ABB Power Conversion, where he works with data center and telecommunications customers to provide advanced solutions for their dynamic power challenges.
This article originally appeared in Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF] magazine.
Featured image used courtesy of Adobe Stock