Power Electronics Companies to Watch in 2013

January 07, 2013 by Power Pulse1595211359

The editorial staff at PowerPulse has been scouring the global power electronics industry, looking for up-and-coming companies. We have assembled a group of ten "companies to watch in 2013." At least a couple of these companies are still in 'stealth' mode and this will be one of the first public discussions of their activities. In other cases, the companies may have received recent and significant infusions of investment, signed new joint-venture agreements with one of the "majors", etc. These companies are (in alphabetical order); Akros Silicon, Amantys, Eta Devices, Ferric Semiconductor, GaN Systems, Green Plug, HexaTech, Nitride Solutions, Sankalp Semiconductor and Sarda Technologies Keep your eyes on them in the year to come.

In November of 2012, Akros secured additional financing to supplement capital previously raised in 2012, bringing the total to $11M. In addition to Technology Partners, which led the most recent round of financing, Akros obtained financial support from existing investors: USVP, Levensohn Venture Partners and SPM Capital. The infusion of capital will be used for further expansion of sales and marketing channels and proliferation of new products into new market segments. Additionally, Akros is pleased to announce that Marc van den Berg from Technology Partners has joined Akros' Board of Directors.

Also in November, Akros announced an interoperability collaboration with Broadcom Corporation to provide fully integrated support of the emerging PoE (Power over Ethernet) 60 Watt extension. Broadcom has a family of PoE PSE (Power Sourcing Equipment) controllers (model BCM59111) that supports the rapidly emerging 60W application requirements. Akros Silicon is uniquely suited to collaborate with Broadcom to enable seamless 60W PoE connectivity. Akros' GreenEdge™ technology, integrated into a family of PoE system-on-a-chip (SoC) energy management ICs, allows high-speed digital communication across an integrated isolation barrier.

Parviz Ghaffaripour, Akros Silicon's President & Chief Executive Officer, told PowerPulse, "Akros Silicon has established the foundation for Total Energy Management (TEM) through the combination of its innovative GreenEdge(TM) digital isolation and Energy$ense(TM) real-time power monitoring technologies. These technologies are incorporated into our pin-compatible series of Digital Energy Management Units (DEMUs) that provide System on Chip (SoC) multi-rail power conversion solutions for AC/DC and DC/DC applications. This provides the possibility for system designers to convert their traditional bag-of-chips design into an integrated, network-based energy management system that benefits from smaller size, higher efficiency, and full diagnostics and health monitoring features. Our recently announced interoperability collaboration with Broadcom places us at the forefront of 60W/90W PoE implementation. We expect to continue to expand our operations as market leading companies continue adopt our unique approach to TEM."

In November, Amantys announced the successful closure of a new funding round of $8m. PowerPulse learned from Richard Ord, Marketing Director with Amantys that the company has aggressive plans to put the new funding to work. In 2013, the company will extend its product range, both with higher voltage devices (devices targeted for voltages as low as 600V and up to 4.5kV and 6.5kV are under development) and new package variants, roll-out of Amantys Power Insight into OEM equipment with comprehensive software support tools suite, and grow its direct and indirect global sales and support organization.

When asked about the new markets and applications, Bryn Perry, Amantys' CEO, was very clear: He sees Amantys' future as expanding into new regions and new applications. Areas such as traction and wind power are of special interest to this dynamic company. Wind applications especially are where Bryn sees an opportunity for Amantys to save its customers significant amounts of money by avoiding the costly downtime associated with this evolving industry, particularly when the installation is located offshore. Bryn said that he had heard figures in the renewables industry saying, "When a turbine goes down, it's like seeing your profits escaping downwind - lost forever."

Another mission-critical opportunity for Amantys is the electric railway system where high reliability means everything. At present, the time taken to service or repair these systems, whether wind or rail, is so great that profits are hit very hard for operators and their investors. Amantys' plug-and-play philosophy helps dramatically to reduce these painful costs. Another aspect of the company's crusade for higher reliability is seen in the way it monitors its products while in operation. By strategic placement of a sensor on the baseplate of a IGBT, for example, fault conditions can be alerted prior to it becoming a catastrophic failure and maintenance planned-in rather than it becoming a high-cost "rescue operation".

Eta Devices, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology spinout company funded by $6 million from Ray Stata, cofounder of Analog Devices, and his venture firm, Stata Venture Partners, is expected to formally launch its new product which cuts the power consumption of cellular base stations by half, in February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The initial market will be in the developing world, where 640,000 diesel-powered generators are used to power base stations, chewing through $15 billion worth of fuel per year.

The new advance is essentially a blazingly fast electronic gearbox. It chooses among different voltages that can be sent across the transistor, and selects the one that minimizes power consumption, and it does this as many as 20 million times per second. The company calls the technology asymmetric multilevel outphasing.

It's currently a lab-bench technology, but if it proves itself in commercialization, which is expected to start in 2013 -- first targeting LTE base stations -- the technology could slash base station energy use by half. Likewise, a chip-scale version of the technology, still in development, could double the battery life of smartphones.

Ferric Semiconductor was founded by a team of engineers and materials scientists out of Columbia University, with the goal to develop integrated inductors in CMOS technology for use in advanced on-chip voltage regulators. The company's objective is to commercialize power converters utilizing inductors with precisely engineered laminations of high-permeability magnetic material.

This is expected to enable a significant improvement in power converter current density and subsequently enable power supplies for microprocessors and systems on chip (SoCs) to be down converted in the same package, or even on the same die. This new class of integrated voltage regulators (IVRs) will provide as much as 20% reduction in total power consumption for digital ICs by reducing resistive losses and enabling improved power management techniques.

Voltage regulators utilizing integrated magnetic thin-film inductors are expected to have cost and performance advantages over the other voltage regulator products that are commercially available. Therefore this technology is expected to have a sizeable impact on the $10 billion worldwide voltage regulator market. Furthermore, the integration of magnetic materials with CMOS will facilitate advances in other magnetic based systems, such as magnetic filters, sensors and imagers. Likewise, the experience gained from commercializing a magnetic material process module with CMOS technology will lower the technological barriers for other forms of heterogeneous integration.

Founded in 2008 and benefiting from two rounds of VC funding, and a previous decade of compound semiconductor activity in Ottawa, GaN Systems is poised to launch a range of power switching and control devices in 2013. The company's unique "Island Technology" results in devices that are approximately four times smaller, four times more efficient, and one quarter the cost of traditional design approaches, and addresses today's cost, performance, and manufacturability-related challenges of gallium nitride. Leveraging on its transportable fabless model, GaN Systems has already established the major multi-sourced supply chain partnerships necessary to deliver on gallium nitride's promise.

The company has been working with partners in the power supply, aerospace, automotive and industrial sectors to refine its designs, and in 2013 will launch publicly — at APEC and PCIM — an industry leading family of devices featuring a wide range of voltages, packages and drive capabilities. GaN Systems is currently expanding its European and US sales and application support teams to reinforce its positioning as the first place to turn to for the benefits of gallium nitride.

"Our Sustainable Development Technology Canada grant funding and the developments that have flowed from that working together with power module specialist APEI spawned our first announcement of 25 Amp 1200V prototypes at PCIM last year. This year has seen a great deal development and consolidation flowing from that original industry first. 2013 will see the technology rolled out across a number of target applications," stated Geoff Haynes, VP Business Development with GaN Systems.

Green Plug has set its sights on bringing the benefits of fully-programmable controllers to the ac-dc power converter market. While the dc-dc market has already adopted this model of control, the high volume ac-dc market is much more price sensitive, which has been an obstacle, until now, for the change. Together with the major provider of high voltage power drivers, Green Plug has brought all the required functionality, performance and low-power consumption requirements into a single chip package targeting no increase in cost. The company will be announcing its initial go-to-market partner and joint product development plan to bring these products to market at the IEEE APEC event in Long Beach, California, in March.

Paul Panepinto, Green Plug's EVP Sales and Marketing commented to PowerPulse, "This technology solves many industry problems: OEM's complain about slow responses and fewer choices from their ODM suppliers to increasingly demanding specs. ODM's complain about not being able to bid on and win as many deals as they should — because of the huge cost to experiment and prototype. ODM's request more collaboration with their IDM providers on custom algorithms that are optimized specifically for them. ODM's want to parameterize more features such that the controllers can do more compensation for worn parts and broad component tolerances. Power Device IDM's want a faster, more flexible platform approach for the wide variety of products and topologies they must support. By combining our mixed-signal IP and expertise with the leading provider of power devices, we are able to eliminate these industry problems and open the door to significant improvements in the both the development and functionality ofac-dc power devices."

While Green Plug is focused on ac-dc power conversion, very-high-voltage power switches for emerging applications in the smart grid are being targeted by HexaTech. Last month, HexaTech, received a $2.2 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) that will enable the development of a new power semiconductor technology for the modernization of the electrical power grid. HexaTech's aluminum-nitride (AlN) technology was identified by the Department of Energy as having the potential to be a transformational, breakthrough technology with significant technical promise, potentially 10X better performance than comparable silicon-carbide devices.

Using very low-dislocation-density single-crystal AlN substrates, HexaTech will develop novel doping schemes and contact metals for AlN/AlGaN with high Al content. For power systems and grid-scale power conversion applications, high-efficiency AlN-based power devices are expected to offer a significant reduction in size, weight, and cooling.

Dr. Baxter Moody, Director of Engineering, said, "This contract marks the beginning of a technological leap in device performance and efficiency for power semiconductors. The development will enable a significant step toward producing 20 kV AlN-based Schottky diodes (SBD, JBSD) and transistors (JFET, MOSFET). The ARPA-E contract has opened the door for the material development and research to demonstrate AlN high-voltage, high-efficiency power conversion capability."

Power semiconductor devices at this level are not currently available on the market. Experimental devices based on silicon carbide (SiC) technology are currently being developed. Compared to SiC technology, it is expected that Aluminum Nitride will enable power electronics with a 10X improvement in performance. Based on the wide bandgap material properties of AlN, the critical field is 6X larger, the on resistance will be lower, and the resulting power device area will be smaller for a comparable power level. This is expected to be a transformational technology that will revolutionize the power distribution grid.

In 2012, Nitride Solutions, closed its Series A financing. The round was oversubscribed and closed at $2.5M. Nebraska Angels and Aurora UV again joined lead investor Midwest Venture Alliance in completing the round. Nitride is finishing commercialization of a high-volume manufacturing technology that will deliver low-cost, single-crystal aluminum nitride substrates. With projected defect rates 10 times lower than substrates currently on the market.

Nitride Solutions is developing a proprietary method of producing large, high-quality AlN crystals. Current commercial processes are either self-limiting and will not allow crystal growth beyond a certain limited size resulting in inefficient production and high costs, or use materials and processes that can produce larger crystals but of lower quality and purity that limit performance of the ultimate device. The company's technology will allow high quality and purity with low production costs. Company's first product focus is aluminum nitride, but production of gallium nitride and ternary nitrides such as AlGaN should also be possible.

Currently aluminum nitride substrates are made with processes that are inherently high-cost and are limited in the size and quality of substrate that they can produce. Nitride Solutions technology will produce substrates at 1/10 of current costs and quality levels 100x better than today's state-of-the-art. Nitride Solutions technology features: Low-cost raw materials, High production rate, Larger crystal boules, Minimal contamination, Potential for bulk doping, and adaptability to production of other high-value electronic materials

Sankalp Semiconductor was a 2012 the winner of Red Herring's Top 100 Global award, as this year's most promising private technology ventures from the Asia business region. Sankalp is a one-stop shop for analog mixed signal services and solutions specializing in end-to-end solutions for IOs, analog and mixed signal chip design/layout. Sankalp and its subsidiaries have close to 360 engineers with design centers at Hubli (Karnataka), Kharagpur (West Bengal), Bhubaneswar (Orissa) and Kolkata (West Bengal) in India. It also has customer support center at Sunnyvale (California) in USA.

"It is a true honor to be recognized as a Red Herring Top 100 Global company," said Vivek Pawar, Chief Executive Officer, Sankalp Semiconductor Pvt. Ltd. "With focus on analog & mixed-signal semiconductor technology, we help our customers create cutting edge products. We envisioned creating a strong ecosystem from Tier-II cities of India to cater to the design needs of the semiconductor industry. Not only have we done it but we have demonstrated on its scalability."

Alex Vieux, publisher and CEO of Red Herring stated, "After rigorous contemplation and discussion, we narrowed our list down from hundreds of candidates from across Global to the Top 100 Winners. We believe Sankalp Semiconductor embodies the vision, drive and innovation that define a successful entrepreneurial venture. Sankalp should be proud of its accomplishment, as the competition was the strongest it has ever been."

Sarda Technologies is focused on the development of advanced power switches for portable devices. Sarda will come out of stealth mode when they present a paper at the IEEE Applied Power Electronics Conference in March. The paper will be titled, "The gFETT Switch: A New Low-Voltage High-Speed GaAs HEMT for Switching Applications," the authors are Robert White, Anthony Marini and Greg Miller.

Sarda is developing a fast, compact, multi-phase power stage module for <20 voltage regulators for mobile, enterprise and consumer systems. Sarda integrates multiple gallium arsenide (GaAs) FETs, their drivers and passive components in a compact QFN package. Sarda's patented technology significantly reduces the die size and increases the yield of the GaAs FETs. By increasing the switching frequency by one to two orders of magnitude versus MOSFETs, Sarda significantly shrinks the voltage regulator's footprint and height. The size reduction facilitates granular power delivery where a dedicated voltage regulator is used for each high current load to reduce system power consumption and increase performance, energy efficiency and battery life.

The Sarda team is led by semiconductor industry veterans Bob Conner and Jim Vorhaus, both of whom have significant Fortune 500 company and startup experience. In February of last year, TriQuint Semiconductor announced that its Foundry Services division was supporting Sarda to bring a new line of high-efficiency converter switches to the global marketplace. This support will allow Sarda to utilize TriQuint's foundry line for the development and production of their product.

In March, Sarda received its first equity funding from IDEA Fund Partners, a venture capital firm providing seed and early stage financing to technology companies throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Sarda had previously been awarded an NC IDEA grant in the Spring of 2011, receiving funds to assist in the patenting of its technology. During the grant process, Sarda created an advisory board that included NC IDEA Venture Advisor and IDEA Fund Partners Managing General Partner, John Cambier. Sarda is only the fifth NC IDEA grant recipient that has attracted investment from IDEA Fund Partners.