A Look at the Future of Power Electronics
Bodo spoke with Alexander Gerfer and Martin Haug from Würth Elektronik eiSos to discuss the market trends in power electronics and power supplies and future trends in active and passive components.
This article is published by EEPower as part of an exclusive digital content partnership with Bodo’s Power Systems.
Here, Alexander Gerfer and Martin Haug from Würth Elektronik eiSos discuss the market trends in power electronics and power supplies and future trends in active and passive components.
Bodo: The German economy looks pretty bleak at the moment. What’s your outlook concerning the development of the power supply and power electronics markets?
Alexander Gerfer: I anticipate a very positive trend over the long term.
Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock
Bodo: What makes you so confident?
Gerfer: The laws of physics are irrefutable, and the same goes for politics and economics: climate change is forcing us to radically reconsider our attitudes, in particular, how to use the various energy sources at our disposal. We’ve got to get away from fossil energies, which is why electricity is becoming ever more important—and that’s why we need efficient power electronics.
Alexander Gerfer, CTO, Würth Elektronik eiSos Group. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF]
Bodo: For example?
Gerfer: For example, in electric drivetrains, power electronics play a key role in the control of engines and transforming battery current into mechanical energy. In the field of renewable energy, wind and solar energy often generate direct current, and feeding this into the power grid requires efficient inverters. The same applies to power-grid stability, where power frequency and voltage control play a role, and how to reinforce grid stability by reactive power compensation, as well as power electronics for battery storage systems. Another example is the heat pump, whose efficiency can be considerably enhanced using state-of-the-art power electronics. Regarding energy efficiency in general, power electronics can enhance energy-conversion processes to a substantial degree. All installations where electrical energy is used intelligently need an equally intelligent power supply system—from the asynchronous motor to the data center.
Bodo: Which products and strategies do you intend to use to exploit these potentials?
Martin Haug: Würth Elektronik has a constantly growing portfolio of passive and active power-electronics components to offer, encompassing storage inductances, power transformers, capacitors, and integrated power modules.
Martin Haug, Head of Product Management, MagI³C Power Modules. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF]
Bodo: So do many other competitors.
Haug: True, but what makes Würth Elektronik so special is that we’re much more than just a mere supplier of components. We proactively support our customers in turning their ideas into innovations and, ultimately, into market-ready products.
Bodo: What specific form does that take?
Haug: Specifically, this means a dedicated transfer of know-how to the customer. The wheel is constantly being reinvented, especially in the area of power supply. At first glance, the problems may seem trivial, but the devil is in the details—in the aspects of heat management, efficiency, or EMC safety. I know from my own experience that good ideas often fail due to trivial problems, ones that we here at Würth Elektronik have long since resolved. We share these solutions with our customers in the form of reference designs, design-in support, and targeted advice, but also by providing intelligent tools like REDEXPERT, Würth Elektronik’s online design and simulation platform. Developers can use this tool to measure the AC and DC losses for DC-DC converters or design an EMC filter based on specific applications, making the selection of the best-suited components much faster. Services like these are important, especially for SMEs, who don’t always have the budgets for their large R&D departments.
Bodo: Is Würth Elektronik set up well for the future?
Gerfer: We sure are. Comprehensive service has always been the basis for our success. We’re continuing to invest in this area, for example, in our new Hightech Innovation Center (HIC) in MunichFreiham, which is a gigantic customer-service think tank.
Bodo: Which specific topics are you addressing there?
Gerfer: Electromagnetic compatibility, for example. As a rule, power supply systems still use DC voltage converters, which entails high-frequency technology. If you want to launch electrical and electronic devices onto the market, you have to prove their electromagnetic compatibility in an accredited test lab. These tests are time-consuming, and a negative result means additional development costs and delays in their launch. A major part of the floor space at the HIC, but also at our head office in Waldenburg, is taken up by EMC test facilities.
Here, we offer our customers a special service to assist them in their development process: EMC pre-compliance measurements. If a product doesn’t comply with the statutory provisions, we make dedicated suggestions based on our experience. This can make the customer’s development process even more efficient. No matter which new concepts and technologies the future holds in store, nothing will move forward without power supplies and power electronics. This makes us the system partner of choice, thanks in no small part to our large FAE team: application engineers working in the field, providing customers with practical solutions in matters of EMC and power management—individually, locally, on the spot. We offer a comprehensive range of services, especially for SMEs.
Bodo: What are Würth Elektronik’s plans in the power sector over the next five years? Do you foresee any revolutionary developments?
Gerfer: Power supplies will always be needed. More probable are evolutionary developments, a selective expansion of the product portfolio, of both passive and active components. We’re going to continue our efforts in the key sectors, for example regarding efficiency and miniaturization, as well as integration and power density.
Bodo: Which major trends do you foresee in the future?
Haug: Interesting developments here include wide bandgap semiconductors, which are an improvement over conventional silicon chips. Made of silicon carbide or gallium nitride, these have many positive properties, for example, a high electrical breakdown voltage and high thermal conductivity, and they enable higher switching frequencies, making them ideally suited for high-frequency technology, power electronics, and high-speed communication technology. Thanks to their wider bandgap, these semiconductors have lower power losses at high switching frequencies and a greater resilience towards high temperatures and aggressive environments.
Another exciting trend is the transmission of power via data lines, the keywords being Power over Ethernet (PoE) and Power over Data Lines (PoDL). This renders the installation of several separate power cables redundant, which results in a substantial saving in costs when this technology is used in the right way. Both PoE and PoDL are subject to stringent standards and specifications to guarantee their safety and interoperability. The limits for the transmitted power, voltages, and currents must be meticulously adhered to, making it all the more important to use components that are economical in the utilization of the limited amount of energy available. This principle of “energy savings” also applies to the field of energy harvesting. This technology utilizes a variety of environmental energy resources in places where a normal power supply is not possible or economical. Most people here think only about photovoltaics, but energy can also be tapped from movements, differences in temperature, or radio waves using piezo generators, thermocouples, or antennas. This energy is stored in capacitors or batteries. While the yield isn’t exactly vast, it may be enough to power entire electronic modules when these are optimally trimmed with energy efficiency in mind.
Bodo: So far, you’ve not made any mention of artificial intelligence. What’s your stance here—is AI a blessing or a curse?
Gerfer: That depends on what you make of it. But one thing is clear: AI is making rapid advances, and it’ll incrementally change our lives. By the year 2035 at the latest, there’ll not be one job left that is not linked to AI applications, according to some forecasts1. There’s currently a lot of speculation about the risks involved. I’d rather emphasize the opportunities it opens up, especially for SMEs. AI will speed up the development process without requiring more manpower.
Selectively supporting and accelerating development utilizing services—that was and still is our recipe for success, as I’ve already said. AI will enable us to substantially expand these efforts. We’ll not be tackling the issue of AI too naively, but we’ll not be too pessimistic or restrictive either. It’s up to us to tap the enormous potentialities this technology has to offer, to shape it proactively. We have to start on this path here and today. We’re still in the driver‘s seat, and this is where we must remain. The more we make AI our partner, the more successful we’ll be in our best role: as human beings.
This article originally appeared in Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF] magazine.