You might have seen some behind-the-scenes tweets from the life of the ECN editor (and News Director) and while a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes an engineer’s perspective on a conference is worth a little more.
With that in mind, I reached out to some APEC engineers and attendees to get the lowdown on this year’s Applied Power Electronics Conference in Long Beach, CA. We talked about how the show compared to last year, the biggest trends, and how APEC went for their companies.
Robert Gendron, P.E., Vice President Marketing & Business Development, VI Chip, Vicor Product Solutions:
Having attended APEC for ~10 years now I can tell you that it was very well attended by both industry and university people.
My three quick observations:
- GaN MOSFETs continued to be of interest but this year we really started to see tangible products and end applications
- 48V usage over 12V usage was widely discussed with Intel’s paper creating a lot of buzz
- Fewer IC startups were at the show than what I have seen in the past
Adrian Mikolajczak, COO/VP of Marketing, GLF Integrated Power, Inc:
I was impressed by the energy and number of people. The forum was great – funny thing for us was we ended up running into business partners and resetting some relationships – just by pure chance – but key point – and my learning – is that APEC enables serendipity based on the fact that this conference pulls together the power community so effectively and is specifically NOT overwhelming in scale.
Alex Lidow, CEO, EPC
I have been to every APEC show since inception in 1986. This one was different.
For 60 years, well before the APEC conference was conceived, all electronic trade shows have demonstrated the latest and greatest advances in silicon devices as well as the systems and products that are built upon this excellent semiconductor. At APEC 2016 there was a ground swell of products, papers, demonstrations, and an obvious general enthusiasm for devices based on a relatively new semiconductor – gallium nitride (GaN). GaN devices were exhibited by Panasonic, Infineon, Texas Instruments, GaN Systems, Transphorm, and Efficient Power Conversion (EPC). There were drones from Solace Power that can be recharged in mid-air, drones with LiDAR systems mapping the conference hall in real time, a dozen wireless charging systems from companies such as Semtech, Neosen, Gill Electronics, WiTricity, and Solace Power. A satellite from Planetary Resources landed at the EPC booth – satellite designers love GaN transistors and integrated circuits because they are tiny, efficient, and very resistant to the radiation that can damage silicon devices in space.
There was the Little Box Challenge winner at the GaN Systems booth (The winners, a company in Belgium named CE+T took home a $1,000,000 prize from Google). Panasonic showed a GaN-based, very tiny 45 W AC adapter. Texas Instruments had a DC-DC converter that converter 48 V to 1 V with astonishing efficiency thanks to GaN (This is the single-stage, energy saving power conversion solution the server industry has been demanding for years!). Envelope tracking systems for efficient 4G/LTE and 5G wireless base stations were present, as were X-ray machines that fit into an ingestible pill (Think colonoscopy) were on display thanks to the miniaturization possible with GaN technology.
GaN was not only in evidence on the conference room floor, it was also in many of the technical papers. There were 106 technical papers and presentations that referenced GaN in one way or another. GaN was the talk of the show by far.
EPC has been touting GaN for 6 years since its start of production in early 2010. At that time GaN FETs are 5-10 times higher performance that the best silicon transistors. At that time EPC made the claim that by 2015 GaN would not only continue to be higher and higher performance, it would also be less expensive to produce than silicon devices that can handle the same amount of power. That timetable was met, so this year at APEC power systems designers were confronted with the first time that a new material could outperform silicon at a lower unit cost, and is available off the shelf. Also, after 6 years in production, EPC has shown excellent field reliability that is as good as silicon reliability performance. These two facts contributed significantly to a change in mood of the power design engineers compared with past years!
David Pace, Technologist, Wide Input Range DC-DC Converters Power Products Solutions, Texas Instruments:
Unfortunately, I spent most of my time a the basement meeting room and evening social events. My impressions are very narrow and I missed 2015 in Charlotte so I cannot comment on year-year changes. I did notice a few things….
- Wurth had a huge footprint at the show compared to competitors; they invested very big in APEC.
- GaN appears in booths of most major semi suppliers and booth visitors tend to gravitate to GaN demo’s. It is still sexy from the power engineers perspective.
- I missed the Plenary session but the agenda seemed lacking in block-buster topics or industry heavyweights. I might have come away with a different impression if I actually saw the presentations.
- Show was very well covered by the trade media. Gayle was able to schedule full days of briefings.
- There are actually two companies named MPS in the power electronics business. The one we know for semiconductors was not at APEC but the one I visited by mistake gave me a good intro to their high current magnetics.
- Long Beach exhibit hall lighting was very un-even. Booths with built-in lighting looked great (ST). Some on the periphery were left in the dark (ADI)
Grant Smith, Director of Marketing, transphorm
I thought it was about the same as last year but noticed that many more people are starting to realize that GaN and SiC are really going to disrupt many market segments and that they better get started now with new designs or risk being left behind as their competitors introduce smaller, more efficient designs.
Patrick German, Field Applications Engineer, AVX
It’s difficult for me to answer the first two questions, since this was my first time attending the show, but I can give some input on interesting trends, since the focus of my degree was power electronics.
I would say the most interesting, though expected, trend is the fight to reduce the size of converters and supplies. A lot of companies that were working on smaller size, higher power density devices were looking for component suggestions for use with wide bandgap semiconductor devices. This is a great trend, from my point of view, since it breaks away from the reliance on aluminum electrolytic capacitors that seem to dominate energy holdup and input/output filters for devices.
As the switching frequency of power supplies and converters increases, the capacitance of the input/output filters becomes less important than the ESR, which will have a direct impact on the efficiency of the device.
John Galllipeau, Technical Marketing Manager, AVX
I felt like there were more technical demos this year, and it’s always intriguing to see what new devices and products are on the market. This year’s event was more compact area compared to Charlotte last year, allowing for more dialogue and audience in the technical sessions.
AVX had more booth visitors than last year and, overall, the show felt more crowded, but I do remember more booths set up last year.
As for passives, AVX got a lot of requests for high temp film capacitors and low ESL. As for the overall show, I saw a major focus in the HEV/EV sector spanning OEMs, components, and startup companies. Also, the Smart Grid area seemed to be a present trend within the show. Just looking at the technical sessions and new products, along with the current market, I saw a large growth from previous years.
Were you at APEC 2016? What were your observations? Comment below