Interview (Part 1) with Phil Davies, Vice President for Global Sales and Marketing

July 10, 2011
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This is the first half of a recent interview with Phil Davies, Vicor’s newly-appointed Vice President for Global Sales and Marketing, in which he shares his views on power design trends within the electronics industry and his vision for the future.

INTERVIEWER: You feel that you have joined Vicor at an exciting time in its development. What are the main challenges and opportunities that you see?

PD: Certainly, these are exciting times for Vicor, because market forces are increasingly generating problems that we are well placed – if not uniquely placed – to solve. For example Vicor is currently right at the centre of solving customerss problems in the data communications and computer segments. In response to competitive pressure to increase functionality and performance, the need for small, highly efficient power supplies is increasing. In many applications the power supply takes up space in which “real value” in the form of capacity or speed could be added. Meeting these power density demands cost effectively has become a critical issue for systems designers in many major markets. Our existing V∙I Chip products and recently announced IBC family of bricks, give designers a real competitive advantage and we are winning many new designs. In addition, we have an extensive set of patents and an IP portfolio to drive further innovation. In fact, since our introduction of the Brick concept, our technology has developed to lead the world in power systems design.

INTERVIEWER: Why has enabling power density in data communications and computing applications become so much more problematical?

PD: The problem has steadily grown over the years, and will continue to do so into the future, because of developments in semiconductor technology. Microprocessors, ASICs and graphics chips have been becoming progressively faster and more powerful while being implemented on smaller geometries, moving from 45 nm down to 32 nm, with 22 nm to appear soon. Smaller geometries require lower voltages to operate; these can now be below 1 V.

These two factors – increased performance requirements and the lower voltage levels – have led to a sharp rise in current consumption. To put this in perspective, server CPU assemblies today can draw power measured in hundreds of amps. This of course is the worst possible arrangement for transmitting power over any distance, because maximising current instead of voltage maximises I²R losses. When faced with high power demand, system designers’ instincts are to use higher voltages to avoid such losses. In fact that is exactly what they are doing; the trend is increasingly to provide 48 Vdc on backplane supply rails, with levels up to 400 Vdc likely in the future.

This means that a board designer may find himself having to convert 48 V or more to less than 1 V at hundreds of amps. This conversion must take place right at the point of load to avoid I²R losses. Voltage transformation between these levels is difficult using conventional conversion techniques, which are subject to duty cycle losses. Proliferation of supply voltages adds to the challenge. In some circumstances using our Factorized Power Architecture may be the only possible solution. We can handle the required voltage conversion, at these power levels, with compact chips operating at industry leading efficiency. This solves circuit board design, real estate and thermal management issues that would otherwise be intractable.

INTERVIEWER: How do you see the market for power systems developing in the future?

PD: The need to extract more power, more efficiently from a limited space will continue to grow in several major markets. Systems designers, faced with higher current, higher power density loads will have to convert higher voltage DC to lower voltage point of loads. Customers will continue to require solutions, not just components, for both AC-DC and DC-DC systems, and it’s really important that Vicor develops families of products for the power chains within our target market segments. One area that can benefit from our power density capability is AC-DC power supplies. Also, the developing market for hybrid electric cars will create a further need for high power electronics. These vehicles have high voltage DC distribution buses from which lower voltage supplies for motor control electronics must be taken efficiently. 2 kW bus converters will be typical, and cost, size and weight will be critical. We have the flexible, high-efficiency products to solve many problems, and enough IP to develop high value solutions for the challenges to come. In concert with developing products, we’re putting significant investment into our support tools, guiding designers through both architecture and product selection. We want to show why Vicor products can provide a better (and sometimes the only) solution, and how their use gives OEM equipment manufacturers a competitive advantage.

Go to Part 2: Interview with Phil Davies, Vice President for Global Sales and Marketing

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