John Johnston, NPI Director, Chemigraphic

Power management devices are now being used in unexpected places thanks to emerging sectors such as Electric Vehicles (EVs), creating new challenges and opportunities for the supply chain.

In the past, the power supply market was dominated by wire-powered equipment which would take power from the supply grid, either in the form of single-phase domestic mains power or three-phase industrial formats.

This equipment would power circuits handling currents from 20-100A, taking the form of motors, transformers, industrial process equipment and high-output power supplies.

However, with the growth of new sectors and technology such as EVs, a new high power source has emerged on to the scene in the form of high-output battery systems, where Direct Current (DC) needs to be converted to Alternating Current (AC).

Generating and converting power

The AC power generated by the grid and used to drive high AC loads such as motors and transformers requires minimal interface circuitry. However, in electric vehicles, battery sourced power is DC, but still drives a multitude of AC loads. Therefore, there is a requirement for a large amount of DC to AC conversion, and also AC back into DC for power-saving features.

So what does all of this mean?

High-power battery systems, and electric vehicles in particular, consume a large number of current switching devices to manage all the conversion and power governance. This is a complex process which requires careful management and a level of new industry thinking in terms of who and what is using manufactured power supplies.

Changing the power play: a new approach

These shifts in the market and the proliferation of current conversion needs have sparked a demand for high-current switching devices on a large and growing scale.

This increase in demand has in turn made it very attractive for power management device manufacturers to divert their capacity and raw materials away from “traditional” power devices and towards newer, eV-based variants.

As part of this supply chain, we are seeing established current-switching devices such as Metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) and insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) becoming subject to higher-levels of stock limitation and obsolescence.  As more conversions are required, more of these devices are being purchased and stockpiled, having a profound impact on the supply chain.

So what’s next?

There is no magic solution.

Unless an OEM has sufficient scale and spend to leverage device manufacturing commitment and capacity, then more fluidity in the power device market is an unavoidable eventuality.

Taking a proactive view of design, monitoring the supply chain and the market landscape for changes and developments is the best approach.

As a result, options can be kept open to authorise alternative parts or look to incorporate alternative circuity. Engaging with a high-capability EMS partner can help OEMs to investigate and validate these options, utilising the partner’s market expertise and knowledge of the manufacturing process.

Looking to the future

This trend in power devices being shifted to new markets will not end here.  Renewables will be increasingly used in power generation, although it is difficult to predict which other formats will join the prime source of on and off-shore wind turbines.

The core power management levels in these systems tend to sit well outside the scope of semiconductor devices, but their remote nature then drives the need for ever more complex auxiliary management systems.

One thing is for certain, however. As technologies evolve and new markets emerge, the whole electronics supply chain will continue to be challenged and tested in terms of the products we build, the parts we use to do so and the approaches we use to manage the process.

Bring it on, we are ready!

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