CUI Announces Development of Digital POL Modules

Digital-power management moves forward as licensing invites innovation. Interview with CUI conducted and edited by Margery Conner, Technical Editor -- discussing what role will digital-power management play in power subsystems with intermediate power buses? Matt McKenzie, president of CUI, claims that digital power's role will be significant, not just in the larger telecom/datacom centers but down through the smaller OEM systems, resulting in efficiency increases that would otherwise be unreachable. EDN recently interviewed McKenzie on the role of digital power.alt



What technology do you see affecting the future of power-conversion systems?
A: I think digital communications and monitoring is going to be the big thing in power. We at CUI have been waiting like everybody else to see what would happen after the Power-One lawsuit [over its patent on the digital-communications bus for dc/dc POL (point-of-load) converters], which was not good for anybody.  We were very glad when Power-One started licensing and opening up the market to competition. The innovation is about to start, and we're seeing customers start to understand the benefits of digital. Our analogy is that digital is "removing the veil" from all the data that can be collected from any electronics power stage. The ability to understand what's happening in the system and to monitor over time is a big benefit.

Was the uncertainty caused by the Power-One lawsuit a hindrance to potential customers?
A: Yes. When Power-One started going after its competitors and winning, customers were not apt to go with the technology; they backed out and started figuring out different solutions. Now, we don't have that issue. Power-One has licensed to just about every gorilla in the market: Linear Tech, TI, Intersil, and Powervation. I think we're going to start seeing products that are smart, functional, and competitive. Digital power is in its infancy, and the industry is still on the beginning of the learning curve.

Are all your customers—or just the early adopters—already familiar with digital power's benefits?
A: At this point, it's still mostly early adopters. Our slogan is "simple digital." We're not just targeting the leading-edge telecom vendors; we want to put it into the hands of the smaller OEMs as well, so our push is to make digital power easy to use. Customers in the smaller tier may just need some kind of exposure but don't need to understand all of the intricacies that go into digital. A lot of the innovation comes from this level as well.

You've said that efficiency is a major concern for your customers. How do digital power's advantages in data logging, system monitoring, and the like make a power subsystem more efficient?
A: With digital power, you're able to see at what point the power is actually needed and where it's not. In a big network-server system where you're running, say, eight rails, you may not know exactly how much power is needed and where. Engineers will usually overdesign so that their system is prepared for whatever may hit it.  With digital power, you're able to monitor on a microsecond level what's happening in the system and optimize each subsystem for what it needs to do, including the ability to go into standby modes and shutoff modes. These gains may be small, but, over a system or over many systems, you start getting massive efficiency gains.

As Published by EDN