Semiconductor technology is enabling the evolution of smart power

The term 'smart power' used to refer to the automatic response of a power chip to an external situation. Now, it means much more. Today, it implies a higher degree of intelligence on the part of the power chip - an ability to 'sense, assess and act,' in real time, based on the operating conditions of the entire system, not in isolation from it. Essentially this means that the system and the power sub-system have to co-operate.

Effective systems performance requires power management ICs to be aware of the load and modes of system operations and to adjust their parameters dynamically using advanced signal-processing algorithms.

  • Awareness of system operations requires communications interfaces such as power management bus (PMBus), system management bus (SMBus) and I2C; power delivery protocols such as Power over Ethernet (PoE), USB Type C and the wireless power Qi standard authenticate the powered device and arbitrate for the amount of power delivered under varying load conditions.
  • Improving dynamic response to varying load conditions requires 'on the fly' tuning of power converter parameters using digital and mixed signal feedback loops in switch-mode power converters.

The evolution of smart power has been made possible through process technologies such as advanced Bipolar CMOS DMOS (BCD) processes that combine analog, digital and power devices on a single chip and the development of gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) technology that have produced leaps in power transistor figures of merit. More such semiconductor technology advances based on specialized design, processes and manufacturing are expected in response to the growing demand for greater power conversion efficiency. It's not only about shrinking CMOS geometries.