New technologies almost always have an advantage over their predecessors and engineers love to try out leading-edge products. But for purchasing, this dynamic creates a dilemma: suppliers often develop products or platforms that are unique to that vendor. OEMs and their manufacturing partners may end up with a single source for a product – a situation that can be risky for the supply chain.
As dc-dc power modules have become more widely adopted, there has been a drive toward some level of standardization of products from different manufacturers. Trade associations often oversee such efforts, but standards may be limited to features such as component footprints and pin-outs. While this enables some degree of interchangeability among products, it often falls short of a straightforward swap of one product for another. This is particularly true for digital power, experts say, because it adds another layer of complexity to the challenge of ensuring compatibility between solutions.
The Architects of Modern Power (AMP) Consortium was formed in October to advance power system technology and boost supply chain security for distributed power systems on a global level. The new industry group, which includes CUI Inc., Ericsson Power Modules and Murata, aims to develop a complete ecosystem of hardware, software and support. The AMP Consortium's work will go beyond defining mechanical dimensions and product footprints for intelligent dc-dc power modules and ac-dc power supplies. The long-term strategic alliance seeks to foster close collaboration between members to develop shared technology roadmaps.
“One of the drawbacks of digital power is that everybody is doing their own thing,” explains Steve Pimpis, vice president for global strategic marketing for Murata. Digital power provides a wide set of features for board designers, but incompatibility within configuration software – among other issues — means designers can’t always see how components are working at a systems level. The AMP group is working toward software compatibility among other efforts. “Customers will be able to make more informed choices,” Pimpis says. “Nobody wants to be single-sourced in regard to power.”
Although using the latest and greatest technology gives OEMs an edge in a highly competitive market, single-sourcing is risky for a number of reasons. Dependence on a single vendor limits customers’ ability to comparison shop for features and pricing. A supplier’s failure to deliver components can derail the launch of a new OEM product. Even if a component is only late to the production line, manufacturers and OEMs lose money as lines stand idle. “In terms of the supply chain, it is pretty much a corporate mandate to second source. OEMs don’t want to fail to ship their products because they’re not able to get a power supply,” says Pimpis.
Component makers often worry, though, that standards inhibit their ability to differentiate their products. Pimpis said the AMP Consortium’s efforts leave plenty of room for unique designs and features. “We can create some differentiations in the GUI, for example,” he said. But when it comes to testing the performance of a board or a system, elements such as configuration software have to be the same. “Everybody has a choice [of vendors and technologies],” Pimpis adds, “but as systems get more complex, we think designers will be driven toward digital power. Then the question becomes ‘do you have a second source?’ There are always options if an engineer wants to adopt the latest and greatest technology, but for companies that want multiple sourcing abilities, the [AMP Consortium] provides that option.”
The common standards the group is working on encompass mechanical, electrical, communications, monitoring and control specifications. Members will focus on developing products that deliver high efficiency power conversion under all operating conditions and provide supply chain security to customers through true plug-and-play compatibility between their products.
Second-sourcing options may also accelerate the drive toward digital power. The technology is poised to play a leading role in the Internet of Things (IoT). According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, annual IP traffic will reach 7.7 zettabytes by the end of 2017, up from 2.6 zettabytes in 2012. Video communications, cloud-based services and the interconnection of physical objects – the IoT-- are the primary drivers of this growth. This will place even greater demands on data network power system designers. Exploiting the functional and efficiency benefits of digital power devices is one way designers can meet the challenge, according to the report.
The Architects of Modern Power (AMP) consortium has already released its first standards at electronica. Two standards have been defined for digital point-of-load converters. The ‘microAMP’ specification covers supplies rated at 20 to 25 A in vertical and horizontal configurations, while the ‘megaAMP’ defines requirements for 40 to 50 A vertical and horizontal units. For advanced bus dc-dc converters the ‘ABC-ebAMP’ standard relates to advanced bus bricks measuring 58.42 x 22.66 mm and ranging from 264 to 300 W. For quarter-brick supplies, measuring 58.42 x 36.83 mm and ranging from 420 to 468 W, the group has defined the ‘ABC-qbAMP’ standard. These standards detail mechanical footprints, features, and configuration files.
"Digital power provides designers with a robust feature set, and now that there is a true second-source alternative, the adoption rate will be much quicker,” Pimpis concludes.