The global power supply market is a multi-billion dollar industry, accounting for $23 billion in 2017 and expected to rise to $45 billion by 2026. Changes in the amount of power needed to handle the quantities of data uploaded and downloaded every day — as well as the rise of a new kind of consumer electronics — are responsible for this growth.
These changes are forcing power supply manufacturers to address two very different sets of demands.
Mobile Data and the 1 kW Quarter-Brick
High-output DC/DC converters in the quarter-brick form factor aren’t new. The Architects of Modern Power (or AMP Group) outlined a standard for a 1 kW quarter-brick in 2016, and one of the firsts arrived on the market in 2017. Yet there is increasing competition to build highly-efficient 1+ kW-rated converters that also have excellent thermal regulation.
In March of this year, Flex Power Modules launched the BMR490, a new, non-isolated DC/DC quarter-brick rated for outputs of up to 139 amps or 1.3 kW. The converter offered a typical efficiency of 97.3% at an input of 53 volts. The BMR490 takes inputs of up to 75 volts.
Flex Power Modules, while developing the converter, filed 10 new patents.
The major R&D effort that went into developing this new brick reflects some of the innovations that power supply manufacturers must make to keep up with the changing power supply market.
Like other high-kW converters, one of the major applications of the BMR490 will probably be in telecommunications infrastructure, as well as switches in large data centers. The telecom industry is handling more data than ever before.
Mobile data traffic has significantly outpaced the growth of voice traffic. Year-over-year growth of data usage has been in the range of 55 to 80% for the last six years. People are more connected than ever before — reflected in the amount of data we upload and download. Because the telecom industry is dealing with increased data, it will demand more power to meet needs.
The telecom industry’s demand for board-mounted DC/DC converters peaked at 35 million units per year in 2000. In 2017, the number of units sold was closer to 6 million. The trend over the last two decades has been towards fewer converters that can handle higher voltages. These converters also tend to be non-isolated, because they deliver higher efficiency, and only certain industrial applications require isolated converters.
This trend isn’t likely to reverse soon — mobile data use has never come close to decreasing in the last ten years. Even outside of telecommunications, there’s been a demand for one thing — more power. Manufacturers will likely continue to innovate to meet that demand, building converters that push out more power and have better thermal regulation.
Home Automation and the Internet of Things
There’s been a massive spike in demand for consumer electronics in the past five to ten years. These devices have mostly been laptops and tablets. More recently, however, large numbers of Internet of Things (IoT) devices have hit the market — smart cameras, smoke alarms and water gauges. In the manufacturing industry and elsewhere, businesses are turning towards IoT sensors to create data-collection networks.
Most of these smart devices have low power requirements — somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 mW — and are usually lithium battery-powered or draw directly from an AC. Power supplies for these devices are typically non-isolated because the end-user has no access.
The ultra-low power requirement of these supplies creates new problems that will need to be solved. Most standard options are a balancing act between cost, space and efficiency. The ideal power supply will advance on these solutions and be low-cost as well as space- and energy-efficient.
Non-consumer IoT devices that will be buried underwater or embedded in buildings further complicates the design. Some are considering solar, thermal and radio-frequency energy harvesting as possible new power sources for these industrial or architectural IoT devices.
Changes in the Power Supply Industry
Increases in demand for consumer electronics will inspire manufacturers to build more efficient, low-power converters and power supplies. Changes in telecommunications will require advancements in thermal regulation and new innovations that increase the total power output of converters. Plus, all power supplies will need to become smaller, both to make data centers more efficient in terms of space, and also to better fit into IoT sensors and devices.