From smartphones to automobiles and medical equipment, we can find Integrated circuits (ICs) in nearly every electronic device we use and rely on in our everyday lives. They are primarily known for integrating several electronic components into a single chip, which improves the compactness and portability of electronic devices. However, this article will explore how ICs help improve efficiency and increase reliability in power delivery.
PCB Real Estate Management
As IC technology progresses, we see a trend towards packing more punch into smaller packages, allowing for a higher density of ICs on a PCB, leading to an optimized use of the real estate. With many ICs now boasting multiple functions on a single chip, it’s no wonder we see a reduction in the overall PCB real estate required.
Miniaturization of ICs allows for squeezing more features into confined spaces, and enables shorter traces, resulting in a reduction of power loss through the PCB, thereby improving power efficiency.
Commonly used advanced IC packaging techniques such as 3D stacking, flip-chip packaging, or wafer-level packaging allow even more ICs to be crammed onto a PCB, squeezing the most out of the real estate available.
Also, designing ICs with specific pinouts and package sizes enables a better PCB layout, making the most of the available real estate. So, how do these techniques help improve power supply efficiency and reliability?
3D Stacked IC Packaging
Picture a skyscraper of ICs; that’s what 3D stacking is all about. It involves cramming multiple integrated circuits (ICs) on top of each other in a vertical alignment to boost the transistor density in a specific region. The magic behind this feat involves drilling tiny pathways called Through-Silicon Vias (TSVs) that electrically connect the different transistor layers of the IC stack and shrink the distance between them.
3D stacked ICs utilize the vertical stacking arrangement to help them serve as the ultimate power-saving, reliability-boosting solution. The technique provides various benefits, including energy savings, superior thermal management, denser circuits, dependability, noise immunity, and signal integrity.
Flip-chip packaging is like turning a pancake – the IC is flipped with its active side (transistor side) down and bonded directly to the substrate or PCB through bump bonding. This technique packs more punch per square inch, allowing for a higher density of connections between the IC and the substrate, unlike traditional wire bonding.
It is a power-saving, heat-dissipating, high-speed superhighway for ICs made using the technology. The connections lower resistance and capacitance to save power and speed up data transfer. By flipping the IC with its active side down and bonding it directly to the substrate, it also acts as a heat sink to prevent any hotspots and maintain the IC’s reliability.
Wafer-level packaging is like a tailor-made suit for your ICs. The packaging is made before the chips are diced from the wafer, using tiny, densely packed connections. This packaging technique results in neat, compact, and reliable packages, especially for ICs with a high pin count, like microprocessors, memory, and radio frequency ICs.
The densely packed interconnections are like sardines packed in a can and can help reduce power consumption and speed up data transfer. Plus, this packaging method could involve using materials with a higher thermal conductivity, like a heat sink, dissipating heat more efficiently and preventing hotspots.
Some ICs, known as Power Management Integrated Circuits or PMICs, help to improve power efficiency and reliability in power electronics by monitoring load conditions and regulating power consumption. Voltage regulators, DC-DC converters, and low dropout regulators (LDOs) are ubiquitous examples of these ICs and are some of the unsung heroes of electrical equipment. You can find them in everything from smartphones to laptops.
Voltage regulators are current-limiting ICs that keep devices running smoothly by maintaining a steady voltage level, despite fluctuating supply or load voltage. On the other hand, DC-DC converters transform one DC voltage level into another, adjusting the DC output voltage or as needed. Unlike voltage regulators, they don’t have a fixed output voltage. They can be either step-up or step-down and isolated or non-isolated.
Low dropout regulators (LDOs) are specially crafted voltage regulation ICs that excel at low-voltage operations. They conserve power and enhance system dependability in electronic devices. They also provide high noise immunity, ensuring a steady output voltage, even amidst input voltage fluctuations.
PMICs have other tricks to enhance power supply efficiency and reliability. PMICs specializing in battery management can keep your device’s battery always in tip-top shape, while thermal management PMICs help with power dissipation. They keep a watchful eye on the temperature to prevent any overheating issues.
Battery management PMICs are the battery whisperers of electronic devices, taming the charging process and wringing every last drop of power out of the battery. They fine-tune the charging current, voltage, and temperature to ensure that the battery charges quickly and safely, maximizing its lifespan and minimizing the risk of damage or failure.
These PMICs also monitor the battery capacity and state of charge, ensuring the device is always running at peak performance and reducing the need for frequent charging.
Thermal management PMICs are the temperature cops of electronic devices, keeping them from overheating and suffering damage or failure. They keep a watchful eye on the temperature of the device and its critical circuit components, ensuring they stay within safe limits.
These PMICs also have the power to regulate the temperature by turning off or dialing back the power consumption of certain circuit parts, preventing overheating and boosting power supply effectiveness. To top it off, they can also include protection features like a thermal shutdown that serves as a last line of defense against excessive heat.
Power Loss Minimization
GaN and SiC transistors, both Wide Band Gap (WBG) semiconductors, have become a staple in power supplies in electronic applications for their ability to boost power supply efficiency and reliability. Their significantly higher breakdown voltages and electron mobility compared to traditional silicon-based transistors allow them to handle high voltage and current levels with minimal power loss.
When integrated into ICs, GaN and SiC transistors unleash various benefits, which include:
The lightning-fast electron mobility of GaN and SiC transistors allows them to switch on a dime, cutting down switching losses and boosting their power supply efficiency.
Their higher breakdown voltage enables GaN and SiC transistors to tackle high voltage and current levels with minimal power loss, resulting in less heat generated and improved thermal effectiveness.
The improved thermal effectiveness of GaN and SiC transistors reduces the risk of overheating and thermal stress, enhancing the overall reliability of power supplies to a new level.
Higher power density
GaN and SiC transistors’ ability to handle high current and voltage levels allows power supplies to be designed with higher power density, making them more compact and space-saving, like a miniaturized power supply version.
High Voltage/Current Protection
One way ICs help to improve the effectiveness and reliability of power supplies in sensitive electronic devices is by protecting them from high voltage and current levels. This feature is in-built into many ICs we have today and functions by limiting the voltage and current supplied through them, which prevents the supplied voltage and current from exceeding safe limits.
ICs that protect some of the devices we use from high voltage and current levels contain components such as Transient Voltage Suppressors (TVS) and Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs). Although typically discrete, they can be in-built into the packaging of various ICs. They help with circuit protection for sensitive electronic devices from high voltage caused by lightning, power cross, and other electrical transients.
Transient Voltage Suppressors (TVS) ICs
An IC with TVS functionality is like a guardian angel for electronic devices. It keeps an eye on the voltage levels and diverts any excess voltage from the circuit like a pro for reliable operation. The TVS function is integrated seamlessly into the IC package, and it can take the form of various electronic parts like diodes, thyristors, or Zener diodes.
You can find these handy little helpers in various applications, from consumer electronics to automobiles, avionics, telecommunication equipment, medical equipment, and industrial electronic systems.
Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs) ICs
Metal Oxide Varistors (MOVs) are voltage-dependent resistors made of a ceramic material that contains zinc oxide particles and other materials. They are like a chameleon, adapting to changes in resistance based on the input voltage.
The MOV feature is integrated seamlessly into the IC package, available in various forms such as discs, tubes, or plates. These ICs are in applications where real estate is at a premium, such as portable devices and embedded systems.
When the voltage starts to climb, the MOV will kick in and divert the excess voltage away, keeping a constant voltage and safeguarding the circuit from harm’s way. You can find them in consumer electronics and data communication devices, to name a few.
EMI/RFI Shielding and Filtering
Unwanted electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference (EMI/RFI) can throw a wrench in the gears of power supplies, resulting in malfunction and decreased effectiveness. However, ICs are the knight in shining armor, shielding and filtering electronic parts to keep them running smoothly.
Some ICs are programmed to act as a sentinel, detecting and responding to EMI and RFI before it causes any damage. These ICs use specialized sensors and algorithms, like a watchdog, to sniff out any unwanted interference and take action to nip it in the bud before it affects the device’s performance.
These sensors, such as electromagnetic field (EMF) probes, measure the strength and frequency of electromagnetic waves and RF receivers that act like metal detectors for specific radio frequencies.
The sensors can be integrated into the IC itself, or connected externally like a barometer monitoring the EM environment, thereby providing an early warning of any unwanted interference.
Once the IC detects EMI/RFI, it can take swift action to prevent it from affecting the device’s performance. This can include shutting down certain parts of the device, switching to a different frequency or channel, or using active or passive filters to reduce the amplitude of unwanted frequencies, like a bouncer at the club.
ICs equipped with power-saving or sleep modes can boost effectiveness and dependability by reducing power usage during idle times. These modes come in handy for curbing the power consumption of the IC when it’s not in action.
Power-saving modes can be a lifesaver in portable devices where battery life is crucial. They enable the device to run for extended periods without needing a recharge. Take microcontrollers and microprocessors, for instance. They can enter a sleep mode where they consume minimal power while idling for an interruption or other event.
Many digital ICs, like a penny-pinching miser, have standby modes that help conserve power while inactive. These modes can drastically slash the power consumption of the IC, thus prolonging battery life.
Also, power-saving modes can prevent electronic devices from overheating under the pressure of thermal stress. By dialing back the power consumption of ICs, these modes effectively put the brakes on heat generation, thereby extending the lifespan and dependability of the device.
Tapping into energy-saving modes on your wireless devices, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules, can significantly prolong battery life and reduce power consumption. It’s a win-win situation.
Not all ICs come equipped with this feature; it varies depending on the specific IC, its specifications, and its intended use. For instance, ICs in critical systems such as medical equipment, aviation, or industrial control may not boast power-saving modes as they need to function seamlessly and reliably without hiccups.
Some ICs offer a soft start feature that eases the voltage or current applied to a circuit instead of hitting it with full force. This helps to sidestep any inrush current that can cause damage or power supply issues.
It works by gradually increasing the voltage or current over a set period, usually a few milliseconds. This feature is widely present in applications such as power supplies for motor control and lighting systems.
Reduced Stress on Circuit Components
With a soft start approach, circuit parts of electronic devices are given a gentle nudge rather than a jolt, thereby reducing wear and tear. This can result in a longer component lifespan and heightened system dependability. It is like easing into a cold pool rather than diving headfirst. The circuit parts can acclimate to the new voltage or current level without risking harm.
Reduced Power Consumption
Some circuits usually demand a massive jolt of electricity to kick it into gear. Employing a soft start in these circuits coaxes them gently to their optimal voltage and current levels. This incremental boost in power supply cuts down on the energy required to initiate them, ultimately leading to significant energy savings.
Improved Thermal Management.
The soft start feature is a lifesaver for thermal management. The sudden surge of energy can cause the components to heat up rapidly, leading to thermal stress and ultimately causing damage or failure. A soft start, however, eases the parts into operation, preventing thermal overloads and prolonging the life of the circuit.
Some ICs have a Power-on Reset (POR) feature that ensures the IC is in a known state when power is applied. These ICs are a game-changer in terms of power supply effectiveness and reliability. They give the IC a stable starting point when there is a power supply, preventing hiccups, ensuring high reliability, and safeguarding against power supply failures.
The POR circuit keeps tabs on the power supply voltage, and when it dips below a specific threshold voltage, it sends out a reset signal that gets the IC back to square one. This signal is typically sent by a voltage detector and reset generator circuit.
The voltage detector compares the power supply voltage to a reference, and if it falls short, it sends the reset signal to the reset generator, which then sends a reset pulse to the IC. Some ICs with the Power-on Reset feature include microcontrollers, microprocessors, and digital logic circuits.
POR ICs are made using different technologies like bipolar, CMOS, and BiCMOS, depending on the intended application, needs, and desired performance. However, POR ICs manufactured using the BiCMOS technology offer efficient capabilities, such as speed and power handling, especially for high-power applications.
BiCMOS technology is a combination of bipolar and CMOS technologies, and it combines the best of both worlds. It offers the high-speed and efficient power-handling capability of the bipolar technology and the low power consumption and low leakage current of the CMOS technology.
We hope this article sheds sufficient light on how ICs boost the effectiveness and reliability of power supplies. Selecting, installing, and keeping ICs in tip-top shape is vital for optimal performance. Seeking expert advice when choosing ICs guarantees you make a sound decision for your specific requirements.