US-based Texas Instruments (TI) develops and commercialises analogue and embedded processing integrated circuits (ICs) and solutions. It is the third largest manufacturer of semiconductors worldwide, the largest producer of analogue semiconductors and the second largest producer of embedded processing ICs, including digital signal processors (DSPs), microcontrollers and multi-core processors.
Brian Crutcher, senior vice president and general manager, Analogue, TI Inc., recently spoke to Dilin Anand and Ashwin Gopinath of EFY about the analogue semiconductors market and TI’s recent acquisition of National Semiconductor.
A. TI’s WEBENCH online design centre is important for anyone designing power circuits. It basically enables the user to design circuits as models that can simluate everything online. WEBENCH design tools are software algorithms and visual interfaces that deliver complete power, lighting and sensing applications in seconds. This enables users to make value-based comparisons at system and supply chain level before a design is committed.
Since the integration of National, we have added more than a hundred TI products into the tool, and recently unveiled WEBENCH system power architect for DC-DC power supply systems. We are expanding the WEBENCH tool to design analogue front-ends and clock circuits as well.
Q. What’s the change in architecture?
A. It is important to look at technology not just from an IP or process node perspective but in terms of packaging too—such as the packaging of a field-effect transistor (FET), an inductor and other components inside a single device. National was very innovative in terms of packaging technology and multi-chip modules.
Q. What are the key areas where advances are being made?
A. One of the key areas where we are advancing is higher voltage, such as higher-voltage FETs. We are currently working on 600-700V technologies and will reach even higher voltages in the near future. It is in a sweet spot of industrial and automotive applications, in the midst of significant growth—especially in the Indian market. So you will see us continue to innovate in high-voltage field.
Outside that, with respect to power management, we have most of the bases covered and are continuing to innovate across multiple fronts. We can get better in certain areas like hot swap and isolation, among others.
Q. What are the challenges in hot-swap and isolation?
A. Customers face several design challenges in hot-swap and isolation depending on the voltage level and targeted application. Hot-swap applications require plugging of a high-powered, sensitive system board into a live (hot) backplane power rail, which is very typical in base stations, blade servers and networking equipment. This requires the hot-swap controller to limit inrush current when first powering up as well as react to transient and overload events and report system power consumption.
Q. What are the latest trends in the industry?
A. Energy efficiency is a hot topic in India. Customers are increasing design activity for applications that help improve energy efficiency, such as LED-based streetlights and renewable energy applications like solar power. We continue to develop analogue and embedded processing components that help our customers achieve higher energy efficiency in designs ranging from large solar panels and batteries used in UPS systems to brushless DC motor drives.
Q. How does the new generation of analogue and embedded processing components improve energy efficiency?
A. Improving energy efficiency takes a very comprehensive approach. We use new processes to reduce losses in the power path, for example. We are developing a new QFN packaging technology that helps maintain this very low loss achieved by our process. Additionally, these packages have a very high thermal performance, which helps these devices operate at lower temperatures and provide even lower resistive losses.
In addition to making our chips more energy-efficient, we have designed into our products features that enable our customers to develop energy-efficient applications. For instance, in the case of LED lighting, TI has introduced products with constant power regulation that improve the efficacy of light fixtures by up to 10 per cent.
Another new technology incorporated in recent products is intelligent management of triac dimmer hold circuitry, which dissipates energy only when the dimmer is conducting. Most of TI’s lighting products are now offered with analogue and PWM dimming controls as well, making it easy for sensors to adjust the LED light output depending upon environmental conditions such as daylight, dark or occupancy.
Q. How do you help startups innovate?
A. We have a dedicated programme for startups and independent design houses (IDHs) as part of our third-party and partner programme called TI Design Network. We collaorate with these startups and IDHs to develop solutions and provide other technical support to address their innovation challenges. Since IDHs in India are very active, this is another opportunity for us to get in on the ground floor with future big customers.