2021 top technology predictions in power electronics
GaN technology is moving from early adoption to mainstream acceptance.
As 2020 comes to a close, we will undoubtedly look back on the past 12 months as a time in which disruption was the hallmark. Amid the unprecedented socioeconomic upheaval brought about by COVID-19, organisations have had to pivot and strategise, adapt and change in new ways — in a far more agile manner than at any time in history.
2021 will be the year when companies must double down on digitally driven experiences, operational excellence, products, supply chains and ecosystems — not just to rapidly advance, but even in some cases to survive. The measurement of their success will be dependent on how well they harness advanced technologies to jump to the next growth curve in their respective industries. In previous years, organisations chose to be comfortably silently as an early adopter, hesitant to be viewed in the public domain as forward-looking and innovative.
In the past year, GaN Systems demonstrated market leadership with innovative power system design applications that removed the limitations of legacy silicon by using GaN technology to design the near future of lighter, smaller, lower cost and more efficient power systems. Those companies who embraced GaN did so as early adopters. In 2021, the perceived risk factors will shift — from not adopting GaN technology, to the risk of being left behind.
GaN Systems is more convinced than ever that silicon has reached its limitations in solving critical power systems challenges. GaN (gallium nitride) transistors are the clear and undisputed solution for driving more robust growth and product innovation in the electronics industry. Major companies are designing and shipping products with GaN today. In 2021, we will see significantly increased demand for and adoption of GaN-powered products across multiple markets — especially in consumer products and industrial power supplies. The high reliability of GaN power transistors and their ability to bring economic advantage to many applications will be ever more common over the next 12 months — and beyond.
Prediction 1: Chargers and adapters
2020 was the year of the GaN charger. The aftermarket saw more than 100 new models of chargers and adapters in the market for phones, tablets and handheld gaming devices. Looking ahead to 2021, this will be the year of GaN chargers from OEMs, along with the rise of multiport adapters. GaN chargers are moving from a once niche position to the mainstream standard, while also being positioned to deliver on future evolving customer needs with advances in device design, performance, energy efficiency and power requirements.
In 2021, GaN chargers will move from an aftermarket offering to in-the-box. Last year, the best way to purchase a small GaN charger was as an aftermarket purchase at a major big box or online retailer. Many of these chargers only delivered a slight 30% decrease in size. As these aftermarket GaN solutions become common, consumer expectations about the out-of-the box experience will change. Laptop, PC and phone manufacturers will respond to this market pressure with chargers that deliver the required higher and faster charging power levels in a smaller, modern device — shipped in-the-box.
New smart home applications and experiences enabled by the marriage of advances in voice and facial recognition, AI and even biometrics will be found in the next generation of smart speakers, sensors and devices. Attaching these increasingly intelligent and often invisible devices to power will become even more challenging. More efficient and smaller GaN-based chargers will be the ideal way to meet the higher power, energy efficiency and size flexibility design needs of these smart home enablers in 2021 and beyond.
In industrial markets, devices such as portable test equipment, handheld scanners, mobile displays, robots, and medical and supply chain applications — the next generation of power chargers — will need to respond to the growing demands of the industrial marketplace that parallel those of today’s forward-looking consumers. In increasingly automated factories and warehouses, demand will be high in 2021 for higher power and faster charging in compact universal chargers to support their higher power applications.
Prediction 2: Consumer audio
Audio is a sizeable market with multiple segments — from audiophiles and prosumers to premium automotive systems and smart speakers. Yet in all segments there are two commonalities — power matters and sound quality matters. By the end of 2021, we foresee that a significant number of the world’s noteworthy brands in the audio market will have GaN audio amplifiers and companion power supplies.
High-quality audio in a compact form factor is now a ‘must have’ across all segments from pro audio, home audio and portable audio. Class-D audio systems with GaN are smaller, lighter and provide the superior sound quality both the enterprise and consumer markets are demanding. In 2021, design engineers will use GaN transistors to solve challenges around power delivery in a small form factor with a compact amplifier. Demand for high-quality audio is fuelling the growth of the Class-D audio amplifier market, which is expected to reach $4.92 billion by 2026 from $2.49 billion in 2018 according to Allied Market Research. Additionally, near-perfect switching waveforms demonstrate a virtually transparent replication of the audio output.
With GaN, the companion SMPS design is very efficient and operates without heatsinks. These features will allow audio design engineers to create premium audio products at shorter time to market and at an affordable price. With advancements in the semiconductor technology, including the use of GaN, Class-D amplifiers are now being used in more audio applications including home theatres, high-power smart speakers, pro touring amplifiers, portable party speakers, automotive, marine and power sports.
Prediction 3: Data centres
According to Gartner, one of the leading analyst research firms, end-user data centre infrastructure spending worldwide will increase 6% to $200 billion in 2021, after a pandemic-driven decline in 2020. COVID-19 was responsible for putting a hold on 60% of planned construction projects in 2020, which was directly tied to a 10.3% dip in data centre spending. Likewise, due to the pandemic, the global economy remains on its way to its ‘digital destiny’ as most products and services are now based on a digital delivery model or require digital augmentation to remain competitive.
The European Union’s 2023 regulatory policies focusing on data centre infrastructure as related to power supply and energy efficiency requirements will have a significant impact on the future of build-outs for data centres. Over the next year, GaN’s major impact will be centred on enabling new levels of power and data density in data centres, moving beyond incremental increases in energy efficiency.
The data centre ecosystem will continue to evolve and become even more critical for organisations. Infrastructure efficiency has been a huge concern for many organisations. While 2020 was the year of significant increase in GaN power supply design efforts, we predict that 2021 will focus on actual implementation of GaN in data centres.
In 2021, data centre operators will need increased power density inside their physical data centre infrastructure. Smaller power supplies using GaN technology allow for more storage and memory to be added into the same rack space allowing for data centre capacity growth without actually having to build more data centres.
Prediction 4: Automotive
Advances in power systems with GaN technology and battery technology are driving significant OEM and Tier 1 supplier adoption for EVs and addressing past concerns around range anxiety and car purchase price. The story of GaN in EVs will shift to become more of a narrative about enhanced performance and new capabilities for vehicle designs.
2021 will see rapidly accelerated R&D with GaN as a result of 2020 COVID-19-related shutdowns in global labs. Companies are eager to move ahead with R&D initiatives, specifically those addressing smaller and more power dense systems that can be paired with advances in battery technology systems to deliver more holistic design choices.
Traditionally, automotive manufacturers have been conservative in their adoption of new technology. In 2021, governments and the public will continue to demand EVs with price and range similar to today’s ICE vehicles. Manufacturers will benefit from embracing GaN’s proven and noteworthy reliability and cost-efficiency in delivering their designs for these vehicles.
GaN: shifting from early adoption to market acceptance
In 2020, the conversation around GaN technology began to shift — from a focus on early adopters and risk to one of proven reliability and market acceptance. This is the result of products with GaN semiconductors finding success in consumer markets with power adapters and audio, renewed and re-energised work with GaN technology in EV design labs, new EU policy standards around energy efficiency in data centres that only GaN technology can effectively address when combined with power density expectations, and important industry accomplishments in product reliability.
2021 will be the year that GaN technology further demonstrates that it has successfully shifted from early adoption by claiming a substantial and publicly visible foothold in power-reliant markets as diverse as automotive, data centres and consumer electronics. For companies in these market segments, the perceived risk factors will shift — from not adopting GaN technology, to the risk of being left behind.
Originally published here.
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